Volume 3, Chapter 40
Admiral Forbes did not immediately associate the explosions with the smoke from the German positions ashore. Rather, he could not believe that the rounds came from Dunkirk. This is because the intelligence reported the German’s maximum range to be eighteen kilometers. There was simply no way that the shells could have come from land.
Following that belief, Admiral Forbes determined that the rounds must have come from the sea. This thought made his hairs stand on end. If the German warships really arrived, then the problem is truly serious. If it was in other waters, he wouldn’t care even if the entire German fleet arrived. Since there were few warships that the Germans had that could rival the British. But now, the situation was different. Their fleet was trapped in a small channel. Even changing directions was difficult. If they could only move in one direction then how could they face the Germans?
“Was there a report from the radar room? Are there German warships near us? Tell the remaining destroyers to expand their search range. The destroyers on the right-wing are to stay on the highest alert. The injured destroyers are to report their losses and current status. Have the ships halt their shelling. Nearby ships are to drop lifeboats and rescue the sailors. All ships, raise anchors, have the engine room on standby. Be ready for evasive maneuvers. Every ship’s radar and observation teams are to look for the sources of those shells… What did the radar team find?” Forbes nearly shouted.
“Admiral, the radar room reports no suspicious bodies near us. Wouldn’t you think that the shelling came from the shore?”
“No, impossible. Their guns cannot fire so far… Could it be?… Could the Germans have a fortress gun?” Forbes quickly rushed to the observation platform and raise his telescope with slightly trembling hands. Looking towards the nearest ship that was hit.
It was the 16th Destroyer Flotilla’s leader, the HMS Malcolm. Right now, the ship was completely immobilized. The deck was shrouded in a thick black smoke as a raging fire burned uncontrollably. Currently, she was floating more than five hundred meters from Admiral Forbes and the HMS Nelson. Her superstructure was nearly destroyed. The upper half of the bridge was completely blown away. There no hope of survival. Especially after continued efforts at calling Captain Halsey was met with silence.
The “C” turret behind the bridge also disappeared without a trace. All that remained was a pile of twisted metal from the turret platform. The smoke still rising into the sky. The crew was running on the deck in a frenzied panic. The damage control team was desperately trying to contain the fire. However, anyone could tell that the ship could not be saved.
“Boom!!” With a loud noise, a huge fireball rose from the rear end of the HMS Malcolm. The entire second half of the destroyer was blown sky-high, right in front of Forbes.
Steel debris, parts, and equipment flew like shotguns through the sky. Even the HMS Nelson was affected five hundred meters away. A series of loud clanking noises could be heard from outside as the debris that fell from the sky and slammed onto the deck. Fortunately, no one was injured.
“No, it’s not a fortress gun.”
The Admiral sorrowfully looked at the sinking destroyer. Their crews scrambling into the sea. Captain Mills had quickly ordered the HMS Nelson to deploy lifeboat crews to assist in retrieving the crew.
“It’s definitely not a fortress gun. If it were, then that boat would be blasted into two much more easily.”
Saying this, Forbes turned and looked at the other five crippled destroyers. All of them still consumed in a raging fire. Their demise is only a matter of time now.
“We’ve lost four Tribal-class and two F-class destroyers. And yet, we don’t even know how they were sunk.”
“Admiral, the fleet of boats reported that they have not been bombarded. Sir, this proves that the shells came from the German positions ashore! They have artillery capable of reaching us! We were fooled!” Captain Mills put down the phone and shouted towards Forbes.
Hearing this, Forbes’ heart grew gloomy. Those cunning Germans and those stupid intelligence officers. Now, his warships were teetering on the edge of a cliff due to bad information. If those Germans really have long-range artillery, then there were only two possible options left. The first, is to attempt to suppress each other’s firepower. Perhaps land soldiers and have them radio in range corrections as well. However, the consequences are hard to predict. More than likely, the price will be astronomical. After all, these warships are the elite of the Royal Navy. Any losses are unacceptable and can turn the tide of the war.
The second option is to not face the German bombardment at all. Instead, turn and immediately leave this dangerous situation. However, that also involves leaving the boats to be easy prey to the Germans. To escape battle and save themselves, they must abandon those civilians aboard the boats. To abandon the rescue operation. The honor of the Royal Navy would be gone. They will be reviled by the British people from henceforth. This is something that a Royal Navy officer, who regards life and honor equally, would deem unacceptable.
Admiral Forbes decided to choose the first road. Their warships cannot flee simply because of artillery shelling. Even if the situation is grim, the combat conditions bad, the fleet will insist on fighting till the end. There is no retreat until those boats return to safety.
“Captain Mills! Order all warships to raise anchors. Start calculating the German artillery coordinates. Five minutes until the next volley!”
“The German artillery is firing again!” Someone yelled as they looked at the direction of the German positions.
Admiral Forbes quickly ran to the porthole and picked up the telescope. The smoke was thicker than the previous one. Nor was it from the same area.
“The Germans have two artillery positions? Hmph, let them expose them one by one then. Ordered the battlecruisers to target the new positions. The battleships are to fire on the original target. Is the ship ready to move?”
“Admiral, the engine has been fully activated. We are ready to move forwa…”
“Boom!!” Suddenly a huge water column, fifty meters high, was blown up on the left side of the ship.
“God, it is a fortress gun! They really have fortress gun! All ships evasive maneuvers!”
From the size of the water column, he could see that it was at least three hundred millimeters. The Germans have heavy artillery larger than 300mm – making Forbes’ heart run cold. Trying to fight a fortress gun is plain stupid. More so, one that they don’t know the coordinates of. A fortress gun can easily cripple or sink a ship. Not to mention there is nowhere to hide on the ocean. This is simply a disaster for the Royal Navy.
One after another, thick water columns sprouted around the British battleships. Leaving the captains incredibly fearful. If it were in the open waters, they could perform snaking maneuvers to avoid the shells. However, in this narrow mine passage, there is no other way but to be extremely careful as they steered the ships. Leaving the captains to curse the staff in the Department of Navy for coming up with such a dangerous plan.
With a loud bang, the HMS Nelson gave a fierce tremor. Knocking all those on the bridge to the floor. At the same time, everyone’s ears were filled with a sharp ringing.
“What was it!”
Then an officer at the window of the bridge pointed below. “Deck! The front deck was shot! There was a…” Before he could finish another deafening explosion interrupted him.
A mass of smoke rose from the area in front of the bridge. Then another explosion sounded, the second wave of smoke sprayed into the sky. The mournful alarm rang loudly, the piercing sound spread to every corner of the ship.
“Damage report, fast!” Admiral Forbes roared, as he was helped up by the other crew members. He quickly to the front of the armored bridge.
The completely miserable sight almost made the battle-hardened admiral faint. On the battleship’s front deck was a hole four or five meters big. The beautiful oak deck was blasted apart and the pieces thrown everywhere. Underneath, the steel was rolled up and twisted into mangled shapes. Below that, the situation was not clear. Only that there was a constant rising of smoke from the gaping hole.
However, the hole itself wasn’t enough to bring such uneasiness. Rather, it was the placement. It directly hit the “B” turret from above. Breaking through 183 millimeters of armor. Whether or not it pierced through the following layers was unknown. The ammunition compartment was located directly underneath that turret. If the shell reached it… He did not dare think further. He rushed to the rows of telephones on the wall and picked up a dedicated line to the munitions team.
“Ammunition depot, report the situation! Is there a fire? Hello!” … No one answered.
“Immediately flood the “B” ammo compartment! Now!”
Forbes told the captain. “It seems that the shells have killed everyone there. No matter the losses, we must ensure the safety of the ammunition.”
Then, the warship once again started to shake. Enormous columns water rose up around the HMS Nelson once more.
“How many fortress guns do the Germans have? Where did they get so many heavy artillery guns!” Admiral Forbes mourned as he gripped the handrail.
“…….Boom! ……. ”
An incredibly violent tremor shook the ship. The explosion came from behind the bridge. Then, a few moments later, a phone in the bridge suddenly rang. Captain Mills quickly rushed to pick up the phone.
After listening to the phone, the captain told Forbes with a look of deep frustration.
“The engine room was hit. There was a fire. The damage control team is currently working on extinguishing it.
“What? What are the casualties?”
Mills looked down and answered: “No one should have survived. What’s worse is that we’ve completely lost our engine.”
Forbes stood at the side of the window. He could feel the ships gradually slowing down. He lamented as this ship would soon become no more than a floating target. The turrets require power to move, lifting the shells also required power. The moment that a ship loses power, is the moment that it’s effectively disarmed.
“Captain, order those personnel to fight the fire in the quickest time possible. We must repair the ship. Signal the other ships, the flagship is immobilized. They are to immediately fire on the German positions!”
“Boom….” The sound of another explosion came from the outside. But luckily, this shell didn’t hit the HMS Nelson. However, Forbes’ heart soon dropped to the floor.
“Admiral, the other ships have been hit. The HMS Rodney has been severely damaged!” An officer ran onto the bridge in panic.
Admiral Forbes ran out of the bridge and looked toward his rear. The sight of the scene made him stunned. The warships behind him were dispersed in a scattered formation. Spewing from each ship was one or two pillars of black smoke. The ship closest to him, the HMS Rodney, had two vast holes ripped open on its forward deck. Even worse, the “A” turret has been dislodged by the shell. Whirling flames could be seen raging within the cavity. The admiral suddenly felt a burst of intense cramps coming from his chest. Leaning slowly on the railing.
The officers quickly forward and carried their commander back into the armored bridge.
“Admiral! Are you alright?” Mills shouted loudly.
Forbes slowly opened his eyes. “Ugh, it seems… Now… I give the command of the fleet…. to Vice Admiral Will. Inform him that if he wishes to fight, fight. Should he choose to retreat, he will bear all the responsibility for the operation’s failure. But, tell him. He must wait until the boats are to safety until he can retreat. Before even death, we must keep the honor of the Royal Navy. So as to never let it diminish. Do not leave the civilians, do not… maintain… honor…”
Then Admiral Forbes forever closed his eyes. Filled with doubts, he died unwillingly on the bridge of his flagship.
“Carry the general to his room, contact the HMS Hood. Report everything that happened. Notify all ships of the switch in command! Quickly! Go! We are still in battle. Repair the warships, we will find revenge for the Admiral!” Captain Mills stood as he addressed the officers.
“Boom!!!” An explosion even more violent than before came from outside.
“The Rodney… The Rodney exploded!” Someone gave a frightened shout.
Mills quickly went to the observatory platform and looked toward the ship’s rear. The HMS Rodney was engulfed in strong flames. The huge hull was slowly tipping to the left. Explosions still continued within her hull. The rumble overshadowed the tearing of metal and the miserable shouts of the crew.
Captain Mills watched as the HMS Nelson’s sister ship drowned into the sea. A deep fear penetrating his heart. The HMS Rodney, one of the world’s top seven battleships would sink here? No, this is unacceptable. If she should sink, it should be in battle against a worthy foe. Not in the hands of cowardly gunners.
“Quickly release the lifeboats, rescue the crew!” Mills roared.
Suddenly the sea became noisy as the roar of anti-aircraft guns came from the destroyers.
“Look! German fighters! They are nearly on top of us!” A lookout shouted.
Video of The Battle of Denmark Strait
(Helps kinda visualize the chapter)