Battle in the Bay of Biscay 28 December 1943
The Royal Navy cruisers HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise were at sea as a part of Operation Stonewall, intended to prevent the German blockade runners Orsono and Alsterufer from reaching France with their cargos of tungsten and rubber from Japan. Orsono had made it to the Gironde but had been attacked by bombers and beached. Alsterufer had been attacked by B24’s and set on fire before being abandoned by her crew. But the Germans did not know that. They had mounted Operation Bernau comprised of the 8th DesFlot (Z24, Z27, Z32 & Z37), accompanied by T25 and T27 as well as a Torpedo Boat group comprised of T22, T23, T24 & T26 to find and escort Alsterufer. The DesFlot and TB Gruppe had sailed separately but had joined at sea about 1200 hours. The Alsterufer was nowhere to found and the Germans turned for France.
Both the cruisers and the destroyers/TBs had been spotted and their positions reported by a/c. The cruisers freed by the loss of the Alsterufer were maneuvering to cut the DD/TB group off from their bases. The weather was steadily worsening with a Force 9 (30 knots) westerly (I rolled the direction).
The cruisers with HMS Glasgow leading would act separately during the engagement. Glasgow’s masthead spotted the Germans at 16,000 yards at 1330 hours. There was small squall (1,500 yards across) some 4,000 yards ahead of Glasgow with a much larger squall (about 6,000 yards across) about 2, 000 yards ahead of the first squall. More squalls were threatening.
The weather affected speed, the cruisers were reduced by 5 knots and the DDs/TBs limited to 25 knots. The weather affected gunnery negatively but was worse for the DDs/TBs. The weather greatly limited torpedoes and spotter a/c could not land. Smoke was also ineffective.
The cruisers were steaming at 27 knots and slowly gaining on the DDs/TBs. The 8th DesFlot was leading the German column followed by their accompanying TBs and then the TB gruppe. At first the Germans could use the squalls astern to protect them from the cruiser’s fire but that ended by 1424 hours when the cruisers cleared both squalls and while not up had closed within 15,000 yards.
Glasgow opened on T26 with her fore turrets and missed. At 1430 hours Glasgow hit T26 in her stern setting her DC on fire. TB26 failed to put the fire out and suffered more damage from it. Glasgow did not hit her again until 1454 hours when she hit her twice. 1 of the hits was to her engines slowing her to 19 knots. T26 had in the meantime put her fire out.
At 1500 hours, HMS Enterprise turned out of line to starboard to bring her guns to bear on T26, now that she was slowed. HMS Glasgow continued straight ahead and had closed to 12,000 yards and opened rapid fire on T26, hitting her 3 times. Enterprise held fire due to her more than 3-point turn. Glasgow’s hits slowed T26 to 6 knots and set another DC rack on fire, causing yet more damage. But T26 quickly put the fire out.
At 1506 hours Glasgow made a 2-point turn to port to clear T26 and left her to the tender mercies of Enterprise. Glasgow now fired her fore turrets on T24 and missed her. Enterprise hit T26 twice causing another fire that the Atlantic put out when T26 sank at 1518 hours.
At 1512 Glasgow made another 2-point turn to bring her broadside to bear while Enterprise turned back online with the Germans to increase her closing. Glasgow hit T24 3 times, slowing her to 19 knots.
At 1518 hours Glasgow has closed to 12,000 yards and rapidly firing on T24 hit her 10 times, sinking her, although it took 12 minutes for her to sink completely out of sight.
At 1524 hours Glasgow had again turned to head straight at the retreating German column and fired at T23 but her turn had decreased her gunnery chances and she missed.
Glasgow did not hit T23 until 1536 hours but she hit her twice and silenced her return fire. Glasgow did not hit again until 1548 hours when she hit her twice again without apparent damage. Glasgow had closed within 12,000 yards at 1554 hours and making a 2-point turn opened rapid fire hitting T23 6 times sinking her.
Glasgow now turned back to the German’s heading to increase her closure. Glasgow fired at T22 and missed her at 1600 hours. Glasgow did not hit her until 1612 hours and then she hit her 3 times in the stern setting her a fire and silencing her return fire. T22 failed to put her fire out and slowed to 24 knots. Glasgow then hit her twice more, including in her engines slowing her to 18 knots.
At 1624 hours, Glasgow having closed to 12,000 yards turned 2-points to port and opened rapid fire hitting T22 4 times, starting a second fire, slowing her to 14 knots and causing her to circle to starboard.
At 1630 hours Glasgow again turned to close the German column while Enterprise turned 2 points to starboard and fired at T22 and missed. Glasgow fired at T27 and hit her twice, silencing her return fire.
At 1636 hours, Glasgow having closed to 12,000 yards turned 2 points to port and rapidly firing hit T27 7 times, sinking her. Enterprise hit T22 once in her engines causing her to go DIW
At 1642 hours Glasgow performed the now routine turn to close the column while Enterprise finished off T22. Glasgow missed but Enterprise hit T22 3 times sinking her.
By 1700 hours Glasgow had hit T25 4 times slowing her to 14 knots. But visibility had declined to 12,000 yards. At 1706 hours Glasgow turned 2 points to port and firing rapidly hit T25 6 times sinking her.
Nightfall was rapidly approaching, and Glasgow’s ammo was running low (no more rapid fire) but she pressed on anyway hitting Z37 once and reducing her return fire. Z37’s return fire missed. Glasgow tried again and hit Z37 6 times slowing her to 23 knots. That gave Glasgow another chance and she hit Z37 4 more times slowing her to 16 knots.
Finally at 1730 hours Glasgow hit Z37 9 times slowing her to 5 knots and setting her afire. Enterprise now hit Z37 thrice sinking her. The rest of DesFlot 8 escaped in the gloom of that December night.