Battle of the Barents Sea: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Battle of the Barents Sea
Part of World War II
The Battle of the Barents Sea.jpg
Date 31 December 1942
Location Barents Sea, north of North Cape, Norway
Result Strategic British Victory
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom War Ensign of Germany 1938-1945.svg Germany
Rear-Admiral Robert L. Burnett
Captain Robert St. Vincent Sherbrooke
Vice-Admiral Oskar Kummetz
2 Cruisers (after 3 hours)
6 Destroyers
2 Corvettes
1 Minesweeper
2 Trawlers
2 Heavy Cruisers
6 Destroyers
Casualties and losses
1 Destroyer
1 Minesweeper
250 killed
1 Destroyer
330 killed

The Battle of the Barents Sea took place on 31 December 1942 between German surface raiders and British ships escorting convoy JW 51B to Kola Inlet in the USSR. The action took place in the Barents Sea north of North Cape, Norway.



Convoy JW 51B comprised fourteen merchant ships carrying war materials to the USSR — some 202 tanks, 2,046 other vehicles, 87 fighters, 33 bombers, 11,500 tons of fuel, 12,650 tons of aviation fuel and just over 54,000 tons of other supplies. They were protected by the destroyers HMS Achates, Orwell, Oribi, Onslow, Obedient, and Obdurate; the Flower-class corvettes HMS Rhododendron and Hyderabad; the minesweeper HMS Bramble; and two trawlers Vizalma and Northern Gem. The overall commander was Robert St. Vincent Sherbrooke, on board Onslow. The convoy sailed in the dead of winter to preclude attacks by German aircraft that had decimated an earlier Arctic convoy, PQ-17.

In addition to the convoy escort, two cruisers, Sheffield and Jamaica, and two destroyers were independently stationed in the Barents Sea to provide distant cover for the convoy. These four ships, known as "Force R", were under the command of Rear-Admiral Robert L. Burnett, on board Sheffield.

The German forces included the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper; pocket battleship Lützow; and destroyers Friedrich Eckholdt, Richard Beitzen, Theodor Riedel, Z 29, Z 30, and Z 31. These ships were based at Altafjord in northern Norway, and were under the overall command of Vice-Admiral Oskar Kummetz, on board Hipper.

Convoy JW 51B sailed from Loch Ewe on 22 December 1942 and met its escort off Iceland on December 25. From there the ships sailed northeast, meeting heavy gales on 28 December and 29 December that caused the ships of the convoy to lose station. When the weather moderated five merchantmen, and the escorts Oribi and Vizalma, were missing and Bramble was detached to search for them. Three of the straggling merchantmen rejoined the following day; the other ships proceeded independently towards Kola Inlet.

Meanwhile, on 30 December, the convoy was sighted by the German submarine U-354. When the report was received by the German Naval Staff, Kummetz was ordered to sail immediately with his force to intercept the convoy. Kummetz divided his force into two divisions led by Hipper and Lützow, respectively.

The battle

Battle of the Barents Sea

Because the battle took place in the middle of the polar night and both the German and British forces were scattered and unsure of the positions of the rest of their own forces, much less the enemy's, the entire battle was a rather confused affair. During the battle it was not clear who was firing on whom or even how many ships were engaged.

At 08:20 on 31 December, Obdurate, stationed south of the convoy, spotted three German destroyers to the rear (west) of the convoy. Then Onslow spotted Admiral Hipper, also to the rear of the convoy, and steered to intercept with Orwell, Obedient, and Obdurate, while Achates was ordered to stay with the convoy and make smoke. After some firing, the British ships turned to make a feigned torpedo attack. Heavily outgunned, Sherbrooke knew that his torpedoes were his most formidable weapons and once launched, that threat would be gone. The ruse worked: Hipper temporarily retired since Kummetz had been ordered not to risk his ships. Admiral Hipper returned to make a second attack, hitting Onslow and causing heavy damage, although Onslow would ultimately survive the action. Sherbrooke was badly injured by a large steel splinter, and command passed to Obedient.

Hipper then pulled north of the convoy, stumbled across Bramble, a Halcyon-class minesweeper, which opened fire; Hipper returned fire with her much heavier guns.[1] The destroyer Eckholdt was ordered to finish Bramble off, while the Admiral Hipper shifted target to Obedient and Achates to the south. Achates was badly damaged, but she continued to lay down smoke until she eventually sank. Many of her crew were rescued by the trawler Northern Gem. The Germans reported sinking a destroyer, but this was on the basis of the sinking the minesweeper Bramble which they mistook for a destroyer—they never realized Achates had been hit.

All this firing attracted the attention of Force R, which was still farther to the north. Sheffield and Jamaica approached unseen, and they opened fire on Admiral Hipper at 11:30, causing some damage. Kummetz initially thought that the attack of the two cruisers was coming from another destroyer, but upon realizing his mistake, he ordered his ships to retreat to the west. In another case of mistaken identity, Eckholdt and Richard Beitzen mistook Sheffield for Admiral Hipper; after attempting to form up with the British ships, they were engaged, and Eckholdt was sunk.[2]

Meanwhile, Lützow approached from the east and fired ineffectively at the convoy (which was still being hidden by smoke from the doomed Achates). Heading northwest to join Admiral Hipper, Lützow also found Sheffield and Jamaica, which opened fire. Coincidentally, both sides decided to break off the action at the same time, each side fearing imminent torpedo attacks upon their heavy ships from the other's remaining destroyers. This was shortly after noon. Burnett with Force R continued to shadow the German ships at a distance until it was evident that they were retiring back to their base, while the ships of the convoy re-formed and continued towards Kola Inlet.


Despite this German attack on convoy JW 51B, all fourteen of its merchant ships reached their destinations in the USSR.

Even more critically for the outcome of the war, Adolf Hitler was infuriated at what he perceived as the uselessness of the surface raiders, seeing that two heavy cruisers were driven off by mere destroyers. There were serious implications: this failure nearly made Hitler enforce a decision to scrap the surface fleet, and for the German Navy to concentrate on U-boat warfare. Admiral Erich Raeder, supreme commander of the Kriegsmarine, offered his resignation - which Hitler accepted, apparently reluctantly. Raeder was replaced by Admiral Karl Dönitz, the commander of the U-boat fleet.

On the British side, Captain Robert St. Vincent Sherbrooke was awarded the Victoria Cross. He generously acknowledged that it had truthfully been awarded in honour of the whole crew of Onslow. In the action he had been badly wounded, and had lost the sight in one eye. However, he returned to active duty, and retired from the navy in the 1950s, with the rank of Rear-Admiral.[3]

At the memorial for Bramble, Captain Harvey Crombie stated of the crew: "They had braved difficulties and perils probably unparalleled in the annals of the British Navy, and calls upon their courage and endurance were constant, but they never failed. They would not have us think sadly at this time, but rather that we should praise God that they had remained steadfast to duty to the end."[4]

The battle was the subject of the book 73 North by Dudley Pope.

External links



Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address