It is because the British Isles are surrounded by sea that the country remained heavily dependent on that sea for resupply (which included anything from munitions to food!) throughout two world wars. By complete contrast, Germany is largely surrounded by land and had no such reliance. It followed, therefore, that Germany was able to attack this maritime lifeline almost at will whereas, British forces had no similar targets. That war against Allied merchant ships took many forms - one of which was the German commerce raider.
These were terrifying weapons of war. Converted merchant freighters which formed part of a secret fleet of pirate ships, they were armed with torpedo tubes, deck and anti-aircraft guns - all of which were concealed from view in such a cunning way that each ship continued to look like an ordinary freighter whilst retaining the capacity to change into a ship of war - almost instantaneously. Many of these ships were far more successful than Germany's leading U Boats and, instead of patrolling the defended seas around the coast of Britain, they were able to roam the world's oceans and attack that shipping anywhere at all.
It should not be forgotten that in 1941, the raider `Kormoran' sank the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney - which had far greater fire power, using nothing more than sheer guile, surprise and accurate gunnery. The battle resulted in both ships being lost. Whereas 315 of the crew of 398 from the Kormoran survived, all 645 crew of the Sydney were lost. It was not until 2008 that both wrecks were finally located on the seabed. They are 12 miles apart.
That story and other similar encounters are told in this hugely informative book from Osprey Publishing. In three separate actions we learn how the raider `Thor' took on HMS Alcantara, HMS Carnarvon Castle and HMS Voltaire before the author moves on to a classic duel between the Pinguin and HMS Cornwall and the Atlantis vs. HMS Devonshire. As much as I would like to say the Royal Navy always came off best, as the reader will soon learn, that was not always the case.
With descriptions of the ships and crews from both sides, this is a hugely informative work. We are also treated to some underwater images from HMAS Sydney which, I am pleased to report, lies far too deep for those divers who seek to salvage war graves.
Altogether, this is a most competent work and one which I have thoroughly enjoyed.
on 3 April 2013
My late father was Merchant Navy during WW2 even being briefly blockaded in Montevideo by the Graf Spee.
He always accepted that the Sydney was about the largest possible warship that could have been sunk by the Kormoran "given almost perfect ambush conditions", which is what seems to have happened. He always accepted the German version of events and found the conspiracy stories laughable.
The crew of the Sydney were due to start some well earned leave as soon as their ship docked. They were being held up from that highly desirable leave by what appeared to be a Dutch ship which couldn't answer the correct signal code. Meanwhile the Kormoran was edging closer to the perfect ambush.
The supposed sight of a periscope and war fleets would leave harbour and convoys change course. The torpedo had emerged as the deadliest weapon of two world wars sinking more ships than all other systems combined. Most merchant ships would sink from a single torpedo hit and it seems that the Kormoran put two into the Sydney plus multiple shell hits. The Kormoran would probably have lost any pure gunnery battle but those torpedoes made all the difference.
This book seems to be an excellent review of what happened and I am only saddened that my father didn't live long enough to learn that he had been essentially correct in what he had always believed had really happened.
on 1 September 2010
Thought this would be ok nothing more,i was wrong, it is a very good book packed full of information about this interesting part of the war at sea,if you are starting out this book should encourage further reading, if up on the subject its a good refresher. The discovery of HMAS Sydney is also covered,the artwork is fine apart from the digital merchant type ships that do not look real,warships are ok though.