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dseehafer

The curious performance of Hipper's gunnery during BoBS

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Greetings all,


I'll try to be brief...

 

The date is December/31/1942, Hipper, Lutzow and a handful of destroyers are out searching for the lightly defended convoy JW-51B. The British would fend off the attacking Germans and not a single cargo ship would be lost.... but we're here to specifically discuss the Hipper's gunnery performance during that battle.


First, it is imperative that we understand the conditions of the battle.....

1: It is a polar night (24 hours of darkness)
2: Clouds blanket the sky, there is little-no light from the stars and moon above
3: To make visibility worse, it is also snowing.
4: Choppy seas make even the battleship-sized Admiral Hipper an unsteady platform
5: It is absolutely freezing! British action reports mention that ice-buildup on some of the ships range-finders had made them all but useless, it is assumed that conditions are similar aboard the German vessels.

 

Under such conditions, one would not be surprised if accurate gunnery was not possible...

 

However, Hipper's gunnery during that battle was nothing short of remarkable!

 

 

0941 hours - Hipper opens fire on HMS Achates at a range of 14.9km and scores a hit on the first salvo. Hipper fires a total of 5 salvos at Achates and scores 4-6 hits before Hipper's forward radar becomes disabled due to the shock of the guns. This forces Hipper to temporarily cease fire and recall her escorting destroyers.

 

0945 - 1016 hours - Hipper fires 4 salvos towards the general direction of the convoy. The goal is to shoo the convoy towards the waiting guns of Lutzow and to attract the attention of the escorting British destroyers. This works and Hipper speeds away to the North with the British destroyers in pursuit.

 

1016 hours - Hipper unloads 6 full broadsides (48 shells) towards HMS Onslow at a range of 11.4km and scores at least 4 hits.

 

1030 hours - Hipper fires 51 shells at the Minelayer Bramble between 5.5 and 10km and scores an unknown number of hits.

 

1117 hours - Hipper's forward radar is up and running again. Hipper once again targets Achates and, at a range of 17.7km, scores her second first salvo hit of the night. Hipper scores 2 more hits and Achates gives up the ghost. Hipper then shifts fire to HMS Obedient and wrecks her wireless office (believed to be splinters rather than a direct hit) at 11.6km.

 

 

"Ok, she scored two first salvo hits, I guess that is pretty 'curious'. Cool. Thanks for sharing!"

 

Wait! I'm not done yet...

 

Even if they weren't frozen, in low-light conditions German night optics had an effective range of just 10km, beyond this it is noted that even star shells and gun fire were undetectable.

 

This begs the question... "How the hell did Hipper manage to even so much as hit Achates from nearly 18km away? Nevermind on the first salvo! To say nothing of the other hits she scored beyond 10km. All of this during a snow-storm, in heavy seas, on a polar night..."

 

Such performance should only be possible from a ship capable of radar-blindfire....

 

DUN DUN DUN

 

And the plot thickens....

 


Sources - 
http://firedirectioncenter.blogspot.com/2012/12/decisive-battles-barents-sea-1942.html

http://www.kbismarck.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3342&start=15

https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/warships1discussionboards/did-the-km-have-blind-fire-capability-t29295-s50.html
 

 

 

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Meanwhile.... Lutzow lobs 162 shells at the defenseless cargo ships and scores not a single hit...

 

:Smile_facepalm:

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So I guess the first question is why wasn't Hipper firing at the convoy cargo ships?  lol.  I am sure she probably figured the naval vessels were priority targets and thought Lutzow could handle the cargo ships?  I'm just guessing here.  What a performance though by Hipper.  

 

Nice interesting post.  +1

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13 minutes ago, BaronVonTom said:

So I guess the first question is why wasn't Hipper firing at the convoy cargo ships?  lol.  I am sure she probably figured the naval vessels were priority targets and thought Lutzow could handle the cargo ships?  I'm just guessing here.  What a performance though by Hipper.  

 

Nice interesting post.  +1

 

The plan worked perfectly. Hipper was the distraction, it was her job to lure the escorts away from the convoy. The unescorted convoy would then sail right into the waiting guns of the Lutzow on the other side. This all went perfectly, just as according to plan, Hipper kept the escorts occupied, and Lutzow banged away at the cargo ships uncontested......

 

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaan Lutzow didnt hit a thing and Hipper was soon overwhelmed and the attack had to be called off. 

 

Its no wonder Hitler threw such a hissy fit... how could you screw up such a perfectly planned and executed attack???

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11 minutes ago, dseehafer said:

 

The plan worked perfectly. Hipper was the distraction, it was her job to lure the escorts away from the convoy. The unescorted convoy would then sail right into the waiting guns of the Lutzow on the other side. This all went perfectly, just as according to plan, Hipper kept the escorts occupied, and Lutzow banged away at the cargo ships uncontested......

 

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaan Lutzow didnt hit a thing and Hipper was soon overwhelmed and the attack had to be called off. 

 

Its no wonder Hitler threw such a hissy fit... how could you screw up such a perfectly planned and executed attack???

I wonder what the battle experience of the crew for the Hipper was compared to the crew of the Lutzow.  I wonder if the Hipper crew had a ton more experience in battle and that accounted for her hits.  Again, I am guessing at your very interesting question.

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4 minutes ago, BaronVonTom said:

I wonder what the battle experience of the crew for the Hipper was compared to the crew of the Lutzow.  I wonder if the Hipper crew had a ton more experience in battle and that accounted for her hits.  Again, I am guessing at your very interesting question.

 

Well, until that point Hipper hand sunk 14 ships over her career compared to Lutzow's 3. So yeah, Hipper was more experience at actually shooting things. Lutzow spent almost the entire war in dry-dock because she was constantly getting damaged. She had a turret knocked out during the invasion of Norway and needed dry-docking, she almost lost her stern to a torpedo and needed dry-docking, she was bombed by aircraft and needed dry-docking... and that's not including the times she went into dry-dock for maintenance and refits...

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"The Hipper fired a blind, untargeted salvo, into the night, and scored a citadel" :Smile_trollface:

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1 minute ago, Doomlock said:

"The Hipper fired a blind, untargeted salvo, into the night, and scored a citadel" :Smile_trollface:

 

Image result for made in german meme

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16 minutes ago, dseehafer said:

 

Well, until that point Hipper hand sunk 14 ships over her career compared to Lutzow's 3. So yeah, Hipper was more experience at actually shooting things. Lutzow spent almost the entire war in dry-dock because she was constantly getting damaged. She had a turret knocked out during the invasion of Norway and needed dry-docking, she almost lost her stern to a torpedo and needed dry-docking, she was bombed by aircraft and needed dry-docking... and that's not including the times she went into dry-dock for maintenance and refits...

Well you answered your own question IMO...lol.   The Hipper got paired with a "potato" (probably the same guys that captain the ships on here with no camo and can't aim).

Edited by BaronVonTom

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3 minutes ago, BaronVonTom said:

Well you answered your own question IMO...lol.   The Hipper got paired with a "potato".

 

Indeed. Scheer would have kicked [edited]!

 

*looks at Scheer's combat record*

 

"18 ships (114,606t) sunk or captured"

 

If any other German cruiser has the experience to shoot as straight as Hipper, its Scheer. :Smile_glasses:

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Imagine how salty the poor crew of the Hopper would have been if they saw that. 

"... Ahh, [incomprehensible German angry muttering]"

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1 hour ago, dseehafer said:

 

 

3 hours ago, dseehafer said:

This begs the question... "How the hell did Hipper manage to even so much as hit Achates from nearly 18km away? Nevermind on the first salvo! To say nothing of the other hits she scored beyond 10km. All of this during a snow-storm, in heavy seas, on a polar night..."

According to this: https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/norway/nordkapp?month=12&year=2016

Which is about the closest land I can get data from, on 31 December Nautical Twilight starts at 7.30am and ends at 3.30pm. There's also a period of 'civil twilight'. Those times would adjust to a narrower window north of the cape, but I'd be of the opinion that the fight was undertaken during a period of twilight, not night.

Nautical Twilight is the period where the sun is below the horizon by <12'. Civil twilight is even brighter (and one of my favorite times of day) when it's <6' below the horizon and there's still light.

 

Overall I think there was pretty significant light probably enough to not count as 'low light' for the German optics, and that there may have been snow squalls but not likely to be just a full white-out throughout the period. That is supported anecdotally by:

  • Achates' laying a smokescreen - that would have been pointless in complete darkness or in a white-out
  • No mention of anyone on either side using searchlights or star shell, which you'd certainly expect
  • The British and German ships reported seeing each other repeatedly - if the British couldn't see Hipper they wouldn't have moved to intercept
  • Several sources have 'sea smoke' mentioned - which doesn't happen at night
  • The wikipedia image of Sheffield sinking Eckoldt suggests some light
  • Your first source mentioning that Achates was outlined against her smokescreen and that the camo was counterproductive (meaning they could make out the ship)

 

So, I'd say it's still extremely impressive to land hits on destroyers >17km away, but that they were most likely visible to one another, even if visibility varied over time and area with squalls moving around. Therefore it's not necessarily the case that she was using blindfire radar capability.

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Further evidence of German blind-fire capabilities come from Scharnhorst's last battle...

 

To keep it short... DOY had been jamming Scharnhorst's rear radar (the only one still up and running at this point) until Scharnhorst put a shell through her mast, disabling the jammer along with DOY's fire-control radar. At this point, Scharnhorst was between 17-19km away and had been slowly out-running DOY (DOY had just hit Scharnhorst's boiler room before her radar went down). Because Scharnhorst was beyond visual range in the dark and snow DOY ceased fire because continuing to fire would be "nothing more than a waste of ammo". However.... Scharnhorst was still firing, what's more, she was scoring straddles. How was Scharnhorst able to continue firing beyond visual range and with night optics that supposedly only worked out to 10km?? The fact that as soon as DOY's radar jammer was put out of service and Scharnhorst's accuracy suddenly improves suggests blind-fire with the stern radar.

 

These are examples you can point to, but what's worth noting is that on several Kriegsmarine ships their war diary's specifically mentioned gunnery training using only radar. Scharnhorst's list two separate occasions in November 1943, Tirpitz's list January/1/1943, Nurnberg too in 1944.

 

Further, we have a photograph of what is believed to be Tirpitz's January/1 exercise in which she is seen to be executing a hard turn and one can easily see smoke from where her guns had fired. I've heard that using optics alone, it should be impossible to accurately fire and turn at the same time.

 

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36 minutes ago, mofton said:

 

 

According to this: https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/norway/nordkapp?month=12&year=2016

Which is about the closest land I can get data from, on 31 December Nautical Twilight starts at 7.30am and ends at 3.30pm. There's also a period of 'civil twilight'. Those times would adjust to a narrower window north of the cape, but I'd be of the opinion that the fight was undertaken during a period of twilight, not night.

Nautical Twilight is the period where the sun is below the horizon by <12'. Civil twilight is even brighter (and one of my favorite times of day) when it's <6' below the horizon and there's still light.

 

Overall I think there was pretty significant light probably enough to not count as 'low light' for the German optics, and that there may have been snow squalls but not likely to be just a full white-out throughout the period. That is supported anecdotally by:

  • Achates' laying a smokescreen - that would have been pointless in complete darkness or in a white-out
  • No mention of anyone on either side using searchlights or star shell, which you'd certainly expect
  • The British and German ships reported seeing each other repeatedly - if the British couldn't see Hipper they wouldn't have moved to intercept
  • Several sources have 'sea smoke' mentioned - which doesn't happen at night
  • The wikipedia image of Sheffield sinking Eckoldt suggests some light
  • Your first source mentioning that Achates was outlined against her smokescreen and that the camo was counterproductive (meaning they could make out the ship)

 

So, I'd say it's still extremely impressive to land hits on destroyers >17km away, but that they were most likely visible to one another, even if visibility varied over time and area with squalls moving around. Therefore it's not necessarily the case that she was using blindfire radar capability.

 

A lot of good counter points here!

 

I guess the one red flag that is till up for me is the reported ice build up on range-finders supposedly making them useless.

 

"When Tovey filed his official report he noted that because of the extreme weather conditions the optical fire control equipment had been rendered useless forcing reliance upon radar for range finding. The same difficulties applied to the Germans as well, and there are reports that the Hipper’s optics were iced up. " - David Saxton

 

He also mentions that at 0930 Kummetz ordered his destroyers to fall back as Hipper's crew could not make out friend from foe visually. So while there may have been some light, there apparently wasn't enough to be able to identify which ships are yours and which are the enemies. Later on Eckholdt and another German destroyer pulled along side the British cruisers thinking they were Hipper and friends... which really doesnt look anything like the twin-stacked British cruisers. Which suggests that visibility even from up-close wasn't very good. That or it was really just a genuine "goof" on the part of the German ships.

 

Just some thoughts.

 

Edit: Also, at 1114, the time Achates was hit at 17km, British records state visibility of 13km at that time. 

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I do think the lighting conditions were actually "decent".  Not daylight, but as good as you're going to get up there as Mofton pointed out.

I do know that Hipper had a pretty good radar set though, the same FuMO27 that Scharnhorst carried.  It is possible that she was firing by radar with optics only being used occasionally.  It should be noted though that the FuMO27 is NOT an omni-directional radar, which would have enabled Jamaica and Sheffield to approach unseen from the Northern darkness.

Hipper had actually been doing pretty well up to that point.  She had crippled 3 of the 5 RN destroyers, and was getting set for another attack run when she got hammered by the RN cruisers.

Lutzow though... man, there's no excuse for that.  I have a book titled "The Ninety Days", which features Barents Sea as one of the five actions it discusses. One of the sub-chapters is aptly titled "Lutzow fumbles!"

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It's especially wonderous shooting, knowing of the deflection issues present in German fire control radar sets. They generally got the range right, but had troubles with the horizontal location of the ship they were targeting. The crew of Hipper may have found a way to solve this. Perhaps they were ranging with the radar, but using the primary optical director to determine the horizontal bearing of the target. Provided it wasnt completely frozen with ice that is.

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11 hours ago, Big_Spud said:

It's especially wonderous shooting, knowing of the deflection issues present in German fire control radar sets. They generally got the range right, but had troubles with the horizontal location of the ship they were targeting. The crew of Hipper may have found a way to solve this. Perhaps they were ranging with the radar, but using the primary optical director to determine the horizontal bearing of the target. Provided it wasnt completely frozen with ice that is.

I have heard that some German crews did exactly this, and that both Hipper and PE were especially good at it

Coincidentally, USN BBs also used the same method, with Washington in particular being notable as the champion of it.

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5 hours ago, Mechanicum said:

I have heard that some German crews did exactly this, and that both Hipper and PE were especially good at it

Coincidentally, USN BBs also used the same method, with Washington in particular being notable as the champion of it.

 

Well for 1, there's a difference between hitting destroyers at 11-17km in horrible weather and hitting a battleship at under 8km in comparatively good weather.

 

And then there's Washington firing 42 rounds at "the phantom cruiser", and South Dakota claiming she sank a battleship and three cruisers because her radar was registering hit after hit, when in fact she hit nothing all night long. Radar is what gave the outnumbered American ships a victory that night... but boy was the performance of the radar on both battleships wonky!

 

By contrast, Hipper during BoBS never fired at a ship that didn't exist (like Washington), didn't claim a ridiculous amount of kills and hits because her radar told her so (like SD), and outside of temporarily losing her forward radar to the shock of her guns (which also happened to Washington after her second salvo against the phantom cruiser) her radar performed remarkably well in the gunnery/gunnery assistance role. All of this at a greater average range than Guadalcanal and in worse weather and against smaller targets. Based off of this information, I'd argue Hipper was the champion.

 

Sources

http://navsource.org/archives/01/pdf/015617g.pdf

https://ww2aircraft.net/forum/threads/most-heavily-armed-ship-during-ww2.1383/page-6

 

 

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South Dakota and Washington were operating in the middle of the night surrounded on three sides by land masses that were giving huge numbers of false returns that they had no way of getting rid of, AND the Japanese were using the islands to cover their approaches. They were firing at real ships for the most part, but had no way of optically confirming if they had been sunk or not because of how dark it was and how the large shell splashes interacted with the radar returns. Multiple first salvo straddles were reported as "sunk" because they simply vanished in the shell splashes, and turned away only to be lost against the islands.

 

Admiral Lee realized what was happening and checked his fire, but not before Washingtons secondary battery (also operating under radar control) managed to eviscerate Ayanami, which later burned out and sank. Captain Gatch of the South Dakota had basically lost control of his ship at that point, and could not really be described as a particularly competent man at night actions. The fact that South Dakota spent a significant period of the battle blowing her own planes overboard and knocking her own systems out doesn't help much with that assesment either, as the crew was as green as could be.

 

Admiral Lee realized how ridiculous the kill claims were that night, and refused to confirm them, yet they were published anyways. This later became a major point of contention between the crew of Washington and South Dakota. Washington never had a good time with South Dakota's, as Indiana later rammed her as well.

 

Better showing of radar during a night ambush would be Vella Gulf and perhaps Empress Augusta bay (ranges between 12-19,000 yards). Although half of the damage there was caused by the Japanese panicking and running into one another while a bunch of Clevelands shot at anything that moved.

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Big_Spud pretty much has all the counterpoints I would have given, including South Dakota being generally incompetent.

As for Hipper, you forgot one thing: she managed to get herself bushwhacked by a pair of cruisers. :cap_like:

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16 hours ago, Mechanicum said:

Big_Spud pretty much has all the counterpoints I would have given, including South Dakota being generally incompetent.

As for Hipper, you forgot one thing: she managed to get herself bushwhacked by a pair of cruisers. :cap_like:

 

 

^ That's a straw man. SD got herself bushwhacked by an ancient battleship too, but I didn't bring that up because that's has nothing to do with the conversation at hand, which was about radar performance. And then you make it sound like a single cruiser being bested by two cruisers is somehow supposed to be embarrassing?? That's like putting Andre the Giant up against Macho Man and Hulk Hogan and calling him a weak-a$$ pu$$y because he lost...

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On 8/29/2017 at 11:48 PM, dseehafer said:

"When Tovey filed his official report he noted that because of the extreme weather conditions the optical fire control equipment had been rendered useless forcing reliance upon radar for range finding. The same difficulties applied to the Germans as well, and there are reports that the Hipper’s optics were iced up. " - David Saxton

He also mentions that at 0930 Kummetz ordered his destroyers to fall back as Hipper's crew could not make out friend from foe visually. So while there may have been some light, there apparently wasn't enough to be able to identify which ships are yours and which are the enemies. Later on Eckholdt and another German destroyer pulled along side the British cruisers thinking they were Hipper and friends... which really doesnt look anything like the twin-stacked British cruisers. Which suggests that visibility even from up-close wasn't very good. That or it was really just a genuine "goof" on the part of the German ships.

Just some thoughts.

Edit: Also, at 1114, the time Achates was hit at 17km, British records state visibility of 13km at that time. 

The Tovey report is a good couterpoint. I'd like to see the original report, and there is a devil in the details - were the icing problems chronic and throughout the engagement or just for periods? Hipper's best shooting seems to have come early and given she's a bigger, taller ship icing may have had less effect than on the British. I'm also not sure if Hipper's rangefinders are somewhere you could get up to them to clear them underway.

The mis-identifications suggest to me that the visibility was temporally and spatially variable. You see that a lot with ships in/out of haze, direction of sun/shadow either blinding or producing shadow, being upwind/downwind.

I don't pay too much credence to the British saying it was only 13km. It's extremely hard to judge distances at sea and visibility isn't a binary thing so I'd guess 13km was an estimate/guess, Hipper was taller and potentially had easier conditions (sun rising behind her, her in shadow, Achates framing herself against smoke). See Jutland for instance when during the first T-crossing the British had good visibility, the Germans poor (so for that section of the battle the British hit rate was >> higher than the German), but once the Germans turned they disappeared into the murk like magic.

Bow on there's also a point where it's hard to determine ship ID, and depending on the conditions you can get a firing solution while unable to exactly determine the target too - see Hood landing some reasonable salvoes near PE while having mis-identified her as Bismarck. Hipper knew that any targets on a certain bearing would be hostile so could fire even if she couldn't quite make them out (which she could to the degree to comment that their camouflage was useless).

I think some combination of radar and optical fire control is the most likely explanation.

 

36 minutes ago, dseehafer said:

^ That's a straw man. SD got herself bushwhacked by an ancient battleship too, but I didn't bring that up because that's has nothing to do with the conversation at hand, which was about radar performance

I read 'bushwhacked' as ambushed, rather than beaten. Hipper either wasn't paying attention that side, or her radar was focused only one way, but she was certainly surprised at medium range by biggish ships.

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On 8/30/2017 at 4:33 AM, dseehafer said:

This begs the question... "How the hell did Hipper manage to even so much as hit Achates from nearly 18km away? Nevermind on the first salvo! To say nothing of the other hits she scored beyond 10km. All of this during a snow-storm, in heavy seas, on a polar night..."

Hacks!

Luck!

RNG!

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31 minutes ago, mofton said:

 

 

I read 'bushwhacked' as ambushed, rather than beaten. Hipper either wasn't paying attention that side, or her radar was focused only one way, but she was certainly surprised at medium range by biggish ships.

2

 

Dave Saxton writes the following...

 

"It looks like the common accounts of the Hipper being caught by surprise by Burnett’s cruisers at Barents Sea are probably incorrect. Upon studying more closely the Bundes Marine analysis and comparing it to Roskill’s account both based on each side’s available primary documentation, the chronology and the maneuvers of the ships are not indicative of Kummetz being surprised by Burnett’s approach and opening fire. The Bundes Marine reconstruction and Roskill are not in contradiction for the most part.

The questionable maneuvering begins shortly after the Hipper had located the minesweeper Bramble with radar from a range of 16,000 meters. Hipper is steaming eastward boxing in the Bramble but suddenly alters course toward the north at 10:40. At the same time Burnett suddenly alters course from due south to the east and then slightly north east. Hipper begins to increase speed and further alters course to north east. This put Hipper on course exactly parallel to Burnett. Then suddenly Hipper alters course almost 180* and begins to race southward toward the convoy at full speed. This all occurred many minutes before Sheffield had officially recorded having the Hipper in radar contact at 11:05 from a range of 23,000 yards. Did Jamaica make radar contact earlier? Jamaica did not loose her radar to the shock of her own gunfire until it opened fire at a later time. Did the Hipper give away its own approximate position through its Seetakt radar being detected by the British radar detector gear? Did the Hipper also detect some of the British radar pulses?

The above aside, the strong evidence indicative of Kummetz not being caught by surprise occurs after the Hipper had last straddled the Obedient at 11:18 from around 16,000 meters range and to just before Burnett opens fire. I had thought that the Hipper had not detected Burnett’s approach because it was pre-occupied with the tasks of sinking the Achates. However the chronology proves this wrong. The Hipper fired on the Achates at 11:14 and had completed firing on the Obedient after shifting to that target by 11:18 (11:21 in the German accounts). Shortly after firing on the British destroyers, at 11:25 the Hipper alters course to the northwest, which placed it crossing Burnett’s T, with Burnett at a right angle to the Hipper’s starboard beam . Shortly before this turn Kummetz ordered the Z-29 which had been keeping station off the Hipper’s starboard to begin to change stations to Hipper’s port and to get clear of Hipper’s line of fire to starboard. Kummetz was apparently aware of Burnett and had resolved to fight it out already.

As the Hipper apparently waited for Z29 to clear, Burnett responded to Kummetz’s maneuver by replicating it, placing him on a parallel course, about 12,000 meters distant. However, the Hipper was making quite a bit more speed and was somewhat ahead of the British van. Kummetz then suddenly ordered Hipper hard to starboard. This occurred before anybody had opened fire. As the Hipper began to come around and as Burnett had fully completed his turn, he ordered the British cruisers to open fire at 11:33. The Hipper was healing over in a high speed turn and uncovered its belt at the time."

 

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On 8/31/2017 at 8:55 AM, Big_Spud said:

Admiral Lee realized how ridiculous the kill claims were that night, and refused to confirm them, yet they were published anyways. This later became a major point of contention between the crew of Washington and South Dakota. Washington never had a good time with South Dakota's, as Indiana later rammed her as well.

So like the Hipper, the Washington got a Potato on their side.

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