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THE BATTLE OF THE NORTH CAPE
-
an NWS Adventure By David Manley

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The mauling of two destroyers encouraged the Germans to draw off to the south and to fall back on Scharnhorst. British began to pursue, further damaging Z30 and knocking out a turret on Z38. However the appearance of a suspiciously large blob on the radar sailing north at 32 knots persuaded them to draw off, shadow the Germans and to await the rest of their forces.

During the next few hours of campaign movement the Germans unintentionally skirted around the convoy before finding themselves sandwiched between Force 1 and Force 2. This was a very similar situation to Scharnhorst's final battle, but this time she had the benefit of effective radar usage and her destroyers. The action recommenced at 1512, with the Scharnhorst and her escorting destroyers running North towards the supposed position of the convoy, being pursued by Duke of York, Jamaica and their escorts. Initially the British firing was ineffective, but at 1515 Duke of York's 5.25" secondaries found the range of Z30, putting a shell through her engine room and also knocking out her remaining turret. The German's poor fire control radar put them at a severe disadvantage in the murky conditions with Z29 and Z34 being hit multiple times as the British S class destroyers closed in. Most of the damage was minor, but Z34 was fortunate to survive when a shell removed her after torpedo mount, which was full at the time and another crippled her X turret.

At 1524 Duke of York finally found the range for Scharnhorst, significantly increasing the ventilation in the superstructure. At this point the Germans became aware of the approach of the remaining British forces from the North as an 8 inch shell from Norfolk demolished a 4.1" secondary mount on her port side. Scharnhorst responded immediately, with a shell from her main guns penetrating Norfolk's armour and igniting a secondary magazine and another hitting the switchboard and robbing her of electrical power for a few vital minutes.

The battle continued in a similar vein of 15 minutes, as the Scharnhorst, abandoning her escorts to their fate, steamed eastwards out of range of the Duke of York's big guns. Belfast and Sheffield continue to sculk in the gloom, relying on radar to hit Scharnhorst. They were moderately successful, wrecking most of the unarmoured areas of the German ship and starting several fires, whilst remaining undamaged themselves. Their escorting destroyers, Matchless, Musketeer, Virago and Opportune kept firing as they closed in on the enemy at full speed. Eventually Matchless got into a position to fire her torpedoes, and managed to score two hits on the receding enemy battlecruiser. These fish knock "Cesar" turret from its mountings, damage the steering and cause significant fires and flooding. However it was too little to stop the big ship making good her escape. The Scharnhorst survived (after some heroic damage control efforts) with about 60% of her flotation intact and all her armoured areas in good condition. (The unarmoured areas were regularly riddled with shells of various sizes, so the crew had a chilly trip back to Norway).

The German destroyers fired their last torpedoes at Duke of York and Jamaica (all of which failed to reach their targets) and then headed South-West, back towards Norway. Z29 and Z38 were both in fair condition and make good speed away from the area, but were eventually lost to a hail of fire from the British cruisers, destroyers and Duke of York. Z30 and Z34 failed to achieve even this; Z30 was totally wrecked and Z34 was hampered by the damage she had suffered to her boilers; both were sunk in mimutes On the British side Matchless lost one turret and her radar and Musketeer was hit, albeit not significantly, has a few holes.

Overall the British succeeded in their overall task as Scharnhorst was left incapable of attacking the convoy and had to try and make her way back to Langefjord. The damage inflicted was deemed so severe as to effectively knock her out of the rest of the war. Apart from the damage to Norfolk the British forces survived without serious damage, although Scharnhorst's 6 inch secondaries put some extra holes into Jamaica. However, the British failed to sink Scharnhorst and thus the Germans claimed an important propaganda victory.

Again we were the subject of Press attention (this time form the BBC and a London newspaper) as well as visits by ex-servicemen from Scharnhorst, Belfast and Scorpion. And so the event closed. The post mortem was this time held in the Wardroom of HMS Belfast, following which another run ashore was conducted to the same hostelry (there were, I am told one or two particular "attractions"!) So how successful was the event in the final analysis? The feedback from the ship was good - so good in fact that the NWS has been invited back to stage more activities over the next few years (including a D Day display and other naval battles using large scale models). From our perspective it was a chance to demonstrate naval wargaming and modelling to the general public, to recruit new members, to get a number of NWS members together (always a difficult thing to achieve given the relatively low density of naval wargamers in the UK) and to hold a wargame in a truly unique location. Of course there were problems and learning points - the rules have subsequently been amended in the light of various points that arose, whilst we have learnt a lot about the subject of demonstrating a wargame to the public, and the Belfast team have some to learn a lot about the creeping qualities of carpet o a cambered deck. All of these points and others have been hoisted in and should make the next event even better.

So to summarise, this was I believe a very successful event that showed wargaming in a good light to the public and to those who took part in the battle itself. Hopefully this is the first of many such events.

Whilst the greater burden of the wargaming side of the event fell to myself I would like to thank those who made it possible - Keith Macintosh and Nick Hewitt on the Belfast (along with the rest of the crew), John Hammond at Skytrex and Mime at SDD for providing models and parts, to Steve Smith and Francis Macnaughton at MOD Abbey Wood for their help on the modelling side, and to the NWS team (especially co-umpire Tim Jefferis) for taking part and not making my life too much of a misery in the process!

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