The Battle of Utsire Island
The Germans had landed about 2,000 Gebirgs (mountain) infantry from destroyers at Narvik and supplemented this with fifth columnists to about 3,500 troops. But the bulk of their heavy weapons, ammunition and other supplies had been lost when the RN sank their transporting destroyers during the second battle of Narvik.
The German response to that disaster was to load an additional Gebirgs regiment on the Duisberg and send her with additional heavy weapons and supplies (including the needed ammunition) in two cargo ships under heavy escort to reinforce and resupply the now beleaguered garrison at Narvik.
The French had transferred portions of the 1st Squadron under VAdm Gensoul to the Channel to assist the RN in the North Sea. That force would attempt to intercept this new German troop convoy prior to its arrival at Narvik.
Battleship Force: VAdm Lutjens DesFlot 1
BC Scharnhorst FF DD Z4 Richard Beitzen
BC Gneisenau DD Z5 Paul Jacobi
Cruiser Force: RAdm Schmundt DD Z6 Theodor Riedel
CA Admiral Hipper DF DD Z7 Hermann Schoemann
CL Koln DesFlot 2
CL Konigsberg DD Z8 Bruno Heinemann
CL Karlsruhe DD Z10 Hans Lody
Transport & Cargo DD Z14 Friedrich Ihn
AP Duisberg DD Z16 Friedrich Eckoldt
AK Adolf Luderitz
Heading: N Formation: Column, DesFlot 1, BF, CF & DesFlot 2 with convoy to starboard.
Speed: 12 knots
Mission: Prevent loss of transport and exit transport off N edge.
Force du Raid
Ligne Division 1: VAdm Gensoul 2nd Legere Squadron: RAdm Lacroix
BC Strasbourg FF Contre-Torpilleur 4
BC Dunkerque DD Lynx DF
Cruiser Squadron 3: RAdm Marquis DD Tiger
CL Marseillaise SF Contre-Torpilleur 6
CL Jean de Vienne DD Mogador SF
CL La Glassoniere DD Volta
DesDiv 5 Contre-Torpilleur 10
DD Brestois DF DD Le Audacieux DF
DD Boulannais DD Le Fantasque
DD Le Terrible
Heading: NNE Formation: Column, CS3, DesDiv5, LD1, CT4, CT6 & CT10
Speed: 25 knots
Mission: Sink transport or at least prevent it exiting N edge.
Time: 0400 hours 6 GT of Dark , then increase visibility by D6 (1000 yards per pip) until max daylight visibility. At Dawn roll a D6 and the result is how much visibility is reduced when looking west. Visibility to the west increases by 2,000 yards each GT until it equates with visibility in any other direction.
Wind: Force 5 Northeasterly at 20 knots Squalls: None Sea Haze: None
Sky: Overcast Moon State: New Max Daylight Visibility: 20,000 yards
Weather Change: RR each GT, change on 1 or 12
Vice Admiral Gensoul had changed up his sailing order as night fell. He had moved DesDiv 5 up in front of Straabourg. He had kept his single column formation though. Gensoul had given strict instructions that he expected contact either ahead or to starboard. Upon his signal Rear Admirals Marquis and Lacroix would swing their commands out to port and form a second (cruisers) and a third (Contre-Torpilleur) columns. Everyone was instructed not to engage to their port absent explicit instructions from Gensoul to prevent fratricide. Everyone would also go to full speed. If the column was fired upon from ahead or to starboard then everyone was to execute the Admiral’s plan.
Gensoul did not want his cruisers and Contre-Torpilleurs engaged. He wanted them unengaged with freedom of maneuver until he knew what he was up against; where it was and what he wanted to do about it. Gensoul was closing the coast of Norway near Utsire Island and he expected to contact the Germans at any moment.
Vice Admiral Lutjens had also changed sailing order as night fell. He moved DesFlot 1 in from of his battle cruisers and had DesFlot 2 close up behind. He placed Rear Admiral Schmundt’s cruisers at the head of the convoy.
At 0412 hours the mast heads of Z4 and Brestois saw each other’s ship. Z4 opened (he rolled odd and could not hold his fire) on Brestois. Brestois did not fire back (He rolled even and had the option not to fire). Gensoul ordered DesDiv 5 to break contact to port 3,000 yards and return to an NNE heading. Gensoul ordered plan execute and full speed ahead. Strasbourg and Dunkerque could now see Z4 because of her gun flashes and ordered DesDiv 5 to fire star shell and illuminate Z4 and the sea around her. Meanwhile Gensoul was maneuvering Strasbourg and Dunkerque into a quarter line heading NNE.
Lutjens was puzzled. Z4 had seen a ship, fired at it and that ship disappeared into the night. If the enemy (whoever that enemy was) would not stand and face one German destroyer maybe Narvik was not seen by the rest of the world as the disaster it was. Then star shell illuminated Z4, Z5, Z6 and Z7. So, the enemy was not running at all.
That was followed at 0418 hours by Z6 and Z7 each being hit (both bulkheads). The shell flashes came from well south of where the gun flashes equated with the star shell were. Z7 fixed her bulkhead but Z6 failed and took more damage as a result.
Gensoul ordered Admiral Lacroix to reverse course with the 3rd Leger Squadron and to work his way round behind the fight that Gensoul believed was to occur shortly. Gensoul would keep pounding the German destroyers until their heavier units intervened. He would have Admiral Marquis break off also (behind smoke if needed) and follow Admiral Lacroix around to the south.
Lutjens’ battlecruisers could now see at least two cruisers and opened on them at approximately 9,000 yards. Scharnhorst hit Jean de Vienne 6 times, knocking out her fore turrets, a starboard secondary and thrice in the hull (including 2 bulkheads). Gneisenau also hit La Glassoniere 6 times, knocking out her fore turrets, a starboard secondary, a torpedo mount and her search light. The hit on La Glassoniere’s float plane set her afire and the hit in her hull damaged a bulkhead. Jean de Vienne hit Z6 again knocking out a torpedo mount and her search light. La Glassoniere hit Z7 twice more, damaging another bulkhead and knocking out her DCT. Jean de Vienne and La Glassoniere fired star shell at Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.
Neither Jean de Vienne or La Glassoniere were able to fix anything and they continued to flood and burn. Both turned away under smoke as did Marseillaise. Z6 fixed her bulkhead, but Z7 did not and continued to flood.
By now Gensoul had Strasbourg and Dunkerque in quarter line. With Scharnhorst and Gneisenau now illuminated his opened on them at 0424 hours.
Strasbourg hit Scharnhorst once in a float plane and setting her afire. Dunkerque’s fire was ineffective. Strasbourg’s secondary hit Z6 twice in the hull while Dunkerque’s secondary hit Z7 once knocking out a torpedo mount and a searchlight. Brestois and Boulonnais continued to illuminate the leading German destroyers.
Neither Jean de Vienne’s or La Glassoniere’s damage control was able to fix anything. Z7 fixed her damaged bulkhead but both damaged destroyers had to drop out under cover of smoke. Strasbourg also made smoke to cover Dunkerque. Strasbourg switched her secondaries to Z5 and hit her once, knocking out a torpedo mount. Strasbourg hit Scharnhorst twice, knocking out her fore turret and a searchlight. Scharnhorst’s fire bounced off Strasbourg’s armor, but Gneisenau damaged her hull reducing her to 25 knots. Brestois (Division leader) ordered Boulonnais to continue illuminating the leading two German destroyers.
Jean de Vienne and La Glassoniere both fixed a bulkhead, but Jean de Vienne had damaged bulkheads and she sank. La Glassoniere still had a fire burning and was reduced to 9 knots. Gensoul turned away two points to port and his smoke now covered him from the German battlecruisers. Strasbourg hit Z4 6 times, including a magazine. This knocked out most of Z4’s armament and damaged her hull thrice. Strasbourg’s secondaries hit Z5 once knocking out her fore gun. Brestois also hit her once knocking out her last torpedo mount. German fire was ineffective.
La Glassoniere continued to burn and only her smoke was saving her from being annihilated at this point. Lutjen’s seeing the French battlecruisers (he had finally identified them) turn away under smoke ordered DesFlot 2 to attack them with torpedoes. Both Z4 and Z5 turned away under smoke.
It was almost dawn and the sky was starting to light from the east as Gensoul turned two points back to starboard to renew the fight with Lutjen’s. He had meanwhile seen that with the lead German destroyers withdrawn, the way round north was open. He ordered DesDiv 5 to get round the North and try for the convoy that way while he tied the Germans up. Strasbourg and Dunkerque launched their spotter a/c.
Meanwhile Admiral Lacroix was speeding around the German rear at 38 knots with Contre-Torpilleur 4 and Admiral Marquis following at 31 knots.
La Glassoniere finally put her fire out and limped off under smoke at 9 knots for safety.
Strasbourg opened on Scharnhorst again and hit her twice, hitting a float plane, setting her on fire and knocking out her other fore turret. Scharnhorst’s return fire missed and Gneisenau’s bounced off her armor.
The French spotter a/c saw DesFlot 2’s approach and alerted their battle cruisers, but there was little they could do without exposing Dunkerque to the German fire. Strasbourg’s fire bounced off Scharnhorst. And German return fire was ineffective. The German BC’s launched their spotter a/c.
Scharnhorst put her fire out.
Strasbourg and Dunkerque turned to port together with both making smoke that blanked any shot by the German BCs. It would also hurt their gunnery against the German destroyers breaking through their smoke, but it would allow their full batteries to bear. Z8 penetrating the smoke turned hard to port to open up her torpedo broadside and allow a firing solution as did Z10, Z14 and Z16 (the last one barely having enough straight movement at the end to qualify). Strasbourg fired her MB at Z8 and her secondary at Z10 while Dunkerque did the same with Z14 and Z16 respectively. Strasbourg hit Z8 15 times, knocking out both torpedo mounts, her fore gun mount, hitting her in the hull 7 times and in her engineering thrice knocking her DIW as well hitting her depth charges and setting her afire. Strasbourg also hit Z10 4 times, DC racks, setting her afire; knocking out her fore gun mount; damaging a bulkhead and hitting her in her engineering reducing her to 25 knots. Dunkerque hit Z14 6 times, knocking out her fore torpedo mount, 2 fore gun mounts, damaging her hull and engineering, reducing her to 25 knots as well as a magazine hit that knocked out third gun mount. Dunkerque also hit Z16 once, knocking out her fore gun mount.
Z8 failed to repair her engines and remained DIW. Z10 fixed her bulkhead. Z14 failed to fix her engines, Z10 fired her torps at Strasbourg. Z14 split her torps between Strasbourg and Dunkerque while Z16 fired her torps at Dunkerque. Strasbourg and Dunkerque both turned together to starboard placing their sterns towards the destroyers. All torpedoes missed. Strasbourg’s fired her secondary at Z10 5 times, knocking out a now empty torpedo mount, three-gun mounts and damaging a bulkhead. Dunkerque fired at Z16 and hit her 4 times, knocking out 2-gun mounts, damaging her hull and her DCT.
Lutjen’s upon learning that here had been no torpedo hits and DesFlot 2 was retiring as best it could under smoke felt this fight slipping away from him. But Gneisenau was still intact and the convoy was secure for the moment under the watchful eye of Admiral Schmundt.
Strassbourg turned two points to starboard and again emerged to engage Scharnhorst and Gneisenau while sheltering Dunkerque with smoke from their fire. At this point the sky was brightening fast except to the west where Strasbourg was. This meant it was a daylight engagement for her while it was almost still like dark for the German BCs. Strasbourg hit Scharnhorst twice in the hull slowing her to 21 knots. Gneisenau hit Strasbourg 3 times, damaging her fore turret and reducing it to 2 guns, damaging her hull. But a magazine hit knocked the fore turret out completely.
It was now full daylight 0530 hours. Strasbourg ceased to smoke Dunkerque. Strasbourg fire at Scharnhorst and missed. Scharnhorst’s return fire missed. Apparently, Dunkerque emerging from the smoke nonplussed both ships as only Gneisenau hit and then only once lighting a fire in the fuel storage for Dunkerque’s planes.
Dunkerque put her fire out. Strasbourg fired at Scharnhorst who returned fire and missed. Strasbourg hit Scharnhorst once, also setting her a fire. Dunkerque and Gneisenau both hit each other once. Dunkerque suffered hull damage and Gneisenau lost her fore turret.
Scharnhorst put her fire out. Strasbourg and Scharnhorst again exchanged fire and Strasbourg hit Scharnhorst once in the hull reducing her to 14 knots. Dunkerque and Gneisenau each hit one another once. Dunkerque lost her fore starboard secondary while Gneisenau lost a AA mount.
Strasbourg hit Scharnhorst once with nothing in return again. Scharnhorst lost more hull reducing her to 10 knots. Dunkerque and Gneisenau both missed.
Strasbourg hit Scharnhorst once again for no return. Scharnhorst took more hull damage reducing her to 5 knots. Dunkerque and Gneisenau continued to miss.
Strasbourg and Scharnhorst now missed, but Dunkerque hit Gneisenau twice and Gneisenau hit Dunkerque once. Gneisenau suffered hull damage and her bridge was hit. Dunkerque suffered hull damage. Reducing Gneisenau and Dunkerque to 28 and 19 knots respectively.
Scharnhorst now hit Strasbourg for damage to her hull with nothing in return. Dunkerque and Gneisenau each damaged the other’s hull reducing them to 13 and 25 knots respectively.
Everybody missed. Strasbourgand Scharnhorst missed, but Gneisenau and dunkerques hit each other twice. Gneisenau lost her remaining fore turret and suffered damage to her hull reducing her to 20 knots. Dunkerque lost the last of her starboard secondary and a searchlight.
Scharnhorst hit Strasbourg thrice, damaging her remaining turret reducing it to 2 guns as well damaging her hull before another hit knocked out her last turret. Gneisenau and Dunkerque both hit one another once. Dunkerque had her hull damaged and Gneisenau lost a secondary. Admiral Gensoul having lost all his armament decided to withdraw (he failed morale).
Meanwhile, the French destroyers and Marseilliase were trying to figure how to get at the convoy (in daylight by now) without getting annihilated by the German cruisers and still not figured that out when Gensoul ordered a withdrawal.
The French morale failure gave the German’s the victory. Admiral Schmundt’s cruisers escorted the convoy to Narvik where it turned the tide. But the Scharnhorst and Z6, 7, 8, 10 and 14 were all bombed incessantly and sunk by RAF LBA.