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Did the RAF save Britain in 1940?

Discussion in 'Western Europe 1939 - 1942' started by harolds, Jan 6, 2017.

  1. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    Just a thought - if the RAF was indeed a 'memory', just who was shooting down the Luftwaffe ?
     
  2. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    Almost a memory...2-4 weeks from becoming a memory...
     
  3. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Operational losses are usually about the same as combat losses which would mean that the LW likely lost about 3,000 aircraft as mentioned.


    By my understanding of the term Air Superiority is a rather ephemeral thing. It can be achieved for short periods of time relatively easily. Air Supremacy is what you really need for an invasion and the RAF had a plan in place to prevent the LW from achieving that. Given the overtasking of the LW it's pretty clear they had little chance of achieving it in time for an invasion in 1940 in any case.

    As others have mentioned at this point in the war the historical record clearly indicates that British surface ships at speed and with sufficient AA ammo supplies were anything but sitting ducks. Also consider that as the invasion was projected to take something like 10 days to complete off loading that the British could have conducted operations at night against the invasion forces and retired out of range to rearm and refit during the day.

    That rather depends on what you mean by "won" certainly the British troops weren't convinced that the RAF had won that battle. Nor did the weather allow for continuous interdiction of Dunkirk. If the RAF hadn't contested the skys over Dunkirk certainly the British would have lost more but it wouldn't completely eliminated the BEF by any means.

    The RN certainly wasn't invulnerable but neither were the KM or the LW and German troops on board transport ships and barges would have been incredibly vulnerable not to mention any on the English Coast when there support vessels are sunk or confined to port. The KM was almost destroyed in the invasion of Norway, Sea Lion as planned would have reduced them to a token force if that. Yes there would have been changes to the war but they may well have favored the Allies.

    Sinking a liner is a lot easier than sinking a warship. Uboats would have had severe problems in the shallows of the channel where they were planned to operate. They might have sunk some British warships but likely would have suffered significant losses themselves and the Battle of the Atlantic would have had to been put on hold for a couple of months at least to support Sea Lion. The RN also had submarines by the way and the German transport ships sitting at anchor or cruising slowly of the British coast would have been prime targets. The lack of KM ASW assets would have helped in that regard as well.
     
  4. freebird

    freebird Member

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    Correct, most of the KM losses were to British subs, how would they protect a channel crossing?
     
  5. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Really? I see 10 DDs and some transports lost to British DDs and Warspite. The Norwegians got a Heavy Cruiser from coastal defenses. Renown damaged a German BB and Gloworm damaged a CA. While British subs damaged a CA and sunk another cruiser. Later in the campaign one German BB was torpedoed by a DD and another by a sub both survived. That from:
    http://www.naval-history.net/WW2CampaignsGermanWarships.htm

    It doesn't look like most of the KM losses were to British subs off Norway to me. In any case the transport fleet was going to need something like 10 days to offload it's first load. Plenty of time for British subs to make their way to the landing and launch a few torpedoes at the few (critical) cargo ships the Germans had available.
     
  6. freebird

    freebird Member

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    Sorry, I should have been clearer, i meant to say KM cruisers "lost" as in unavailable for use in Sealion.
    Scharnhorst, Gneisnau, Lutzow (Deuchland), and Leipzig were all torpedoed by British subs, and all brought back to service, but none in time for Sealion.
    Nuremburg was also torpedoed Dec 1939, but was back in service by Jul 1940
     
  7. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Even then it doesn't stack up.

    Looking at cruisers:
    Blucher was lost to shore batteries and torpedo. Hipper was rammed and damaged by Glowworm. Konigsberg after being damaged by shore batteries was sunk by Fleet Air arm Skuas.

    Karlsruhe was lost to a sub and Lutzow was damaged by a sub.

    So with regards to cruisers the subs did about half the damage.

    With regards to battleships: Scharnhorst was torpedoed by a DD which set up Gneisenau being torpedoed by a sub Shaarnhorst had also been attacked and sustained minor damage by air and Gneisenau had received minor damage from Renown.
    So it's roughly even there as well.

    No contest when it comes to DDs as the surface navy clearly did more damage there. They also did a fair number on the German transports.

    The performance against cruisers is essentially irrelevant to Sea Lion though as non were planned to be near the invasion beaches. The light cruisers did have a good chance of being sunk however as they were to be used in a diversion that was to be repeated. I suspect they would have gotten away with it the first time but the odds are fairly good that Hood would have caught them on one of the successive attempts. The only CA available was planned for a raiding cruise from what I recall reading.
     
  8. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    Exactly. German surface vessels suffered from exactly the same physical issues as British ones in the Channel Narrows - sandbars, shallows, restricted turning circles and room to zigzag...and British shore-based artillery. In fact, maybe worse off the British side of the Narrows because of how the currents ran. The Germans had as little intention of bringing their major naval units into the Channel to support the landings as Forbes had of using his to counter it.
     
  9. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    See my post above. Forbes was never intending to bring the Home fleet into the Channel - it would have been an easy way to lose the RN's naval superiority in short order.

    There's nothing remarkable about those CL/DD dispositions - they're the "anti-invasion flotillas" mentioned in virtually every book on Sealion. The things to remember however are -

    1/ gathering these DDS at those ports deprived Their Lordships of their use on their regular convoy escorting and patrolling duties elsewhere. That was almost half of the destroyers in home waters after Norway.

    2/ They didn't just sit there; those were the destroyers escorting convoys through the Narrows, escorting convoys up and down the Irish Sea, and out into the Western Approaches. They weren't to go more than five days' steaming out into the Atlantic and be ready to be recalled at any moment. The unfortunate things was that IF any were caught out on convoy escort duty in the deep blue they weren't going to get home in time to be involved in the resolution of any invasion! They were assigned to temporary flotillas based at those ports....the swollen numbers at Harwich and Portsmouth are their flotillas PLUS their share of the Dover flotilla after it had been dispersed from there...but they were usually off on their assigned duties on any given average day/night in September.

    3/ Look at the physical positions of those ports; not to start off any discussion of the Germans' mining intentions....but we DO know how useful air attack was against shipping as of Norway; vessels including DDs were able to stand off the worst of air attack when keeping position offshore of events on land....but these destroyers were going to have to navigate through narrow channels (sic) cleared in the Germans' minefields, AND find and attack German shipping....as well as manouver to avoid air attack. Can you imagine what would happen if a destroyer flotilla was caught in a cleared channel in the minefields/dummy minefields and had to start zigzagging wildly???


    The break-ins I'll have to track down. Notably he doesn't mention WHAT vessels; I do know that RN coastal forces did a bit of inadvertent bargebusting when they came across them in transit....but I'm only aware of one major RN raid by non-coastal forces.

    As for aeriel photography...these were wooden barges the RAF was hitting, they'd have burned to the waterline by the time the PR spitfires arrived next morning. s it is, the CAB-prefixed war diaries mention four nights of very heavy raids by the RAF, on two of them they threw everything at the embarkation ports and bombed by flarelight....and gives a count of barges hit. IIRC there's quite a good correlation with German reports of barges lost on these nights.
     
  10. freebird

    freebird Member

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    Actually Hipper is availiable, it had been repaired by June.
    I've usually heard Scharnhorst described as a battle cruisers.

    So just to be clear, at the beginning of 1940 Germany still had 12 ships of cruiser size or larger.
    Operations in Norway, Baltic or North Sea have left only 5 ships still active.

    Gneisnau,
    Lutzow,
    Leipzig,
    Karlsruhe damaged/destroyed, by British subs

    and
    Scharnhorst,
    Blucher,
    Konigsberg, damaged/sunk by RN, Norway, and FAA

    Prinz Eugen becomes available in Aug 1940.
    My point was that the German deficiency in DD & ASW leaves any supporting KM flotilla vulnerable to British subs

    .
     
  11. harolds

    harolds Member

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    No matter what naval units were used, the RN had more of them. If an invasion had been actually tried, the RN with its traditions, history and responsibility would have thrown a ruthless concentration of force at it, no matter what the losses would have been. Since the barges were towed, all the British had to do was knock out the tugs and the German troops in the barges would be helplessly swept away to who knows where. Adm. Raeder and his staff had very little confidence that an invasion could succeed.
     
  12. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    Just one destroyer at full steam would topple many barges just with its wake...then raking everything it saw with .303 and 20mm...I am confident ANY water invasion would have ended in complete anialition.
     
  13. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Germany called them battleships, just as Japan called the Kongos fast battleships.
     
  14. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Not for Sea Lion though. It went into the docks for overhaul in August of 1940 and didn't get out until the end of Novemenber. See:
    http://www.kbismarck.com/admiral-hipper.html
    If I recall correctly she may have gotten out a bit earlier but had a propulsion failure during post overhaul testing.

    As noted the Germans rated them as battleships and considering when they were built and their armor levels that may be appropriate. I've seen some long and inconclusive arguments as to whether or not they should be considered BBs or BCs. Usually comes down to how you define the terms. In any case they were capital ships which cruisers usually aren't.

    Gneisenau was also damaged by surface ships and aircraft although the worst damage was due to the sub launched torpedo.

    I did miss your point and agree with it. Not only was Germany lacking in ASW vessels they didn't have the best ASW gear and like most other KM vessels and LW aircraft would have been badly over tasked for Sea Lion. For instance the KM minelayers/sweepers were expected to lay and sweep mines as well as provide escort for the invasion convoys all pretty much at the same time. There's serious questions as to whether they even had enough mines to lay the planned mine fields much less had the mine laying assets to do so in the time required and of course laying mines in waters subject to armed opposition is not exactly the safest activity.

    Page 42 in this document describes the diversion attempt by the German light cruisers, transports, and other light vessels (a further drain on those needed for the landings):
    https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/GERMAN%20PLANS%20FOR%20INVASION%20OF%20ENGLAND,%201940_0001.pdf
    This page however states that there were fewer CL's available than those listed above:
    http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/eng/Operation_Sealion?View=embedded
    Specifically:
    My impression is that the KM was doing everything they could to make it look like they were prepared to fulfill their role while making it clear that the LW was unable to meet the required preconditions. I've even run across a document from either (I think September of 1940) where the KM states that they are behind in the required minesweeping due to lack of support from the LW.
     
  15. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    Actually...The KM opinion was that the changes made to the barges - laying concrete keels/ballast in them, made rigid by sinking railway rails in it, and extra bracing laterally, had made the barges far more seaworthy than previously! they were able to handle quite high sea states.

    Likewise they were protected with wooden baulking and extra steel plate...AND in many cases a human cargo that would have been firing back! Not only their own small arms...but each barge was armed with extra AA and in many cases field artillery chained down and chocked in place on platforms built over the bows to provide a degree of artillery support for the landings. Think they wouldn't be firing back in desperation?

    Remember - later in the war, many of the various MFP classes...purpose-built but glorified barges....once any potential use for amphibious landings had vanished were converted to flak ships and a number of embarrassingly good makeshift coastal fighting craft - by definition very shallow draught!
     
  16. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    ...remembering that each "string" of three barges consisted of one (1) unmotered barge...with a second MOTORED one towing it...and a third MOTORED barge laying alongside the unmotored one ;)

    At night, which would have been by far the safest time for the RN to attempt a break-in into the invasion routes by thus avoiding air attack and the need to constantly manouver to avoid fall of shot and fight off airborne attackers...actually managing to discriminate between the three might have been a little difficult...!

    P.S. the three anti-invasion flotillas WAS the RN's "ruthless concentration of force" Given the numbers of DDs available in home waters, and all the multiplicity of tasks these were all expected to perform each and every day - these flotillas were what the Admiralty could scrape together and not fail in their other responsibilities.
     
  17. harolds

    harolds Member

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    Yes, Phylo, the destroyers had other duties while they were waiting for the invasion but should one have been attempted, the destroyers would really have one job only: Get the invasion force! Of course, they'd also attack U-Boats in the channel as well, but cruisers and destroyers could have really blasted the barges-no matter how they'd been modified. Norway, besides taking heavy losses, gave the KM a real inferiority complex. I don't know what artillery had been lashed to the barges, but I'd suspect they'd use the light infantry guns-no match for a destroyer. There would have been no consideration about taking losses. The RN would have come in with their fangs out and hair on fire!
     
  18. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    Yep...! Britain's famous Navy would shine...and get sum!
     
  19. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    What's your source for this? It doesn't seem to conform to what I've read.
     
  20. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Member

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    1/ yes, they would have only one job....but they'd have to get back from whatever duties they were abroad on before they could go playing with the invasion traffic. This could take 3-5 days for those furthest away on convoy escort. So depending on the convoy escort duty rotation any number could be off in the Western Approaches when the invasion was detected.

    2/ Given what the KM was intending to do with its u-boats in the event of invasion, the boot would be very much on the other foot! And any time spent clearing the central Channel of U-boats was time wasted NOT breaking into the invasion routes.

    3/ There would HAVE to be consideration regarding losses, given that they'd possibly need to operate several nights in a row...likewise there would have to be consideration given to withdrawal for re-arming on each sortie, especially in the event of air attack, defence against which required a HUGE expenditure of AA munitions carried.
     

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