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January 2 - Focus: HMS Venerable and HMS Campbeltown

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Well, another busy day today with more ships than we can cover!


1899 - HMS Venerable - Formidable-class - Laid down

1900 - IJN Soya - Soya-class - Launched

1907 - RM San Marco - San Giorgio-class - Launched

1907 - HMS Hibernia - King Edward VII-class - Commissioned

1934 - USS Vincennes - New Orleans-class - Laid down

1942 - USS Core - Bogue-class - Laid down

1945 - USS Mindoro - Commencement Bay-class - Laid down


General stats


Allies: 23 ships laid down, 13 launched, 18 commissioned, 4 ships lost

Italy: 1 ship launched
Japan: 1 ship launched
UK (pre-ww2): 1 ship laid down, 1 commissioned



Today, we’re once again going back over 100 years in time for at the second of January, 1899 the keel was laid down for HMS Venerable, a new battleship of the London-class.



HMS Venerable


Now, I say London-class, but that’s actually only half correct. As the London-class was actually a subclass of the Formidable-class. Now, one might ask “why use subclasses?” Good question! The answer to that is that of this class alone, eight ships were built! And during the construction process the design was modified a few times, thus creating the London and Queen subclasses.


And the Formidables were actually enlarged versions of the previous Majestic and Canopus-classes. But there was one big difference! A nice German invention called: Krupp Cemented steel. This meant that, while the ships of the Formidable-class were slightly bigger than those of the Canopus-class, they actually weighed slightly less, yet were better protected!


Another difference when compared to the Canopus-class was the improved armament. The main 12” battery was upgunned from 35-calibre guns to 40-calibre guns. They also had a slightly heavier secondary battery.




One of the 12" turrets of HMS Venerable


But, today we’re talking about the Venerable, which was of the London-(sub)class! Biggest difference between the London-class and the Formidable-class is in its armour scheme. Biggest differences being a thinner deck armour (by 0.5 inch), the removal of the forward armoured bulkhead, a longer armoured belt and slightly thicker protection at the bow. This resulted in the ships being 100 tonnes lighter than those of the Formidable-class, yet retaining the overall protection.


Service Life

As said earlier, Venerable was laid down on the 2nd of January 1899, launched on the 2nd of November of that same year and commissioned into the Royal Navy at the 12th of November, 1902. Between 1902 and 1907 she served as the flagship of the Mediterranean fleet until the newer HMS Prince of Wales replaced her. In 1908 she was decommissioned for a major refit at Chatham Dockyard, after only six years of service. When the refit was complete in 1909 she was recommissioned and placed in the Atlantic fleet. She was transferred to the Home fleet’s 5th Battle Squadron in 1912 and was placed in reserve.



HMS Venerable at Malta in 1915


When WW1 broke out, the 5th Battle Squadron was assigned to the Channel fleet, with the task of patrolling the British Channel. It was in this role that Venerable was called upon shore bombardment duty off the Belgian coast in support of Allied troops, and to keep the Germans from invading Great Britain. She repeated this a number of time up to May of 1915, when she was transferred to the Dardanelles in support of the Dardanelles campaign against the Ottoman Empire.

After a brief refit at Gibraltar in October of 1915, she was transferred to the Adriatic sea to support the Italian Regia Marina against the Austro-Hungarian Kaiserliche und Königliche kriegsmarine.


In early 1917, Venerable returned home, where her crew was paid off (which where needed for anti-submarine ships) and Venerable was changed into a depot ship. In 1920 she was sold to a shipbreaking company, then resold to another company which then sold her to a German shipbreaking firm, which ultimately scrapped her.



One of the 12"/40 guns as used by Venerable under construction at Elswick Works




Length (total): 131m

Beam: 23m

Draft: 7.92m

Dispacement: 15,700t



12”/40 Mark IX: 4

6”/45 BL Mark VII: 12

12pdr 18cwt QF Mk I: 16

Vickers 3-pdr QF: 6

18” torpedo tubes: 4



Belt: 9”

Turrets: 10”

Barbettes: 12”

Deck: 2.5” to 1”

Conning tower: 14”

Bulkheads: 12” to 9”

Casemates: 6”



Shafts: 2

Engines: 2

Type: Triple expansion



Total Performance: 15,500ihp

Max speed: 18kts

Range: 5,500 nautical miles at 10kn



Total: 714 men






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On January 2, 1919, HMS Campbeltown was launched, but she was not known as such at that time.  In fact, HMS Campbeltown was born USS Buchanan, a little too late to see any action during World War I.  Laid down on June 26, 1918, she was commissioned on January 20, 1919 and became DD-131, a Wickes-class destroyer.



USS Buchanan (DD-131) in 1936


USS Buchanan was temporarily assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 2, based in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until she was transferred to the Pacific Ocean in July 1919, becoming part of Destroyer Flotilla 4.  While the world was still a quiet place, she came in and out of commission until December 1934, where she was assigned to Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 5.  The fun only lasted until 1937, and she was again placed out of commission until September 30, 1939.


With the war raging in Europe, USS Buchanan was transferred to the Atlantic, where she ran some neutrality enforcement missions as part of DesRon 32.  Her main area of operation was the Gulf of Mexico but she was also seen in the Florida Straits.  On September 2, 1940, she was sent to Halifax, after a short transit in Boston, and she was decommissioned again.


Wickes-class destroyers:

This article will not focus on the Wickes-class destroyer, but it is still interesting to know more about the ships we are talking about, rather than just their operational life.  111 Wickes-class destroyers were built, from DD-75 to DD-185, and were specifically built to counter torpedo boats.  Despite their old age, a large number of them served during World War II, and some were transferred to the Royal Navy, where they were known as the Town-class, as part of the "Destroyers for Bases" agreement.


Destroyers for Bases agreement:

With the United States still neutral in 1940, and the fall of France approaching, the United Kingdom was getting weary of not being able to defend all of its possessions overseas.  To prevent them from falling into German hands, an agreement was signed that would give the United States a free rent of some British possessions in exchange for surplus ammunition and armament.  The United States would be authorized to create some air and naval bases in these territories, without having to pay anything in return.  The deal excluded any heavy armament and therefore no warship.  President Roosevelt didn't want the agreement to be seen as a clear involvement of the United States in European affairs.


After the fall of France, President Roosevelt was warned by his Ambassador in the United Kingdom that a British surrender would become inevitable, which would give possession of some territories such as Newfoundland to Germany, suddenly placing the United States in reach of German aviation. Neutral United States troops would prevent the Germans to invade such territories and would in return free up British troops needed anywhere else.  With this new information in hand, Roosevelt changed his mind and, in return for the right by the United States to occupy the land, the Royal Navy would receive 50 destroyers.



USS Buchanan (DD-131) during the transfer of ownership



Displacement: 1,154 tons (normal) - 1,247 tons (full load) - Length: 314 ft 4.5 in - Beam: 30 ft 11.25 in - Draft: 9 ft

Propulsion: 4x 300 psi (2,100 kPa) un-super-heated boilers - 2 Parsons turbines - 24,610 hp - Speed: 35.3 knots (65.4 km/h)

Complement: 100 officers and enlisted

Armament: 4 × 4-inch/50 caliber guns - 1 × 3-inch/23 caliber AA gun - 12 × 21-inch torpedo tubes (4×3)


HMS Campbeltown:

On September 9, 1940, the Stars and Stripes was lowered and replaced by the Royal Navy flag.  A day later, the ships were renamed with names of towns common to both the United Kingdom and the United States.  USS Buchanan became HMS Campbeltown and eventually received the pennant number (or pendant number as they said then) I-42.  She sailed for Devonport, which she reached on September 29, 1940, after a transit by Belfast, on September 26.  With her were 4 other Town-class ships: HMS ClareHMS CasteltonHMS Caldwell and HMS Chelsea.



HMS Campbeltown, still wearing her US hull number


As soon as she arrived in the United Kingdom, HMS Campbeltown received a better anti-air suite, including 4 x 20-mm Oerlikons and was refitted, which lasted until the end of October.



Once refitted, HMS Campbeltown was attached to the 17th Flotilla.  On November 2, 1940, while conducting some sea trials, she rammed SS Risøy, a Norwegian cargo ship, which prompted some repairs performed between November 7 and November 24.  On November 29, she rammed another ship (SS Fiddown), sinking her, and collided with a third one (SS Comus) on  December 3.  She stayed in Liverpool for repairs until March 1941.


HNLMS Campbeltown:

Whether the Royal Navy was getting tired of the ship ramming anything in sight, or there was a real operational reason behind it, HMS Campbeltown was transferred to the Royal Dutch Navy and became temporarily HNLMS Campbeltown, the name being kept as no name could be found that would respect the principle that it had to be a common name of a town in both the United States and the United Kingdom.  The Dutch offered Middelburg, but the name was refused by the Royal Navy.  While serving as a Dutch ship, she escorted convoys in the Atlantic, and was present on August 3, 1941 when U-401, a Type-VIIC German submarine was sunk by HMS Wanderer.  In September 1941, she was returned to the Royal Navy.


The Tirpitz threat:

After Bismarck was sunk, the largest ship in the German Navy's arsenal was the Tirpitz.  The Royal Navy was worried that the German battleship would infiltrate the Atlantic waters and seek refuge in French ports from where he could rampage at will.  Of lesser worries were Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, and the Royal Navy calculated if a raid would be possible to simply capture the two German ships.  While all these concerns were pronounced, a French Naval Officer, Capitaine de Frégate (Lieutenant Commander) George Gonin, who acted as intelligence liaison with the Royal Navy, indicated that in his opinion, only one port would be large enough to accommodate Tirpitz: Saint Nazaire.



Saint Nazaire, France


Soon, wheels were set in motion, and intelligence activities around the French port accelerated, including air reconnaissance missions to take pictures of the port.  LTC Gonin was an active part of the preparations and gave all the possible elements that any raid would need, if one was put together.


Further meetings were held, and things didn't go very smoothly, as defenders of the project and those who were against it, clashed.  The wheels stopped turning until 1942, when a new Chief of Combined Operations was appointed: Lord Mountbatten.  Mountbatten was looking for feasible actions and again, LTC Gonin came offering Saint Nazaire as a target.



Saint Nazaire port


Operation Chariot:

The main goal of the operation was the destruction of the Normandie dock, shown on the above picture.  This was the only place where Tirpitz would fit, if he was to conduct operations in the Atlantic.  The dock was named after French ship SS Normandie, a large ocean liner ship.  Some of you may remember her as USS Lafayette, and the tragic accident that happened in New York.


After deliberations, it was decided that the best way to destroy the dock would be to use a destroyer to ram the outer gate of the Normandie dock.  This would become the ultimate objective, with secondary objectives listed as launching a torpedo attack against the doors of the submarine pens, denying them access (or exit) from the port.  Land forces would also be used to sabotage other doors.  Of course, the chosen destroyer was no other ship than HMS Campbeltown.



Two operations were set to deceive the Germans.  The first one, Operation Vivid, leaked information about exercises conducted by a small British force to test the defenses of Plymouth.  The intent of the leakage was to give information to the Germans about suspicious activities by some British ships and cover them as an exercise.


The second operation was to camouflage HMS Campbeltown and make her look like a German torpedo boat.  For that purpose, 2 of the 4 funnels were removed, and the other 2 modified to look like a Möwe-class torpedo boat.



Möwe-class torpedo boat


HMS Campbeltown was fitted with 4 tons of explosives and some of her armament was removed to allow the ship to enter the Loire river, who was very shallow.  Because HMS Campbeltown would carry some of the soldiers that would disembark and try to sabotage some doors, some armored plating was also added to her deck. It took 10 days (between March 10 and March 19) to finish the modification operations.


The raid:

On March 26, 1942, the little British armada left Falmouth early afternoon, and performed exercises, as had been previously leaked.  The exercises lasted all day and night long, and continued on March 27, interrupted by the appearance of a German submarine (U-593) who was chased away by Hunt-class destroyers who acted as escort. The day continued without any incident, with the exception of the intercept of some French trawlers who were rapidly sunk after evacuating their crews, and the "exercise" continued throughout the day.


On March 28, Royal Air Force bombers flew over Saint Nazaire.  They were supposed to act as a decoy but communication between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force forgot to assign them an objective to bomb and get full attention of German defenders.  Instead, they just flew over, and only managed to wake up the Germans.


At 00:45 on the 28, the flotilla was 8 miles away from its objective and continued its navigation through the night, without any proper map.  It remained undetected until 01:25 when a German ship illuminated one of the motor launch (ML) boats of the flotilla with his search light.  To everyone's surprise, the light came off as fast it came on, and the flotilla continued.  It didn't last for long as around 01:30, a German shore battery, probably alerted by the noise, also used its search lights.  The Germans, apparently not knowing what these ships were first tried to communicate with light signals, which were answered by the flotilla.  From each side of the river, more search lights appeared, until a German flak ship appeared in the estuary and opened fire on the formation.  He was rapidly silenced by returning fire from motor gun boat (MGB) 314, and then all hell broke loose.



MGB 314


Most of the British flotilla was composed of small boats that were not meant to fight against shore batteries, but in return, the German guns focused on the largest target in the formation, HMS Campbeltown.  By that time, objective was only 500 yards away, and the destroyer started to accelerate.  Every German gun in the area now focused on her and everyone took cover as much as possible.  Minutes seemed like hours until, at 01:34, she jammed herself into the dock's gate.  By then the Germans were fully awake and it proved difficult to disembark the troops onboard HMS Campbeltown, because of heavy fire focusing on her.



HMS Campbeltown in the dry dock gate in Saint Nazaire



It would take another entire article to speak about the raid itself and the gallant actions of the British Commandos and other ships part of the flotilla.  Rest assured that we will cover it when the time is due.  Let's just say that while it achieved its objectives, it was at a price.  Out of the 18 ML boats that started with the raid, only 4 returned to England.  109 Commandos returned to England, 109 were held prisoners by the Germans, and 59 were killed.


Some fight continued throughout the night until the German defenses overwhelmed their opposition.  Then everything became quiet.  HMS Campbeltwon still laid against the dry dock door, the Germans wondering what she was doing here.  Their thoughts were probably that she was just a tool to disembark troops, and soon up to 300 Germans visited the ship.



German troops onboard HMS Campbeltown


All was quiet until noon when a gigantic explosition was heard.  The charges onboard the British destroyer finally detonated, taking with them the ship, the gate, and several hundred German soldiers (reports vary between 300 and 400).


The raid achieved another success as it made the Germans think that other such raids might happen and it immobilized some troops.  All along the French seashore, German defenses were strengthened, using men who could have been more useful somewhere else.



The above picture was taken 10 months after the operation, showing HMS Campbeltown still against the dry dock, denying its access to German ships.



Edited by Ariecho
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Supertester, Members, Alpha Tester, In AlfaTesters, Beta Testers
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Excellent stuff!


Apart from the bit where you said Buchanan was laid down in 1928 :glasses: 

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Excellent stuff!


Apart from the bit where you said Buchanan was laid down in 1928 :glasses: 

She was!!! Then through time travel, she was launched in 1919.  You have never heard of that?  Fixed the typo from 1928 to 1918.

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Great write-up, I remember the AH boardgame Raid on St. Nazaire, a good solitare game.

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