Saturday, February 16, 2019

November 25, 1941: HMS Barham Sunk

Tuesday 25 November 1941

German Panzer IV tanks attacking near Moscow, 25 November 1941
German Panzer IV tanks and armored personnel carriers attacking a Soviet-held village in the vicinity of Istra on the Moscow-Riga railway on 25 November 1941 (Tannenberg, Hugo, Federal Archive Figure 183-B17220).
Battle of the Mediterranean: The British Operation Crusader, an offensive whose goal is to liberate Tobruk, has been going badly since its start on 21 November. British 7th Armored Division of Eighth Army has been pummeled by General Erwin Rommel's panzers and fierce artillery fire by well-sited Italian gunners. On 24 November Rommel decided to launch a counteroffensive, and today, 25 November 1941, he sets in motion more forces whose aim is to relieve a trapped German garrison at Bardia and threaten British lines of communication back into Egypt. This is known as General Rommel's "dash to the wire" because it sends Afrika Korp panzers behind the British outposts to the area of the Egyptian/ Libyan border where a wire barricade stretches inland from the coast.

HMS Barham sinking, 25 November 1941
Battleship HMS Barham ((Capt G.C. Cooke, RN)), covered with sailors, explodes in the Mediterranean north off Sidi Barrani, Egypt after being hit by three torpedoes from U-331 (Kptlt. Hans-Diedrich Freiherr von Tiesenhausen) on 25 November 1941. Total casualties number 56 officers and 806 men.
With part of Afrika Korps and the Italian Ariete Division already heading toward Sidi Omar, the 15th Panzer Division today heads northeast toward Sidi Aziz. To their shock, the German tankers find no enemy to be seen and their only opponents the omnipresent RAF Desert Air Force. The 5th Panzer Division of the 21st Panzer Division hits the 7th Indian Brigade at Sidi Omar, but are fought off with great difficulty by the 1st Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery. The German tanks try again, but the Royal Artillery picks the panzers off over open sights at 500 meters and destroys or damages almost all of them. It is a brilliant defensive victory by the British caused by their valor and the overconfidence of the panzer commanders. The rest of the 21st Panzer Division heads unmolested to the border at Halfaya, the key to the vital coastal road.

HMS Barham sinking, 25 November 1941
HMS Barham listing to port shortly after being hit by three torpedoes. Barham becomes the only Royal Navy battleship to be sunk by a submarine during World War 11. This photo was taken from HMS Valiant.
The Germans reach the area west of Sidi Aziz by sunset, but they have taken heavy tank losses during the day. They have only 53 panzers remaining with no possibility of reinforcement. The 5th New Zealand Brigade is located further up the coast between the panzers and their closest supply dumps, posing a logistical problem. The Germans camp here for the night and prepare to bypass the New Zealanders on the 26th in order to liberate Bardia and resupply.

B-36 prototypes ordered, 25 November 1941
HMS Barham.
One of the paradoxes of the war in North Africa is that it is actually won at sea. The Royal Navy has done a very efficient job of disrupting supplies sent from Naples to Tripoli. Today, however, the Germans take their revenge when  U-331 (Kptlt. Hans-Diedrich Freiherr von Tiesenhausen) somehow evades the Royal Navy destroyer screen and pumps three torpedoes into battleship HMS Barham. The Barham sinks quickly and takes the better part of 1000 men with her.

Mine Recovery and Disposal Squadron towing a mine, 25 November 1941
"Members of the Mine Recovery and Disposal Squad towing away a naval mine from the beach at Tayport with the aid of a Bren gun carrier being operated by troops of the 1st Polish Corps, 25 November 1941." © IWM (A 6427).
Eastern Front: General Guderian's men continue to put pressure on the Red Army units defending Tula, but it is an increasingly hopeless battle. Today, the 17th Panzer Division (Brig. Gen. Rudolf Eduard Licht) approaches Kashira, about 50 km north of Venev, which looks impressive on the map as it is a great deal closer to Moscow than Tula. However, Lictht's advance causes as many problems as it solves, because it is extremely difficult to supply his panzers. Meanwhile, the bulk of Guderian's forces are making no progress at all on the direct road to Moscow through Tula. The Germans only control the territory within reach of their guns, with large stretches in between their isolated forces virtually undefended. This gives the Red Army units the ability to cross between the different Wehrmacht positions. The 239th Siberian Rifle Division, for instance, escapes from the 29th Motorized Division near Epifan, southeast of Tula, simply by driving around the German units. Lacking strong infantry support, the German effort south of Moscow is turning into the equivalent of tank raids rather than a full-fledged offensive.

A dog named Mosquito, 25 November 1941
"An early Christmas present for a member of the crew, the dog's name is 'Mosquito'." This photo was taken aboard a Royal Navy torpedo boat at Naval Base Granton. © IWM (A 6380).
North of Moscow, the German 18th Army continues to hold the strategically important city of Tikhvin despite brutal winter weather and increasing Red Army attacks. The commander of the 18th Army, Colonel General Georg von Küchler, accepts the inevitable after his men have made no progress since taking the city and orders them to cease all offensive operations. This leaves the most advanced German troops isolated at the tip of a dead schwerpunkt (spearhead) with long supply lines that are open to Soviet assault from both the north and south.

HMS Barham sinking, 25 November 1941
HMS Barham exploding in a fireball, 25 November 1941.
US/Japanese Relations: For several days, United States Secretary of State Cordell Hull has been preparing a modus vivendi agreement to restart stalled peace talks with the Japanese. This is a counter-proposal to the Japanese Proposal B submitted on 21 November which was completely unacceptable to the Americans. The modus vivendi would prohibit "any advance by force" in the Pacific - an obvious restriction on Japanese ambitions - and require a Japanese withdrawal from southern French Indochina. In exchange, the United States would resume limited trade with the Japanese to the extent of $600,000 worth of cotton, oil "for civilian needs" and medical supplies. The agreement by its terms would only last for three months and would be a stop-gap measure to reach a longer-lasting agreement.

Der Adler, 25 November 1941
Der Adler, 25 November 1941 (Heft 24, 25. November 1941.: Deutsches Reichsluftfahrtministerium).
The US War Council debates this very mild counterproposal on the 25th and decides that it would make sense to submit this modus vivendi to the Japanese. The obvious alternative is war, and the Army and Navy want more time to prepare for that. However, the decision to submit this counterproposal to the Japanese - who it is expected would take it - does not lie with the US War Council. Only one man can make that decision. Hull, who personally thinks the modus vivendi is pointless, schedules a meeting with President Roosevelt for the 26th.

B-36 Peacemaker prototypes ordered, 25 November 1941
The proposed B-36 bomber would feature dramatically greater bombload, range, and service ceiling in addition to its unprecedented size. Two prototypes are ordered from Consolidated on 25 November 1941.
US Military: The US Army Air Force contracts with Consolidated Aircraft (later Consolidated Vultee and then Convair) to produce two prototypes of a new experimental bomber. Consolidated is an experienced military plane manufacturer, having built the successful B-24 Liberator heavy bomber and the PBY Catalina. The overall wing area of the new plane is to encompass just under 5000 square feet and hold six engines placed at the back of the wings to push its 163-foot fuselage. This is a massive design that dwarfs current bombers, and the plane is designed to be able to fly from the continental United States, bomb targets in Europe, and then return without landing or refueling. The fixed fee payable to Consolidated is approximately $800,000 for each prototype and the first plane is scheduled to be ready by mid-1944. This plane ultimately is developed and becomes the B-36 Peacemaker.

"MS of HMS Barham listing heavily to port, towards the camera - her secondary 6-inch guns already underwater. MLS off the port bow as she begins to roll over. The capsizing ship suddenly blows up in a huge explosion, only her bows remaining visible, steeply canted at the edge of the smoke pall. Debris from the explosion rains into the sea. Various shots emphasize the extent of the smoke pall remaining after the ship has disappeared. The film then cuts to an MS off the starboard quarter of Barham steaming in quarter line with HMS Queen Elizabeth - Queen Elizabeth fires after 4.5-inch AA. Final shot reverts to the sinking - Barham is shown listing, Queen Elizabeth in the background." © IWM.

HMS Barham sinking, 25 November 1941
HMS Barham right before it explodes and sinks. This apparently is a capture taken from a film made of the sinking. If one looks closely, men clinging for their lives are seen on the upraised hull and the decks.

Captain C. E. Morgan, commanding nearby HMS Valiant, gave an account of the sinking of HMS Barham:

"Our battleships were proceeding westwards line ahead, with the Valiant immediately astern the Barham and with a destroyer screen thrown out ahead of the battlefleet. At 4.23 p.m., carrying out a normal zigzag, we turned to port together, thus bringing the ships into echelon formation.

Suddenly, at 4.25, I heard a loud explosion, followed by two further explosions a couple of seconds later. Fountains of water and two enormous columns of smoke shot skywards. The smoke formed an enormous mushroom, gradually enveloping the whole of the Barham, except the after part, which was subsequently also blotted out as the ship slid into a vast pall of smoke.

As the explosions occurred the officer on watch gave the command “ Hard to port,” to keep clear of the Barham.

Fifteen seconds later I saw a submarine break the surface, possibly forced there by the explosion. Passing from left to right, the submarine was apparently making to cross the Valiant’s bows between us and the Barham. He was only about seven degrees off my starboard bow and 150 yards away, though he must have fired his torpedoes from about 700 yards.

As the periscope and then the conning tower appeared I ordered “ Full speed ahead, hard starboard.” But, with the helm already hard to port, I was unable to turn quickly enough to ram him before he crash-dived only 40 yards away on our starboard side. The submarine was visible for about 45 seconds, and, simultaneously with our ramming efforts, we opened fire with our starboard pom-poms. He was so close, however, that we were unable to depress the guns sufficiently and the shells passed over the conning-tower.

I then gave the order “Amidships” again to avoid turning into the Barham, which was still underway with her engines running but listing heavily to port. As we came upon her beam she heeled further about 20 or 30 degrees, and through the smoke, I could see all her quarter-deck and forecastle. Men were jumping into the water and running up on the forecastle.

The Barham was rolling on a perfectly even keel with neither bows nor stern sticking into the air. For one minute she seemed to hang in this position; then, at 4.28, she suddenly rolled violently, her mainmast striking the’ surface of the sea sharply a few seconds later.

I saw water pouring into her funnels. There followed a big explosion amidships, from which belched black and brown smoke intermingled with flames. Pieces of wreckage, Hung high into the air, were scattered far and wide, the largest piece being about the size of my writing-desk.

I immediately ordered “ Take cover ” as the wreckage started flying, and that was the last we saw of the Barham, which had run almost’ a mile since the moment she was hit. When the smoke cleared the only signs left were a mass of floating wreckage.

The 35,000-ton ship disappeared with unbelievable suddenness; it was only 4 minutes 35 seconds exactly from the moment the torpedoes struck until she had completely disappeared."

November 1941

November 1, 1941: Finns Attack Toward Murmansk Railway
November 2, 1941: Manstein Isolates Sevastopol
November 3, 1941: Japan Prepares to Attack
November 4, 1941: German Advances in the South
November 5, 1941: Last Peace Effort By Japan
November 6, 1941: Stalin Casts Blame in an Unexpected Direction
November 7, 1941: Stalin's Big Parade
November 8, 1941: Germans Take Tikhvin
November 9, 1941: Duisburg Convoy Destruction
November 10, 1941: Manstein Attacks Sevastopol
November 11, 1941: Finland's Double Game Erupts
November 12, 1941: T-34 Tanks Take Charge
November 13, 1941: German Orsha Conference
November 14, 1941: German Supply Network Breaking Down
November 15, 1941: Operation Typhoon Resumes
November 16, 1941: Manstein Captures Kerch
November 17, 1941: Finland Halts Operations
November 18, 1941: British Operation Crusader
November 19, 1941: Sydney vs. Kormoran Duel
November 20, 1941: The US Rejects Final Japanese Demand
November 21, 1941: Germans Take Rostov
November 22, 1941: Kleist in Trouble at Rostov
November 23, 1941: Germans Take Klin, Huge Battle in North Africa
November 24, 1941: Rommel Counterattacks
November 25, 1941: HMS Barham Sunk
November 26, 1941: Japanese Fleet Sails
November 27, 1941: British Relieve Tobruk
November 28, 1941: Rostov Evacuated, German Closest Approach to Moscow
November 29, 1941: Hitler Furious About Retreat
November 30, 1941: Japan Sets the Date for its Attack


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