Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Great war at Sea (September 2016)

Trooper on the Tide

The Antivari Convoy 5th October - 8th October 1915.
From "The Balkan Front in the Great War 1914-1917"
By T. Long.
From Boardgame Geeks. 1st edition


From Boardgame Geeks. 2nd edition

From Boardgame Geeks

From Boardgame Geeks

From Boardgame Geeks

From Boardgame Geeks


                  The Battle of Sinope put the Turkish war effort on the back foot. The sinking of the Breslau and the Mesudiye meant there would be no more Black Sea incursions. The Goeben had escaped, but was heavily damaged and it would be many months before it would risked in action again. Also the attempt on cutting the Suez Canal was seen off without much difficulty.

            First Lord of Admiralty Winston Churchill  discounted an attempt on the Straits quoting Nelson "No sailor but a fool puts a ship against a fortress.” Instead he suggested an attack on the soft underbelly of the Central Powers, the Dalmatian Coast. This would support Serbia and show the Russians that Britain was serious about their commitment to them “The Road to Berlin goes through Vienna” Churchill argued in Cabinet. “Knock away Austria, the weak partner and Germany will fall.”
                  This was thought premature but it was agreed that the 29th Division should be sent via the Port of Antivari to support Serbia. If this was successful it would be followed by the French 5e Colonial Division. Both Divisions were of long service regulars with experience in Colonial insurgencies, and though few the Serbian High Command, welcomed any support. If the reinforcements were successful then further operations would planned.
The KUK Navy was also a factor in the strategy. From being an ageing coastal fleet it had been modernized, with an ambitious building scheme starting in 1910. Six Dreadnoughts had been launched as well as three semi Dreadnoughts of the Radetsky Class. Impressed by the teachings of the French Jeunesse Ecole that a torpedo boat could sink a Capital ship, Destroyers, Torpedo Boats and Light Cruisers had been launched as well. The navy was lead by Admiral Augustus Mack, of a distinguished military family. Born in 1878, he had gone to sea young and was one of the few of the KUK Naval officers to see action, albeit on land in the Boxer Rebellion. He was considered young to command a fleet, but the Navy was full of younger sons of the Nobility interested in technology and sons of the middle class seeking quicker promotion than they would get in the Army.
                  The Austrians soon learned of the upcoming operation-through out the War, both sides learnt there were few secrets in the Balkans! A large Fleet was gathered at Valletta consisting of 4 Duncan Class, 2 Queen Class and 2 London class pre-dreadnoughts, 4 Armoured Cruisers as well 4 Battle Cruisers, the glamour ships of the Royal Navy. Faster than the stronger Dreadnoughts, said the admirers. Egg shells armed with hammers said the critics.
                  There were only 6 destroyers, as well as 10 transports. An even larger French fleet assembled at Corfu, Greek protests being ignored. Two powerful Courbet class dreadnoughts, 6 Danton class 3 Liberte class, 2 Condoret class and 2 Republic class pre-dreadnoughts as well 10 armoured cruisers were gathered together, as well as 11 destroyers. The plan for the Allies was that the French would seek battle, and the British would proceed to Antivari. The British battle cruisers will act as a scouting force in coordination with the French, using their superior speed.
                   The Austrian plan was that a picket line of submarines would attack the Allied fleet. The Fleet would be divided, with some of the older Erzherzog class with light ships in support would block any attempt at landing in Antivari. The More modern Ships would seek battle.
On the afternoon of the 5th of October a World first happened: the KUK B7 Naval airship spotted and reported a naval enemy task force to another friendly warship. The 4 Battle Cruisers, HMS New Zealand, Indomitable, Indefatigable and Inflexible with 3 destroyers were spotted heading NNW, 40 miles from Bari. The British fleet responded by another first, by shooting down the airship by a lucky shot.
                   The main Austrian Fleet of 6 dreadnoughts, 3 semi dreadnoughts, 4 light cruisers, 17 destroyers and 16 torpedo boats intercepted the British Battle Cruisers. Boldly the British Battle Cruisers faced their foes for 20 minutes before turning away. A light cruiser and a destroyer leader were sunk and the dreadnought Franz Joseph was roughly handled. The Austrians eventually got the range damaging the Indefatigable, causing her to lag behind her consorts. She was sunk by a torpedo attack, but by then the Kuk fleet had been led into the range of the much larger French fleet.
                   Two columns of 11 Pre-dreadnoughts and Armoured Cruisers, each lead by a Dreadnought and flanked by 11 Destroyers loomed out of the twilight. The battle cruisers retired as the two fleets slugged it out. Though neither side had training for it, both sides refused to break off at night. Mack hoped that his destroyers would prove useful in the attack at close range, but the light craft were not as effective as he hoped. Bravely the light cruisers escorted their smaller ships, and paid the price. All light cruisers were sunk as were seven destroyers and five torpedo boats. That is not to say their efforts were totally fruitless. The dreadnought Courbet was left dead in the water and on fire from torpedo hits and only heroic efforts of her crew saved her. The pre dreadnought Diderot suffered flooding and fire from a torpedo hit. Both ships were in the shipyards for months afterwards. French destroyers were not idle, with the dreadnought Prinz Eugene badly damaged by two torpedo hits. The French armoured cruisers proved their worth by accounting for most of the enemy light craft. A lucky salvo from the Vergiaud sunk the semi dreadnought Franz Ferdinand with a massive explosion, the only capital ship lost by either side all night. The night meant the French could not use all their numbers but both sides was amazed of the amount of damage
Modern ships could both inflict and take. The Kuk fleet broke off the battle before dawn, and Admiral Nathan, a old Breton Sea Dog decide that he needed to re order his battered fleet. The Dreadnought Jean Bart was badly damaged, as well as the Courbet. Five destroyers were also sunk and four pre-dreadnoughts suffered major damage. Five of his armoured cruisers were detailed to escort his damaged ships south, while the rest of the fleet resumed its' search. Admiral Mack daringly divided his fleet with the two undamaged semi dreadnoughts and the dreadnought Viribus Unis and three destroyers going to the aid of the blocking Fleet, and the damaged ships heading back to Pola.
                   The Blocking force had actually avoided any combat, and was on its’ way to Antivari. It consisted of three of the old Erzherzog class of pre dreadnoughts, five destroyers’ two light cruisers and eight torpedo boats. The three remaining battle cruisers leading the main French fleet came across the Austrian Fleet sailing east to re enforce the blocking fleet. The Battle Cruisers came on aggressively, hoping by a lucky shot to slow down one of the enemy ships.
                 The Austrian Fleet, seeing a rerun of the day before, turned north and fled. There was a classic sea chase for two hours with salvos at long range. The French Fleet could not get in range and the battle cruisers traded shots with the Austrians. Both sides took major damage and eventually two of the battle cruisers had to drop out of the chase. Sadly the fire eating Admiral, Sir Gregory Heard had to admit that the New Zealand alone could not catch the enemy fleet, and broke off the chase. No re-enforcements would be coming to the blocking fleet.
                   The British Fleet escorting the transports were on course the only problem being the loss the Armoured Cruiser Defence to what was believed to be a submarine but must have been a mine. The Austrian submarines never saw anything over the three days. When the British Fleet under Sir Thomas Stephen arrived on the 8th they found their way barred by the much smaller Austrian Fleet. The British Fleet had 8 Predreadnoughts, 3 Armoured Cruisers, 3 Destroyers and 10 Transports.
                   Gallantly the Austrian light ships flung themselves at the British escorts and the old Austrian capital ships attacked their counterparts. But the odds were too heavy. Both light cruisers were sunk as were four destroyers and four torpedo boats. One Transport holding the divisions’ artillery was sunk, as was a destroyer. The Predreadnought Russel suffered significant damage, and the Duncan and Cornwallis both suffered slight damage. But after two hours, the three old Austrian Capital ships were sunk, and the surviving light ships escaped.
                   Lacking light ships to pursue, Admiral Stephen preceded in triumph to Antivari. Thus an Allied victory was celebrated when one was needed at this stage of the war. The Austrians lost four capital ships to two Allied, six light cruisers, twelve destroyers and ten torpedo boats. Several French ships were in Dry dock for months, as were the three damaged Battle cruisers. To his surprise Admiral Mack and the fleet became popular heroes. Showing a surprising energy and vigour, the capital ships were repaired and using the steel from the old laid up ships the light ships were replaced over a year. But it was not for another year (9 July 1916 Battle of Peligosa) that Capital Ships came out again.
That did not mean the naval war was over. The Austrian Submarine Branch developed into a force that inflicted some stinging blows, bold raids by the Light Craft kept Allied Navies on alert, and a lack of allied Light Craft till 1916 kept the Allies on the defensive. But never again were the KUK fleet in the position to challenge Allied Convoys to the Serbian Front-harass and annoy certainly.
                   The Battle of Antivari was one the Kuk Navy had to win. It failed. Nor was the Austrian navy present at the Storming of Cattaro by the British Imperial and French forces on the 25th April 1915. By keeping Serbia in the war, keeping Bulgaria neutral the Antivari Ferry, as the Royal Navy called it, was vital.
                   The Danube Offensive in July 1916 and its advances along with the successful Brusilov Offensive in June of 1916 were blows the Austrians could barely stand.
Kaiser Karl’s speech from the Throne on the 25th October 1916 pleading for loyalty and offering concessions was showing that cracks in the Empire could no longer be ignored. Admiral Mack and his Naval Column were among the last defenders of the throne in Vienna, and while the Army broke up, the Navy remained Kaiser true, till the Kaisers abdication on the 5th April. The Antivari convoy was a vital link in the chain of events that lead to the end of the Empire, and the Defeat of Germany.