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Ardee
10-18-2014, 11:04 PM
The naval war is not exactly my specialty, but I was watching a "Military Channel" production on a UK Commando raid on the dry dock facilities at Saint Nazaire (in France). The show claims these dry docks were the *only* facility in Western Europe capable of servicing a ship the size of the Tirpitz, at least at the time of the raid in March of 1942.

I'm a little incredulous that Germany would build a battleship that it wouldn't have facilities to subsequently service the ship if damaged. Last I checked, Germany was included in the scope of "western Europe." In at least one place of the show, the narrator said the French facility was "the only one in Europe" that could serve the battleship. Another TV gaff or overdone hype? I doubt Allied bombing had knocked out facilities in Germany at that point in time.

Clarification, anyone?

JR*
10-21-2014, 06:11 AM
Hi, Ardee. Not exactly a "naval" man myself - but I am more than a little incredulous on this one. Haven't seen the Military Channel myself, but this looks like a blooper worthy of the History Channel. True, Germany's exposure to the deep ocean was limited, and its history as a major naval power was short. However, on the formation of the German Empire in 1871, the cities of Kiel (on the Baltic) and Wilhelmshaven (on the North Sea) were designated as "Imperial War Harbours", and were developed accordingly. These were the places where Germany built her warships for two world wars, and the preferred ports of resort when shelter or repairs were needed. The Germans, for as long as they held them, used a number of French dockyards for running repairs, and it is true that St Nazaire, with its major shipbuilding and ship repair facilities, including a huge dry dock, was capable of accommodating a full-scale battleship like the Tirpitz (and was also of course a major U-boat base). This made it an attractive strategic target, for sure. That having been said, it would not have been even the preferred recourse for a wounded German battleship; patching up, followed by a visit to much less-exposed Kiel, would almost certainly have been preferred.

A thought occurs - could it be that the good people at the Military Channel do not regard Wilhelmshaven and Kiel as being in "western Europe" ? Or did they really mean "on the Atlantic" ? I am sure that the citizens of Wilhelmshaven and Kiel would be surprised to hear that they are not "Western European" whereas I, on current definitions, sitting on my little scenic rock on the wild Atlantic shore, certainly am ? Still a blooper, I think - but that might explain it. I take it that the Military Channel is an American enterprise ? Not being critical - but who was it who said that Britain and America were two countries divided by the same language ? Very best regards, JR.

tankgeezer
10-21-2014, 08:45 AM
The Military Channel is at best a specialized channel showing programming of a military nature, as well as sometimes distantly related programming. In the past, this programming would have been seen on the History Channel, or even the Science, or Discovery channels.
This does not mean that the quality, or accuracy has increased, though some shows are documentary in nature, and are usually more accurate than the modern stuff that can be a bit like a Hollywood movie than actual History. The Military Channel has been renamed the American Heroes Channel, but this has not upped the ante' on accuracy. Some of the programming is very interesting, and well worth while to watch. other times, I would rather watch Antiques Roadshow. (Oftimes it's more accurate) :mrgreen:

Ardee
10-21-2014, 10:05 AM
Thanks for both replies.

JR, I think most Americans would indeed include Germany in Western Europe (not counting the proportion said to have difficulty finding Europe on a map). While I was pretty sure the Germans would have been capable of repairing any ship they built, I couldn't totally discount some kind of damage to their dry docks having been done. Your answer is appreciated. So far as who said something about "two countries divided by the same language," I can only say I don't know for Shaw. ;)

Tankgeezer, I agree with all you said. The show was part of a series they're now running. An earlier version was about Pegasus Bridge, and included the knocking out of a "panzer" without ever mentioning it was actually a halftrack. But this idea was just such a incredible, over-the-top tidbit that I figured it was possible something I missed was in play.

JR*
10-21-2014, 11:12 AM
Fair point, Ardee. Both Kiel and Wilhelmshaven were very heavily bombed by the RAF during the war, and most of the cities and their industrial areas were, eventually, either destroyed or damaged. However, while this bombing started as early as 1940, the bulk of the damage would have postdated the 1942 date of the St Nazaire raid and I believe that Kiel, in particular, was never fully knocked out. That having been said, naval repair facilities at the German ports were increasingly limited from about mid-1943. This may have influenced the increasingly cramped deployment of German surface warships (including the Tirpitz) late in the war. Also, there is little doubt that the entry of the Tirpitz into the war did provide particular impetus for the St Nazaire raid in 1942 - though, at that stage, Wilhelmshaven and Kiel were still reasonably close to full operation - something attested not least by the fact that the pre-commissioning Tirpitz had slid down the launching ramp at Wilhelmshaven only a few months before.

There is another factor to be borne in mind when considering the St Nazaire raid - Churchill's obsession with maintaining some level of Allied land action in Europe through Commando-type raids. This produced several highly successful, not very costly operations from 1940 on, but also produced the very successful, but very costly St Nazaire raid in 1942 and, of course, the disastrous (if educational) Dieppe raid. This is not to say that the St Nazaire raid was not justified by the presence of Tirpitz and other substantial German warships in the Atlantic. It does, however, leave us with the question of whether the Allies had the alternative (less elaborate and less risky) of eliminating the threat from the St Nazaire dry dock and related facilities by means of aerial bombardment. Certainly, this option would have existed in 1944. However, "bunker busting" bombing technology was very much less developed in 1942. Another question - how willing would the Germans have been to expose such a major naval asset as Tirpitz - having suffered damage - to a crippled cruise to the northern part of the Bay of Biscay, and to a facility seriously exposed to Allied air, surface and other forms of attack and sabotage, if even a damaged Kiel was an alternative, even in 1942 ? These are not quite the standard "road not taken"-type "what-if"s, but I am getting close, so I had better stop.

By the way - as mentioned above, Tirpitz was built at Wilhelmshaven and trialled and complete-fitted out at Kiel. Her sister-ship Bismarck was built at the Blohm und Voss shipyard at Hamburg - another (if slightly more limited) string to Germany's military ship-repairing bow. Best regards, JR.

pdf27
10-22-2014, 12:47 PM
Another question - how willing would the Germans have been to expose such a major naval asset as Tirpitz - having suffered damage - to a crippled cruise to the northern part of the Bay of Biscay, and to a facility seriously exposed to Allied air, surface and other forms of attack and sabotage, if even a damaged Kiel was an alternative, even in 1942 ?
The point being that they'd send the Tirpitz to St Nazaire in the event that it was seriously damaged on an Atlantic raiding cruise. While St Nazaire is vulnerable to the RAF, it is still much safer than trying to get a crippled warship back through the Denmark Strait under the noses of the entire home fleet, a long way from friendly air cover. The Luftwaffe can cover quite a bit of the approaches to St Nazaire, making the job of getting a cripple in to port before it sinks (or is sunk) a lot easier.

Ardee
10-22-2014, 03:59 PM
The point being that they'd send the Tirpitz to St Nazaire in the event that it was seriously damaged on an Atlantic raiding cruise.

Yes. Wasn't St Nazaire where the Bismarck was headed when her curtain fell?