Rob Jerrard's "Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews"

SHIPS THAT DESERVE TO BE REMEMBERED

Information from Harold Scott-Douglas, who served on this Ship at the time.

HMS Achates ("A" Class Destroyer) Lost 31st December 1942


When built: -Pennant No.H12 At Clydebank 4th.October 1929 Lost 31st December 1942

Displacement 1,350 tons.

Dimensions 312(pp)323(oa) X 32.25 X8.5 ft.

Machinery 2- shaft geared Turbines S.H.P. 34000

Armament 4- 4.7in.(4X1), 2-2pdr A.A (2X1)guns,8-21in.(2X4)Torpedo Tubes

Complement 138

Wartime Armament 2 X 4.7in., 2 pom-pom 2 pdr.(2X1), 4 X 20m.m. Oerlikons (4X1) guns, 4 - 21 in.torpedo Tubes (3 21 in. Torpedo’s, 1 21 in. Depth Charge) , A.T.W.(Ahead Thrown Weapon) known as a hedgehog, in place of "A" Gun , "y" gun was removed and depth charges stowed, 4 Depth charge throwers were fitted

WAR Complement 194


Last Commission

9th April 1942 Re-Commissioned at Swan and Hunters shipyard Tyneside.

Working up at Loch Ewe.

Submarine sweeping in the Minches.

Joined Clyde Special Escort Group at Gourock.

May 1942 Escorting convoy to Seydis Fiord (Iceland).

23rd.May 1942 PQ16 sailed for Murmansk and Archangel

30th May 1942 Arrived at Kola Inlet Convoy split to Murmansk and Archangel

July 1942 Return to UK, redirected to intercept German Squadron reported about to attack PQ17, information was wrong, PQ17 was scattered with great loss. This was the last time a Russian convoy was scattered.

July 1942 Repairs at Middle docks on Tyneside, exercises at Loch Ewe, back to Gourock.

September 1942 Convoy to Iceland.PQ18 assembled. Sailed for Russia.

September 1942 To Tyneside for repairs. Then to North Devon to pick up Landing crafts and escort them to Gibraltar. Escorted carriers to Malta on a "club run" carrying Hurricanes and Spitfires to replenish the garrison.

October 1942 Into the Atlantic to escort a troop and supply convoy from the UK, met the American section . Start of the North African invasion.

November 8th.1942 North African Invasion. We were covering the carriers off Oran. Return to UK.

December 1942. Escorted convoy to Seydis Fiord. Sailed on Xmas Eve with convoy JW15B.

December 31st. 1942 (1000 hrs) H.M.S Bramble made Enemy sighting report( Heavy cruisers Admiral Hipper and Lutznow and 4 destroyers of the Leberecht Maass class. Achates laid smoke to cover convoy until 1400hrs. After many hits from Hipper she sank. H.M.S Sheffield and Jamaica (Admiral Burnett) arrived and chased a heavier force away. Not one ship in the convoy was lost.

113 were lost on the Achates (81 survivors). Captain Sherbrooke on the Onslow received the V.C.

"A" class destroyers were the first destroyers built after the 1st World War. Prototypes built 1926 were Amazon and Ambuscade, 1929 the Flotilla Leader and "A" class were built these were :-

D65 Codrington (leader) lost 27/7/40

H09 Acasta lost 8/6/40

H12 Achates lost 31/12/42


H45 Acheron lost 17/12/40


H14 Active scrapped 20/5/47


H36 Antelope scrapped 31/1/46

H40 Anthony scrapped 5/48

H41 Ardent lost 8/6/40

H42 Arrow scrapped 22/8/29


In 1930 two were built for the Canadian Navy

D79 Saguenay (R.C.N.) constructive loss after a collision

D59 Skeena (R.C.N.) lost ,salved and scrapped after running aground.

These were followed by Classes "B", "C","D","E","F","G","H","I" then the "Tribal Class" which takes you up to 1937.

Copyright Rob Jerrard & Harold Scott-Douglas.


The Battle of the Barent Sea 31 Dec. 1942

From "The Navy at War 1939-1945, Captain S.W. Roskill RN"

Published 1960 Collins, with additional notes.

Note

For security reasons the Arctic convoys were given new code letters and numbers at this time. PQ18 and QP 15 were the last of the old series, and for the new series the letters were changed to JW. (outward) and RA. (homeward), with numbers for both starting at 150.

The German destroyers displaced 2,260-2,690 tons and were armed with five guns (5-inch to 5.9 inch) and 8 torpedo tubes. The destroyers of the Onslow class displaced 1,540 tons, and their armament consisted only of four guns (4-inch to 4.7-inch) and 8 torpedo tubes. Moreover, the five ships of that class originally with Captain Sherbrooke were reduced to four before the battle, for the Oribi lost touch when a gale struck the convoy off Bear Island.

The Battle

Convoy JW5B sailed from Loch Ewe on 22nd December, escorted by six destroyers and five smaller vessels under Captain R. St. V. Sherbrooke in the Onslow. Rear-Admiral K. L. Burnett's two cruisers, the Sheffield and Jamaica, which had gone right through to Murmansk with the first section, were to return to cover the second section while it was in the Barent Sea. On 30th December, a U-boat reported the convoy's position, and Vice-Admiral Kummetz at once put to sea from Altenfiord with the Hipper (flagship), Lutzow, and six destroyers.Admiral Burnett expected the enemy to approach from astern of the convoy, and had therefore taken station to the north of its route; but he was very uncertain of its actual position.

In fact heavy weather had delayed and scattered the merchantmen, some of whom had not yet rejoined the main body; and early on 31st the convoy itself was some 150 miles to the west of the position which Admiral Tovey, whose main fleet was giving distant cover, signalled to the cruiser Admiral as his best estimate. It thus happened that as the total darkness of the Arctic night gave way to the faint glimmer of dawn on New Year's Eve, 1942, none of the British forces in the Barent Sea was aware of the exact whereabouts of the others.

Captain Sherbrooke, however, had always felt that an attack by enemy warships was likely, and before setting out he had described to his subordinates and the Convoy Commodore how he would meet such an eventuality. His plan, which bore a strong resemblance to that which Admiral Vian had used so effectively in the Second Battle of Sirte, was to concentrate the destroyers of his own flotilla on the threatened flank of the convoy, and stand out boldly to attack the enemy, while the merchantmen would turn away under cover of a smoke screen laid by the other escorts. Thanks to Sherbrooke's foresight the captains of all ships present were thus absolutely clear regarding the parts they were to play, and if an emergency arose, no signalling would be necessary beyond telling them to " act in execution of previous orders." On the German side, Admiral Kummetz planned to approach from astern of the convoy, just as Burnett had anticipated, but he meant to divide his forces and attack simultaneously from both flanks; and that plan, if it worked out as intended, was bound to produce serious difficulties for Sherbrooke's few ships.

The first contact took place astern of the convoy at 8.30 a.m. on 31St December; but for about an hour our ships were doubtful whether the dim shapes seen in the half-light against a background of snow-laden clouds were friends or foes-for a reinforcement of Russian destroyers, which actually never turned up, was expected at that time. At 9.30, however, the uncertainty was dispelled by the enemy, which was in fact the three destroyers of the Hipper's group, opening fire on the Obdurate, which Sherbrooke had detached to investigate. The escort commander at once sent an enemy report, and that message gave Admiral Burnett the position of our destroyers as well as telling him that they were in contact with the enemy. Sherbrooke's pre-arranged plan was now put into effect, the convoy turned to the south, and the small escorts laid their smoke screen.

A short while later the Onslow and Orwell sighted and engaged the Hipper herself, which was trying to approach the convoy from the north; and by threatening the German heavy cruiser with their torpedoes they managed to hold her off. But at 10.20 the Onslow was badly hit, and Sherbrooke himself was severely wounded. Lieutenant-Commander Kinloch of the Obedient now took command, and continued to carry out the flotilla commander's plan. Meanwhile the two British cruisers were moving to support the destroyers; but a radar contact, which was probably on a merchantman which had got separated from the convoy, caused the Admiral to steer east instead of south for about half an hour; and it thus happened that about another hour passed before the cruisers made their presence felt. Considering that they had previously sighted flashes on the southern horizon it does seem that, had the Admiral at once " steered for the sound of the guns" he would have considerably shortened the time during which Sherbrooke's four ships had to grapple with such greatly superior forces; for at 10.45 the Lutzow was suddenly sighted on the southern flank of the convoy where there was at the time very little to protect it. Luckily she acted with marked timidity, and held off while (in the words of her captain) "waiting for the weather to clear."

Meanwhile the Hipper, to the north, had encountered and overwhelmed the little minesweeper Bramble, which had become detached from the convoy in the earlier gale. Then at 11.15 she suddenly re-appeared dangerously near to the convoy, and quickly crippled the destroyer Achates, which was devotedly shielding her charges with smoke. So far the Hipper had had matters altogether too much her own way; and it was fortunate that at 11.30, just when the situation looked highly perilous, the Sheffield and Jamaica at last sighted and engaged her. They at once scored several hits which reduced the German flagship's speed, and forced her to retire westwards. Then Burnett's ships sighted two German destroyers, and quickly sank one of them-the Friedrich Eckholdt. The Lutzow was meanwhile closing in again, and at 11.45 she suddenly opened fire on the convoy; but the Obdurate, Obedient and Orwell at once moved out to attack, and again they held her off No sooner had that threat been countered than the Hipper re-appeared to the north, and the British destroyers had to switch their attention to her.

Kummetz, however, did not press his advantage, but ordered all his forces to withdraw westwards; and when no more enemies could be seen, the three effective British destroyers therefore steered to overtake the convoy, on which the damaged Onslow had already taken station. The Sheffield and Jamaica were meanwhile pursuing the retiring Hipper; but by 2 p.m. they had lost contact, and Burnett then took up a covering position to the south of the convoy. So ended the "Battle of the Barents Sea."

On the British side there was every reason to be satisfied with the outcome, for although we lost the Achates and Bramble, the sinking of the Eckholdt and the damage inflicted on the Hipper balanced the material account fairly evenly; and, most remarkably, not one ship of the convoy suffered more than superficial damage. Even though the German ships, and particularly the Lutzow, had shown a marked reluctance to seize the opportunities which came to them, let alone force a decision on their much weaker adversaries, the accomplishment of Sherbrooke and his men was an outstanding example of what determined leadership, supported by complete mutual understanding between individual captains, can accomplish-even in the face of a greatly superior enemy. The German Naval Staff admitted that the action had been obviously unsatisfactory," but in the enemy's camp the battle had astonishing repercussions; for when Hitler learnt how five British destroyers supported by two 6-inch cruisers had held off a pocket-battleship, an 8-inch cruiser and six far more powerful destroyers for four hours, and had finally forced them to withdraw, he flew into an ungovernable rage, and so insulted Raeder and his service that the Grand Admiral tendered his resignation. On 30th January, 1943, Donitz thus became Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy; and the man who had all along been the chief advocate of the U-boat arm was at last given the power to direct his country's entire naval effort-just when the events in the Atlantic were plainly moving towards a climax. We may, however, note that the new C-in-C. very soon had to get Hitler to rescind the order to pay off all the big German warships, which had been one of the chief causes of the breach between him and Raeder.