Tom Russ
United States
El Segundo
California
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[This is a bit overdue, because I thought I had written it up a while ago.
Session on August 24, 2013.]

Allies under command of Adm. Tom Russ
Germans under Adm. von Etan
(Ethan McKinney -- it's hard to turn "McKinney" into a Teutonic name...)

In mid November 1942 the Allied command decided to return empty merchant shipping from Arkhangelsk before the ice closed in and made operations more difficult. Things had recently been quiet and it was expected that the return convoy would catch the Germans off guard and make it past the North Cape before the Kriegsmarine realized anything was happening.

Intelligence indicated that the greatest threat would be from the cruisers Admiral Hipper and Köln based at Alta. German air assets would largely be grounded by the continuous night. The convoy was to pick up escort from Murmansk as well as getting heavy support just past the North Cape. Additional Soviet forces were available in Murmansk for close-in escort.

The convoy was barely 100 miles into its voyage when gale winds battered the ships, traveling in ballast. As a twist on the standard military adage, in this case the plan did not survive contact with the weather. [On the plus side, I can use the same plan again, since my opponent saw none of the actual plan.] Weather continued to be very bad with intermittent storm and rain showers.

As the convoy approached Murmansk, heavy gales developed that lasted around two days. The convoy was hammered, with the ships unable to make progress and becoming hopelessly dispersed. And the trip had hardly begun. The convoy had not yet left Soviet waters. A lack of radio discipline in the trying conditions enabled the Luftwaffe to locate the convoy.

Given the large degree of disorganization, the convoy Commodore decided that the best course of action would be to put in to the port at Murmansk, re-group and then continue with the trip to Loch Ewe after all ships were accounted for. Unfortunately, the harbor master and naval commander in Murmansk refused to give permission to put in to port. The Soviets were insistent that the original plan be followed without improvisations. So the convoy soldiered on. At least the arrival of the Murmansk-based escorts helped round up the stray ships.

But the delays greatly complicated the rendezvous plans for the close cover and heavy support task forces coming from the west. Not to mention that the fuel planning was completely disrupted. Fortunately the bad weather and darkness allowed the convoy to escape too much attention from German reconnaissance assets.

British escort forces on their way to join the convoy and Soviet escorts returning to port were able to surprise a couple wolf packs on the surface and launched offensive ASW attacks. Unfortunately for the Allies, the German sub commanders were veterans and managed to turn the tables, sinking one British and one Russian destroyer while escaping unharmed.

The German surface forces sortied and had position over the covering forces. The Admiralty greatly feared that the convoy would be savaged by the High Seas Fleet before the escorts could come to its rescue. The Germans, however, were a bit tentative and did not press their advantage. This allowed the heavy covering force of a battleship and two cruisers to augment the light ship escort. Once that happened, the convoy would be safe from surface threats. Never bring a cruiser to a battleship fight!

But the surface attack never came. At one point the Luftwaffe reconnaissance determined that the escort was too strong to attack. Once at sea, though, the Kriegsmarine continued to dog the Allied forces, hoping to find something weaker to prey upon. Night attacks from He-177 and Fw-200 heavy bombers were also a threat, giving the Royal Navy's cruiser task force a bit of a fright. Unable to maneuver while on escort duty, the heavy ships were at a disadvantage during air attacks. Eventually, the cruisers would break away to form a separate screening force.

Based on fuel calculations, the Royal Navy was able to relax, since the German fleet, never known for overly bold action, would have to return to port to refuel the destroyers. The convoy's light ship escort was scheduled to be relieved by a relay of destroyers from Seidisfjördur. The cunning Hun, however, was more daring than expected and chose to stretch the fuel supplies as well as braving potential ice damage to remain near the convoy. One German light ship did suffer ice damage. However, they were never able to find a suitable opportunity to attack.

The U-boat fleet continued to dog the convoy but was singularly ineffective. They were quite persistent, harrying the convoy all the way to port, being driven off only by the in-shore patrol from Loch Ewe harbor. In spite of the effort, there were no successes and despite the darkness, the air patrols managed to sink one German submarine while claiming three.

Although battered by storms, especially in the early part of the run around the North Cape, the convoy was successfully and safely brought to its destination, all merchantmen arriving with only minor weather damage. Even though they were several days behind schedule.

The result was a strong Allied victory. German and Allied CPs and ship losses balanced, but the 29 merchants made it unscathed. +15 1/2
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Chris Janiec
United States
(Teller County)
Colorado
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Thanks for the report, Tom. Looks like the Germans lost their best chance by being unable to attack the convoy before it reformed, but they were persistent and kept the issue in doubt.
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Tom Russ
United States
El Segundo
California
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Well, not really then. When the convoy was dispersed, it was still about 200 miles east of Murmansk.

The missed opportunity was when the convoy had just passed west of Murmansk and before the heavy ship escort could reach it. It was only about a 12-24 hour window of vulnerability, and von Etan didn't exploit it.
 
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