Run The Gauntlet - The Channel Dash 1942
Series: Raid 28
Author: Ken Ford
Artists: Howard Gerrard, Alan Gilliland, and Paul Wright
Formats: Book, PDF eBook, ePub eBook
In World War Two the German military frequently out-thought and out-maneuvered their numerically superior enemies, scattering to the winds the best laid plans of mice and men. So it was in February 1942 when the German Kriegsmarine
(KM) pulled off Operation Cerberus
, one of the greatest feats of naval daring that Europe has ever seen by running a small fleet of ships the length of the most powerful naval nation in the world!
The magnificent Royal Navy was huge and it had to be. England’s life depended on maritime commerce vulnerable to big ships of rival navies. Hitler couldn’t build enough Nazi warships to go toe-to-toe with the RN a’ la the battle of Jutland. Instead, he built a core of the world’s most formidable modern ships and used them to raid commerce, yet able to defeat all but overwhelming attacking forces. They relied on the stealth of the vastness of the ocean to avoid the RN. Indeed, the first sorties of KM Scharnhorst
and Prinz Eugen
sparked panic in The Admiralty.
However, the ships returned to their new home in occupied France, Brest, and were quickly bottled up. Subjected to continuous air raids, they became expensive buoys setting out the war. However, they did absorb vast resources of the RN and RAF desperately needed elsewhere.
Hitler needed his ships elsewhere and hatched a daring escape plan – do exactly what the British thought they wouldn’t do. Author Ken Ford details the English layers of blockade: air, sea, and land artillery. He considers why the RN did not want to commit their heavy units to engaging the ships. Instead, they relied on mines, submarines, torpedo boats, destroyers, torpedo planes, shore guns, and heavy bombers to chasten any bold attempt to break out. German craftiness foiled them. German Vizeadmiral Ciliax became the first sailor in 300 years to successfully run a hostile fleet up the English Channel. He did so in broad daylight, with light loss!
In today’s climate the charge of “conspiracy” would be flung about with abandon. Although no single event can be cited as the cause of the British humiliation, perhaps it started when a bum radar set in a Coastal Command patrol bomber allowed the ships to slip out undetected (the radar worked when the plane landed!). Regardless, a comedy of errors found the German ships underway, the British frantically scrambling to stop them.
Incredible heroics followed. In awful flying weather, six obsolete Swordfish torpedo planes of 825 Squadron lead by Lieutenant-Commander Eugene Esmonde, VC, DSO, who crippled RKM Bismarck
, flung themselves against the swarm of protecting Luftwaffe fighters and walls of flak in what could be described as an aerial Charge of the Light Brigade. A handful of Motor Torpedo Boats and destroyers charged through screens of fighters, E-boats, and their own mine fields to attack the battle fleet. Finally, hundreds of Bomber Command bombers flew sortie after sortie against the German ships (and their Royal Navy brethren).
By day’s end the KM had a magnificent feat to be proud of. Mines damaged Scharnhorst
but all ships made it to port. Britain did not release the findings of the subsequent investigation of the debacle until after the war.
Mr. Ford brings a great deal of detail to the story in the first significant work since the 1950s. He examines the strategic situation, the tactical forces of the Royal Navy and Kriegsmarine
, some of the individual warriors, and the actual battles. He also examines the after-action investigation and cover-up. Interspersed are several commentaries based on his grasp of the historical record, quotes by participants, and excerpts from records. Small sidebars mark dates and times of important events.
Run The Gauntlet, The Channel Dash 1942
is brought to us through 80 pages in 8 chapters and an index:
2. The Warships at Breast
3. Initial Strategy
4. Planning and Training
5. The Channel Dash
a. The Warships Depart
b. The German Ships are Out!
c. The Channel Coast Guns Open Fire
d. The MTB attack
e. The Swordfish Attack
f. Bomber Command and Coastal Command Attacks
g. The Destroyer Attack
8. Sources and Further Reading
Photographs, Art and Graphics
Artists Howard Gerrard, Alan Gilliland, and Paul Wright contributed to bringing the epic of Cerberus
to life. The Channel Dash was well photographed and an excellent photo assortment is included. Several photos are in-action shots from the German ships. As such, the photos run the gauntlet of studio quality to grainy amateur exposures. They include personal portraits, covert images of the ships in harbor, recon images, and action shots. They all support the text. Interesting pictures include battle scenes from the ships, and a photo of a MTB with camouflage applied by brush (sure to raise the ire of IPMS judges).
Maps and Osprey’s Bird’s Eye View maps orient one with the operation. A chart shows the fate of the Swordfish crews. And special artwork depicts the events:
A. Lieutenant-Commander Eugene Esmonde VC, DSO, leads the attack by Swordfish torpedo planes against the fleet.
B. Fw 190s of Oberst
Adolf Galland fly CAP over the ships in marginal weather.
C. Cover art – a sacrificed Swordfish fatally struck between the battlecruisers.
is my favorite European naval event of the war. I was thrilled when Osprey announced it, and intended to publish this review three weeks ago on the 70th anniversary of the operation. Mr. Ford and artists brought a concise, fast-paced, easily read account of the battle which did not disappoint me. The supporting art and graphics are excellent.
I have only one gripe. Although major hits upon the ships and the destruction of 825 Squadron are documented, no mention is made of the scores of aircraft lost nor other losses. My curiosity had to be sated by Wikipedia.
Regardless, I found this to be a thoroughly satisfying book about the Channel Dash. I heartily recommend it.
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