THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC
A major part of the naval history of the Second World War was the Battle of the Atlantic. Included in this theatre of war was the North Sea. The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign running from 1939 to the defeat of Germany in 1945.
The Battle of the Atlantic started at the beginning of the Second World War with the sinking of the British passenger liner SS Athenia by a German submarine.
The British government announced the re-introduction of the convoy system for merchant ships and a full scale blockade on German shipping on the 8th September 1939.
On the 17th September 1939 the Aircraft Carrier HMS Courageous was torpedoed and sunk by a patrolling German submarine off the coast of Ireland.
In Scapa Flow on the 14th October 1939 the British battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk by German submarine U-47.
Germany launched the first air attack on British territory on the16th October 1939. Cruisers HMS Southampton and Edinburgh together with destroyer HMS Mohawk were damaged at their anchorage in the Firth of Forth.
German U-boats and the Luftwaffe began to attack the Thames estuary on 20th November 1939.
Damaged German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee was forced into the port of Montevideo in Uruguay following an engagement with the British fleet. Graf Spee was required to leave within seventy-two hours and her captain scuttled her on the River Plate estuary on the 17th December 1939.
The British fleet were defeated by the Germans at the Battle of Heligoland Bight on the 18th December 1939.
1940 (January to July)
On the 20th January 1940 HMS Exmouth was sunk north of Scotland whilst escorting merchant ship Cyprian Prince. Exmouth was torpedoed by German U-boat U-44 and sank with the loss of all hands and the Cyprian Prince sailed away without attempting to pick up any survivors.
West of Portugal unescorted Greek merchant ship Ekatontarchos Dracoulis was hit by a torpedo fired from German U-boat U-44 on the 21st January 1940. The crew abandoned ship and U-44 left the area before the vessel sank.
On the 15th February 1940, Hitler ordered unrestricted U-boat warfare against the Allies on supplies transported across the Atlantic.
During an air raid on the 16th March 1940 thirty-two Junkers Ju-88 dive bombers attacked the Royal Naval Base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands.
The Battle for Narvik began on the 10th April 1940 when a flotilla of five British destroyers, led by Commander Bernard Warburton-Lee, entered the harbour of Narvik under the cover of heavy snow. In the surprise attack they sank two German destroyers and six merchant ships and damaged another destroyer. Five additional German destroyers joined in the engagement and fired at Warburton-Lee’s HMS Hardy knocking out his forward guns and the ships bridge. Most of the officers were killed and Warburton-Lee sustained a severe head wound. Although seriously wounded Paymaster Lieutenant G.H. Stannard took command of Hardy and ordered the ship to be grounded and abandoned. Shortly after being brought ashore Warburton-Lee died and for his actions he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Two British destroyers were sunk including Hardy with another damaged and the remaining destroyers withdrew from the harbour. On the 13th April 1940 a total of eleven British ships arrived to find the German destroyers stranded through lack of fuel and ammunition. The ensuing battle saw all German destroyers sunk or scuttled and the only vessel to survive was the U-boat U-51.
By the 25th May 1940 Allied troops had been pushed back to the beaches at Dunkirk and a flotilla of small boats managed to evacuate over 300,000 British and French troops to England by the 3rd June 1940.
Operation Dynamo was finally completed on the 3rd June 1940 where 335,000 soldiers evacuated from the Dunkirk beaches. Britain declared this was a triumph out of tragic defeat. On the following day, the 4th June 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a great speech where he promised to defend our native island home by fighting on the beaches, landing grounds, streets and hills and that “we shall never surrender”.
Travelling through the Norwegian Sea British aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and two British destroyers were sunk by German battleship Scharnhorst on 8th June 1940.
Similar to the evacuation from Dunkirk, 150.000 Allied troops were evacuated from ports of North West France by the Royal Navy between the 15th and 25th June1940, code-named Operation Aerial.
On the 17th June 1940, Cunard liner RMS Lancastria had not long left the port of St. Nazaire when she was spotted by German bombers who proceeded to bomb her. The liner had been pressed into service as a troopship with a full complement of personnel and stores. When the liner sank approximately 4000 men, women and children lost their lives.
THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC