Monday 7 June 2010

The Battle of Cape Odamonte - A Postscript

The official report into the action off Cape Odamonte ran into several volumes and whilst complete in many respects – certainly to the satisfaction of the admiralty – it could not by any stretch of the imagination be described as an easy read. With this in mind, prompted no doubt by the PM with whom such lengthy reports are something of an anathema, a heavily summarised version was prepared for more general consumption. The salient points have been extracted and are detailed below.

On the loss of HMS Gloucester….

“The loss of the light cruiser HMS Gloucester can be attributed to the continued lack of sufficient 8” armed vessels deployed to the Mediterranean theatre. Until this shortcoming is addressed our cruiser forces will continue to be outgunned by the enemy having a clear local superiority in this class of ship. Despite successfully destroying two of their number it is believed that the enemy still has five other such vessels currently in commission. It is the considered opinion of the court that immediate steps should be taken to rectify this deficiency; subject to any other ongoing operational commitments.”

On the use of refurbished battleships….

“The use of modernised battleships capable of little more than 24 knots in a mixed squadron with faster vessels is less than desirable as attempting to engage an enemy of a higher speed, especially when withdrawing, is all but impossible. The decision to maintain the squadron integrity when the condenser problem arose on HMS Valiant was the correct one albeit hugely frustrating for the commander on the spot. It is the considered opinion of the court that as soon as they are available, a battleship or two from the KGV class should be deployed to Gibraltar for service in the Mediterranean subject to any other ongoing operational commitments.”

On the destroyer action and its results….

“Our destroyer forces are resolute, determined and daring in the execution of their duties. Unfortunately on this occasion these traits were ably demonstrated to their ultimate detriment as any tactical advantage enjoyed by having the support of the secondary armament from HMS Renown and HMS Valiant was lost by engaging in what can only be described as a ‘pell-mell’ melee at point blank range with the enemy destroyers. That they were ultimately successful in this action there can be no doubt but the price paid of HMS Kandahar being sunk and the remaining three suffering extensive damage was a high one and could probably have been avoided by standing off and relying on longer range gunnery and the support of the heavy units. It is the considered opinion of the court that the instructions governing the tactical employment of destroyers when engaged with their opposite numbers should be reviewed and amended at the earliest opportunity with any such revisions being passed to the fleet as a matter of priority whilst subject to any other ongoing operational commitments. ”

On the effectiveness of our carrier borne aircraft….

“The two air attacks carried out by our Swordfish squadrons were both ineffective but sustained no loss. The Swordfish is an effective aircraft when used in ideal conditions (seldom found in time of war) but is sadly deficient when faced with an alert and active air defence. This is no reflection on the gallantry of the aircrew assigned to these machines; rather it is criticism of the continued use of these aircraft. Similarly, the use of the Sea Hurricane as an air defence fighter should be reviewed as whilst these aircraft are capable in their designated role the available firepower i.e. 8 machine guns is rapidly becoming obsolete and an upgrade should be made a priority. It is the considered opinion of the court that until a suitable replacement aircraft is available to replace both the Swordfish and the Sea Hurricane on carrier operations our strike and air defence capability will be considerably impaired.”

On the overall command of the operation….

“After exhaustive deliberations it has been concluded that overall command of this operation has been less than satisfactory but that various mitigating factors have served to emphasise this rather than any major failings by the commander in question. The cruiser forces reacted admirably to the surprise appearance of their opposite numbers and despite engaging at both a tactical and qualitative disadvantage and losing HMS Gloucester early on in the action were able to secure an unexpected victory, in part aided by the decision of the enemy commander to split his forces. The decision of the commander to attempt to intercept the enemy cruisers was undoubtedly the correct one under the circumstances should the enemy squadron have retained its cohesion. Regrettably this manoeuvre had the effect of delaying the engagement of the enemy heavy units and so this phase of the action was conducted under less than ideal circumstances. Our cruisers were more than able to engage the enemy cruisers after their formation had split and the qualitative differential had swung back into their favour as a result. At this stage HMS Renown and HMS Valiant should have headed at full speed towards the Vittorio Veneto and the Guilio Cesare rather than maintaining a watching brief over a tactical situation that was no longer relevant i.e. our cruisers being outnumbered and outgunned. It transpired that HMS Renown was not immediately aware of the fate of the enemy cruisers and so vital minutes were lost which served to compromise the possibility of a telling action with the enemy battleships. To the credit of the commander in question immediate steps were taken to rectify this error but with the failings of the condensers on HMS Valiant restricting the maximum tactical speed of the formations to 22 knots any attempt to engage a withdrawing enemy formation travelling at 30 knots would be doomed to failure. Had the final air attack of the day launched by the Swordfish squadrons from the Ark Royal been successful in even slowing the enemy down a little then a very different outcome could have been expected. It is the considered opinion of the court that whilst overall command of this operation has been conducted in a less than satisfactory manner this should in no way be seen as a reflection on the decisions taken by the commander. It is acknowledged that in the heat of battle decisions have to be taken and acted upon often with incomplete or inaccurate information and whilst the material outcome of this particular action can best be described as disappointing as a result of the said deciosions; the intentions of the commander and of the ships under his command to engage the enemy regardless of cost maintained the highest standards and traditions of the Royal Navy and thus no adverse comment can be applied to the said commander or his command.”

The PM has seen this summary and whilst he is naturally as disappointed as the admiralty at the outcome is fully aware of the circumstances prevailing and is to address the Commons accordingly. In the meantime the points raised will be discussed further and the appropriate remedial action undertaken in order to rectify the deficiencies exposed where applicable.


Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Much hard earned thought is contained therein ...

David Crook said...

Hi Geordie,

It was tremendous fun though!

All the best,