One Year: The Story of HMS Prince of Wales

First off: I’m really sorry for not writing these more regularly! I’ve been trying to keep the blog regularly updated with these (every Sunday) and news (when there’s news) but lately I’ve been having to focus on some personal stuff that doesn’t leave me with time for a whole lot else. Thankfully, I’ve had some windows of free time!

Now, to the history. Last time we talked about a British ship, it was about the HMS Warrior, and I called her the luckiest ship alive today. As it happens, this Sunday we’re going to be looking at one of the unluckiest ships of the Royal Navy – HMS Prince of Wales, second of the King George V class of modern fast battleships. She in service for less than a year, but in that time had travelled much of the world, and been involved in some of the most important and notable events of the Second World War at sea.

Prince of Wales‘ run of bad luck actually began before she was a commissioned warship; in 1940, while she was still being fitted-out at her home of Birkenhead in Liverpool, she was bombed by the Luftwaffe, which led to her completion being delayed – something which would have dire effects almost a year later. While still in Liverpool she was quickly commissioned for trials, and then sailed off to Rosyth in Scotland to complete her fitting-out and testing.

PrinceOfWalesEarly
Prince of Wales early in 1941, sometime before her battle with Bismarck

The Royal Navy was, in fact, quite desperate to have a second modern battleship complete, as Germany currently boasted two: Bismarck, and the recent addition of Tirpitz just in February. On March 31st, despite not having fully functional guns and missing out on several important tests, Prince of Wales was declared complete.

It was a political decision, ultimately, and certainly not the first one that the battleship would suffer.

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Why Do German Battleships Have Torpedoes?

Bit of a short History Sunday today, and as it happens, we’re staying on the subject of the German navy! Still battleships, too, perhaps because I’m lazy and like being a little topical.

The three German battleships still afloat after the sinking of BismarckScharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Tirpitz – all were upgraded to have deck-mounted torpedo tubes: two triple mounts each for the Scharnhorst-class, and two quadruples for the mighty Tirpitz. They’re wonderfully fun in-game, since they allow you to blast any ships that come too close with heavy damage, particularly other battleships. That latter part might even be considered an effectual strategy if, during your games, you’re picturing yourself as the battleship Rodney going toe-to-toe with Bismarck herself.

Unfortunately, the truth is far less exciting than that.

German Admiral Johann Günther Lütjens, most famous for going down with the Bismarck, executed the generally great success that was Operation Berlin in early 1941, starring Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and the Allied convoys of the Atlantic. He found that one of the riskiest parts of the business of commerce raiding was the scuttling of captured vessels; normally, scuttling charges would be placed, the sinking would be observed, and the raiders would be off like pirates into the open sea. More often than not, the two battleships in the Atlantic found that the British were hot on their tails, and Lütjens was perpetually adamant that the ships avoid engaging in open combat, even with older battleships like Ramillies. This was smart, considering that if the two battleships got tangled into a fight, the rest of the Royal Navy’s capital ships would certainly close in quickly.

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History Sunday: The Channel Dash!

In early 1942, the Kriegsmarine found itself in a very tricky situation: moored in the occupied French port of Brest they not only had the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, but also the two battleships of the Scharnhorst-class. This was considerably problematic, as Brest was well within striking range of the Royal Air Force, and it was a matter of time before the ships were bombed in harbour; the Battle for Britain was long over and British air superiority over their home waters definitively secured. In addition, the memory of Bismarck‘s sinking was still fresh for both the Germans and the British, with differing consequences for both sides: the British were confident in their sea power in the Atlantic, to say nothing of the Channel, and the Germans, while they wanted to sortie Tirpitz, didn’t dare send her out even with an escort for fear of another Bismarck incident happening.

While Britain could – and very much did – survive the loss of several capital ships, the loss of Bismarck alone was an almost crippling blow to the Kriegsmarine. If they were to have any chance of holding a chokehold on British and Soviet shipping, they needed as many capable ships as they could, and the two Scharnhorst-class battleships were key to this.

Hemmed in at Brest, however, there was little the German ships could do. When they acted, it wasn’t out of tactical consideration, but out of desperation.

Above: Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen, the three ships starring in the Dash

Three of the core ships of the navy were trapped in hell, and only the right combination of luck and skill could get them out. For once in the turbulent war at sea, the Germans managed to completely outfox their British opponents.

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No History Sunday Today

I’m sorry! I should’ve expected this, but I’m not going to be able to finish the History Sunday article that I had planned for today. It was supposed to be an interesting and topical one! Unfortunately, I had an event to go to today, and I thought I might be able to finish the article later in the day but no, I’m completely exhausted and out of time.

I promise, though, that the same article will be posted this coming Sunday! This time we’re moving from the Soviets and the British over to the ever-interesting Germans…

The Luckiest Ship Alive

On a frigid December in Blackwall, London, in 1861, the history of naval power was changed forever. The massive ironclad warship HMS Warrior slipped into the river Thames, a 40-gun frigate powered by steam and sail, not the first ironclad in the world – that honour went to the French Gloire two years prior – but the first of a fully new generation of warships.

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Warrior in her prime

Warrior was built with a long hull made entirely of iron, breaking with the tradition of wooden hulls only armoured over with iron; this innovation, in order to save weight, required the armour to be concentrated in a centrally located box – the citadel – which protected the ship’s vitals, as opposed to armouring along the length of the vessel. This changed the way ships were built nearly overnight, and even into the era depicted by World of Warships these same fundamentals lived on: the USS Iowa, built eighty years after Warrior, follows similar principles in her design: a fully steel hull with the armour concentrated over the engines and magazines.

It’s an incredible fortune that, unlike any other ship from her era, Warrior still exists today. It’s one thing for an ironclad to survive to the present; it’s another thing entirely for such a revolutionary ship to make it through one hundred and fifty turbulent years.

As it happens, Warrior, for that accomplishment, is the luckiest ship in the world today. Had even one of many events in history happened differently, we would have lost one of the greatest pieces of naval engineering the world has ever seen.

FrenchShipGloire
Gloire, the French ship that had the whole of Britain on edge

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History Sunday

I’ve always wanted to have more historical articles on the blog – not necessarily about naval battles themselves, but about warships in general. My early post about the INS Vikrant, and the one earlier today about the Chinese aircraft carrier theme parks, are the sort of thing I’m thinking of. Not along any particular theme, but generally just interesting things I come across that I can share and write about. I might even slip in some future tech tree speculation, too, to add some more relevance to World of Warships itself.

From now on I’m going to post a historical article every Sunday, because the weekend tends to be the quietest time of the week, with little news coming out.

I hope everyone enjoys the articles as they come along!

China’s Strange Soviet Love Affair

KievAircraftCarrier
Kiev, lead ship of the class, while in Soviet service

The dissolution of the Soviet Union led to a number of uncomfortable questions, one of which involved the fate of the Soviet Navy; Russia alone, being one part of the whole that was the USSR, couldn’t take all of the ex-navy’s ships, nor could the Ukraine nor the Baltic states. Even if any of them could, it was more of an economic matter than strictly political, because a modern navy is very expensive to maintain.

Caught in the middle of this were four relatively old Soviet aircraft carriers/aviation cruisers: Kiev, Minsk, Novorossiysk and Baku.

Novorossiysk was soon to be sold for scrapping; she had been stricken by an engine fire, and it was decided that she was worth more as a hulk than as a functional warship.

Baku, technically a half-sister to the others, was kept in service after some necessary repairs due to a boiler room explosion. However, the costs of keeping her afloat were outweighed by the fact that Russia already had a nicer, more modern aircraft carrier in the Kuznetsov, commissioned just before the breakup of the Soviet Union. So, she was mothballed and offered for sale, but wouldn’t really go anywhere for a number of years. I’ll come back to her in a bit, but don’t worry: she has a happy ending.

Kiev and Minsk had no place in the post-Soviet Russian navy, and so they were offered up for sale. In almost any other circumstances – just look at the fate of Novorossiysk – they would’ve been sold to the breakers for whatever their scrap was deemed to be worth. These two sister, however, had an altogether more bizarre chapter laying ahead of them. In 1995 and 1996, respectively, an assortment of Chinese and South Korean companies bought Minsk and Kiev, and few people could have expected what exactly would be done with them.

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