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Book One World War Three 1946

Book One World War Three 1946
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Eye Witness Report Battle of the Beacon

Sept. 25th, 1946
By Wayne Pierre Sub-Lieutenant HMS Charity

1. At about 0655, numerous enemy planes were contacted by our instruments as coming towards the ship from the East, distance about 55 miles. Four Squadrons of fighters were ordered to intercept.

2. At about 0655 the entire the Combat Air Patrol was ordered out in different formations to intercept and engage the overwhelming number of enemy planes closing us. They were so busy that they could not send us reports but we intercepted their communications. It sounded like they themselves had been caught in a trap. EO reported that there were no friendly planes within 15 km of this ship.

3. From this time on the Charity and the Consort were attacked continuously by numerous enemy aircraft coming at us in groups of 9 to 12 planes on each ship. For the most part they were dive bombers. The Corvettes themselves were all under attack as well.

4. The tempo of the engagement and the maneuver of the two destroyers at high speed was such as to cause the Charity and the Consort to be separated by distances as much as two and three miles. This resulted in individual action by both ships. Three times the Consort suggested to the Charity that they close for mutual support and efforts were made to achieve this but each time the attacks prevented the ships from closing each other. The Charity closed the four small support ships several times during the engagement.

5. From 0730 to 0800 the Charity was attacked by groups of planes coming in on both bows. Three enemy planes were shot down by the Charity’s guns during this period, at times firing all guns in-various directions. The Consort, which at this time was at a distance of about three miles to the northward, was seen fighting off a number of planes by herself, several of which were seen to be destroyed. At 0800 the Consort was hit by a torpedo and all her guns put out of action by attacking aircraft. At one time toward the close of the battle when friendly planes were closing to assist us, the three support ships were prevented from shooting down two friendlies whom they had taken under fire. One plane was seen to splash inside their formation due to their own gunfire. However, I am not able to give an accurate account of their action. They were very helpful in picking up my crew who were in the water, in coming alongside and removing wounded and in helping us to pump.

6. From this time on, the Charity received the bulk of the attacks and action became furious with all guns firing at planes on all sides of the ship. The EO reported that the radar scope was filled with enemy planes. The Commanding Officer saw that the situation was becoming too much for one ship to handle and he requested that the Combat Air Patrol to close the formation and assist us. With outstanding courage, our planes fearlessly closed the ships and attacked enemy planes. They achieved great results and when the Charity was finally helpless in the water, our crew was sparked with renewed courage by the sight of our airmen trying to drive off the remaining enemy aircraft.

7. For 10 minutes the Charity fought off the enemy singlehanded, being separated from the Consort, which was out of action, by three miles and from the four small support ships by two miles. Finally, at 0920, ten enemy planes which had surrounded the Charity, four on the starboard bow under fire by the main battery and machine guns, four on the port bow under fire by the forward machine guns, and two astern under fire by the after machine guns, attacked the ship simultaneously. As a result of this attack, the Charity was (1) hit by a bomb aft (2) by a bomb amid ships.

8. The ship was badly holed and immediately both engine rooms and one fire room were flooded and the ship settled down and listed rapidly. All 4.5-inch guns were out of action, a fire was raging aft of number two stack, ammunition was exploding, and the entire ship was engulfed in a thick black smoke which forced the crew to seek safety, some by jumping over the side, others by crowding forward and awaiting orders. The ship was helpless to defend herself and at this time the situation appeared hopeless. The Commanding Officer received reports from the Chief Engineer and the Damage Control Officer which indicated that the main spaces were flooded and that the ship was rapidly developing into a condition which would capsize her. The exploding ammunition and the raging fire appeared to be extremely dangerous. The engineers were securing the forward boilers to prevent them from blowing up. The order "Prepare to abandon Ship" was given and life rafts and floats were put over the side. A party of about fifty men and officers was being organized to make a last fight to save the ship and the remainder of the crew and the wounded were put over into the water.

9. From this point on, a truly amazing, courageous and efficient group of men and officers with utter disregard for their own personal safety approached the explosions and the fire with hoses and for fifteen minutes kept up this work. The torpedoes were jettisoned, weights removed from the starboard side, and finally the fire was extinguished and the list and flooding controlled and the ship was saved. Although the ship was still in an extremely dangerous condition, one fire room bulkhead held and she was finally towed safely.

10. The total number of enemy planes destroyed by the Charity in this period of one hour and thirty-five minutes of continual firing was 17.

Using Us for Practice

The first Soviet VVS Pe 2 Buck dive bombers over the small convoy desperately trying to make its way back to port, took quite a beating. Out of the 23 planes that made the initial attacks, 5 were shot down and no hits were scored. The attack however caused the HMS DD Charity and HMS DD Consort to become separated as they twisted and turned obeying their commanders orders. The orders that caused the destroyers to lurch to port and starboard in ever more erratic patterns trying to confuse the dive bombing Pe2s. It worked for a good 10 minutes and by then 2nd Support group and its 5 Frigates were within 15 minutes of the destroyers and their smaller Corvettes of the Castle Class, the HMS Hadleigh Castle, HMS Lancaster Castle and HMS Bamborough Castle. The Corvettes were soon in the fight of their lives with swarms of Yak 9 UTs who were firing their 37mm cannons from just out of the range of the 20 mm on the little ships. Each in turn was silenced quickly and for the most part out of the fight fairly soon. At various times the DD Charity and DD Consort desperately tried to form up and give each other mutual support but the demands of dodging dive bombers and strafing ground attack aircraft drew them farther and farther apart and soon they were alone in their battles for survival.

The DD Consort was hit by a torpedo from a Soviet XXI submarine and was dead in the water and one by one her guns fell silent. She took 4 Pe2s with her in the end but was effectively out of the fight after 24 minutes of first contact. A floating and burning hulk, that for the most part, was ignored as the furious attacks continued on her sister ship the DD Charity.

The Charity seemed to live a charmed life. She did not shoot down that many more planes during the fight. Quite possibly because her captain made such violent maneuvers that her guns could not be brought to bear for long. In addition the Pe2s that were diving on her were not your typical kamikaze planes who bore straight in. They twisted and turned throwing off the aim of gunners and the shells thrown in their paths as they screamed down in their attacks from almost straight overhead. The 4.5” guns seem almost totally ineffective, and were almost useless once the dive bombers were overhead. They could only elevate to more than a 50 degree angle and the 40mm were little better at 55 degrees. That left the 20 mm guns alone to deal with the dive bombers and not many were hit in their attack runs as they pulled up from their dives out of optimal range of 3,000 feet. If the destroyers were closer to each other they could have covered each other from these kinds of attacks but alone the Charity was living on borrowed time and time that was running out. The Pe2s seemed to be almost taking bombing practice and making leisurely attacks from almost a straight down angle of up to 70 degrees. Fortunately for the Charity they needed the practice.

Ten minutes before the frigates of the 2nd Support Group could reach effective support range the Charity’s fate took a turn for the worst. One of the Soviet’s flight leaders properly timed the Charity’s captain’s last evasive maneuver and his BETAB-170DS rocket assisted bomb hit the destroyer amid ships. His wingman hit her near the stern and she stopped dead in the water in less than a minute. The Captain of the Charity, in one of his last signals warned off 2nd Support Group to take evasive action and turn for home. The attacking planes seemed to not be aware of the frigates and left them alone. Their sights were now set on the 5 squadrons of Royal Navy aircraft trying to fight their way home.

Upon hearing of their predicament the 2 squadrons of Sea Furies took top cover over their slower 2 squadrons of Seafires. They decided to head due East and try and fight their way through on the shortest route to safety. By heading straight East and going through the teeth of the enemy’s strength the Seafires had about 30 minutes of extra time to dogfight before they reached bingo fuel and had to head for home. There had been a short debate as to whether they should use that extra rang to try and outrun the cloud of Soviet aircraft but it was unanimously decided to fight straight through or die trying. The Sea Furies would attempt to boom and zoom the Soviet fighters sure to be on the tails of the Sea Furies. This meant that the more powerful and faster Sea Furies would stay at a high level until they spotted one of their fellow airmen in trouble and would boom down from above and attempt to break up the attack. After a diving attack they would zoom back up to a higher altitude and attempt to do it again. Planes with more powerful engines and better power to weight ratios have been doing this to slower more maneuverable antagonists ever since aerial warfare had been invented. One of the best planes at this tactic was the P-38 twin boom Lightning which had cleared the skies over the Pacific despite having two engines and was almost twice the size of the Zero fighter it faced. It accomplished this feat by booming from a high altitude and then zooming away. Most NATO aircraft at this stage of the war used this tactic against their opponents. Only the Spitfire and Seafire of the British would still attempted to turn and burn with certain of their enemies.

If the numbers had not been so overwhelming the story might have been different. After first contact most of the RAF fighters found themselves alone without a wingman and in combat against 5 or more enemy fighters. Ironically the few who did escape did so because the Soviet fighters kept getting in each other’s line of fire and trying to steal the “kill” from their comrades…and kill they did. 30 Seafires started out the fight with only 5 coming back. The Sea Furies did better with 10 of the 24 surviving. Two VVS Yak 3s collided trying to get on the tail of one of the surviving Seafires and 2 more were shot down mostly by having the unlucky experience of ending up in front of the same Sea Fury’s 4 20mm cannons within seconds of each other. The lucky pilot who got two kills in 10 seconds died seconds later and no one is sure which pilot it was. It was a devastating loss of 35 planes in a matter of minutes. Luckily the waters of the Irish Sea still held some warmth from the Gulf Current and 5 pilots were rescued before hypothermia set in.

Some measure of revenge was extracted up north. The fleet out of Scapa Flow did not take the bait and waited till after the Northern Soviet air armada had departed back to base. A flotilla of Corvettes and night flying sub hunter aircraft arrived near the beacon and waited. After several hours of darkness 5 Seahund mini subs who had been part of the trap, surfaced in the area.

They had run out of battery power and oxygen and were forced to surface and having a limited range of only 63 km submerged and a speed of 3 knots they were still in the area of the beacon. The radar of the Corvettes picked them up and the sub hunter aircraft sunk 3 of them in a night action attack.