The Pain Off Spain
Vice Admiral Gravina, a scion of a Spanish naval family going back to the Age of Sail peered into the gloom ahead. It was very dark with both a new moon and an overcast sky, but there were no squalls and the sea state was fairly calm. His fleet or Franco’s depending on your view point was steaming due east to try and intercept an Allied fleet escorting an invasion convoy against Majorca.
Franco had not gotten his guarantees of French Morocco and portions of Algeria from Herr Hitler, but had decided to declare war anyway. The abortive assault on Gibraltar had brought consequences. The Royal Navy had already taken the Canary Islands and now another Allied Fleet had designs on the Balearics. His intel said the Koninklijke Marine formed the escort. His ancestors had fought the Dutch and now he would also.
The Armada Espanola was deployed in three squadron columns, DesRon 1, the cruiser squadron and DesRon 2 (from port to starboard). With only 3,000 yards between columns the formation was a bit tighter then Gravina would have liked but he was concerned about fratricide if contact was established before daylight. Gravina expected contact to starboard but his experiences at night against the Republicans told him that anything could happen.
At 0442 hours DesRon 2 opened fire at unidentified destroyers to their starboard rear. Gravina rapidly realized that he had overestimated his opponent’s speed, causing him to over shoot his quarry and ordered his fleet to reverse course. He also realized that sea haze that had been drifting in from the north had concealed his fleet from the enemy’s lookouts. He would get his fleet turned round and light off some star shell to illuminate what the heck was going on.
DesDiv 4 had been trailing DesDiv 3 in the southern most column of the fleet. Miranda, Escano and Ciscar had all detected a destroyer at 2,000 yards at 0439 hours. By the time they opened fire at 0442 hours at least two more destroyers had come into view on a course of 030 degrees. Miranda’s fire was ineffective (OK, she missed), but Escano hit the leading destroyer five times and Ciscar hit her twice. Ciscar hit the aft of her target and immediately set her on fire while Escano seemed to concentrate on the fore of the ship and her forward gun mounts were seen to fly into the air. The targeted destroyer (later determined to be Banckert) seemed to settle a bit and what had been thought to be an over from Ciscar struck her DCT and lit it up.
But DesDiv 4 had also launched all their torpedoes (6 triple mounts) at the offending destroyer. Two fish (one each) from Escano and Ciscar struck the destroyer sinking her outright. One of Miranda’s torps hit the destroyer behind sinking her (Van Ghent) also. But the torps were not done yet as two of Miranda’s and one of Escano’s hit yet a third destroyer (Van Nes) sinking her also.
The last destroyer in the targeted column now fired back and struck Ciscar four times, setting her afire, damaging a bulkhead, her engines and knocking out her aft gun mount. The return fire from DesDiv 4 was devastating. Miranda hit her (Van Ghalen) thrice, Escano twice and Ciscar five times. The destroyer went DIW and sunk three minutes later.
Enemy cruisers now opened on DesDiv 4, hitting Escano twice damaging two bulkheads. Escano would sink 6 minutes later.
Gravina ordered DesDiv 4 to make smoke, break contact and continue east until daylight before rejoining the fight. But that took a few minutes and, in that time, the enemy cruisers hit Miranda eight times and Ciscar seven times. Miranda took two hits in her bridge, was set afire, lost a TT mount, hull damage, damage to two bulkheads and her aft gun mount. Ciscar lost all her TT mounts, both her aft gun mounts and one fore gun mount and hull damage. Miranda would sink about 9 minutes later
But Gravina’s cruisers had now turned around and could see the Dutch cruisers. Rear Admiral Valdes’ light cruisers fired off their port torpedoes (all 6 triple mounts). They would reverse course and give the Dutch their starboard side next. Gravina ruefully thought about his heavy cruisers empty fixed tubes and opened fire on the lead Dutch cruisers instead.
Galicia hit the leading Dutch cruiser once. Almirante Cervera hit the second Dutch cruiser twice and Miguel de Cervantes hit the third Dutch cruiser once.
The lead Dutch cruiser (Endratch) staggered from the torpedo. The second Dutch cruiser (De Zeven de Provincien) also staggered and her fire slacken fore and aft. The third Dutch cruiser (De Ruyter) slowed perceptibly from the hit. Canarias’ fire was ineffective, but Baleares hit Zeven de Provincien) twice, silencing her forward guns.
The remainder of DesRon 2 (SL & DesDiv 3) now got into the act, firing their torps at the Dutch cruisers. Each destroyer targeted a cruiser. Each cruiser acquired at least one spread of torpedoes and tried to evade. Zeven de Provincien and Tromp still each took a hit. Zeven de Provincien sank and Tromp was badly damaged and set on fire. Endratch hit Canarais once, but De Ruyter hit Baleares five times. Canarias took damage to her engines. Baleares was set on fire, lost an empty TT mount, hull damage and both her fore turrets.
The Spanish light cruisers having turned around now fired their remaining starboard torpedoes (another 6 triple mounts) at the remaining Dutch cruisers. The Dutch tried to evade and succeeded with the three spreads that would have missed anyway. But each Dutch cruiser took a hit apiece from the remaining spreads. Endratch, De Ruyter and Tromp all sank.
Mean while DesRon 1 took on another Dutch destroyer group. DesRon 1 opened the ball with their Italian torpedoes (14 triple mounts). DesRon 1 SL and DesDiv 1 targeted the leading two Dutch destroyers (Tjerk Hiddes and Callenburgh) while DesDiv 2 targeted the trailing two destroyers (Isaac Sweers and Almonde). None of the Dutch destroyers managed to evade the torps coming out of the sea haze. Tjerk Hiddes took three torps and Callenburgh two; both sank. Sweers took two hits and Almonde one; both sank.
At this point Rear Admiral Staveren withdrew with the convoy, his cruiser and DesGrp 2 and Majorca, well that would stay Spanish for now.
As dawn broke the Armada Espanola returned to base, elated at having beat the Dutch so soundly. But Admiral Gavina knew that it was the sea haze that had given him victory.