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CAMPAIGN SUMMARIES OF WORLD WAR 2

BRITISH and COMMONWEALTH NAVIES at the Beginning and End of World War 2

September 1939 - August 1945 - Royal Navy Losses - Axis Navy Losses due to Royal Navy

"King George V" battleship HMS Anson (CyberHeritage, click to enlarge) in 1945. Laid down in 1937 and still the measure of naval power at the start of World War 2. By 1945, the battleship and its large gun had been superseded by the aircraft carrier and its aircraft.

 

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Each Summary is complete in its own right. The same information may therefore be found in a number of related summaries

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SEPTEMBER 1939

In 1939 ....

..... the heart of the Royal Navy was its centuries old traditions and 200,000 officers and men including the Royal Marines and Reserves. At the very top as professional head was the First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound.

Royal Navy Warship Strength

The Royal Navy, still the largest in the world in September 1939, included:

15 Battleships & battlecruisers, of which only two were post-World War 1. Five 'King George V' class battleships were building.

7 Aircraft carriers. One was new and five of the planned six fleet carriers were under construction. There were no escort carriers.

66 Cruisers, mainly post-World War 1 with some older ships converted for AA duties. Including cruiser-minelayers, 23 new ones had been laid down.

184 Destroyers of all types. Over half were modern, with 15 of the old 'V' and 'W' classes modified as escorts. Under construction or on order were 32 fleet destroyers and 20 escort types of the 'Hunt' class.

60 Submarines, mainly modern with nine building.

45 escort and patrol vessels with nine building, and the first 56 'Flower' class corvettes on order to add to the converted 'V' and 'W's' and 'Hunts'. However, there were few fast, long-endurance convoy escorts.

Commonwealth Navies

Included in the Royal Navy totals were:

Royal Australian Navy - six cruisers, five destroyers and two sloops;

Royal Canadian Navy - six destroyers;

Royal Indian Navy - six escort and patrol vessels;

Royal New Zealand Navy, until October 1941 the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy - two cruisers and two sloops.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Fleet was reasonably well-equipped to fight conventional surface actions with effective guns, torpedoes and fire control, but in a maritime war that would soon revolve around the battle with the U-boat, the exercise of air power, and eventually the ability to land large armies on hostile shores, the picture was far from good.

ASDIC, the RN's answer to the submarine, had limited range and was of little use against surfaced U-boats, and the stern-dropped or mortar-fired depth charge was the only reasonably lethal anti-submarine weapon available. The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) recently returned to full control of the Navy, was equipped with obsolescent aircraft, and in the face of heavy air attack the Fleet had few, modern anti-aircraft guns. Co-operation with the RAF was limited although three Area Combined Headquarters had been established in Britain. Coastal Command, the RAF's maritime wing, had only short range aircraft, mainly for reconnaissance. And there was little combined operations capability.

On the technical side, early air warning radars were fitted to a small number of ships. The introduction by the Germans of magnetic mines found the Royal Navy only equipped to sweep moored contact mines. Finally, the German Navy's B-Service could read the Navy's operational and convoy codes.

Primary Maritime Tasks

These were based on the assumption Britain and France were actively allied against the European Axis powers of Germany and Italy. The Royal Navy would be responsible for the North Sea and most of the Atlantic, although the French would contribute some forces. In the Mediterranean, defence would be shared between both Navies, but as it happened, Benito Mussolini's claimed ownership of the Mediterranean - his 'Mare Nostrum' - did not have to be disputed for another nine months.

Threats to and Responses by the Royal Navies - September 1939

OBJECTIVE 1 - Defence of trade routes, and convoy organisation and escort, especially to and from Britain.

- Until May 1940 the main threat was from U-Boats operating in the North Sea and South Western Approaches. For a few months two pocket battleships posed a danger in the broader reaches of the Atlantic.

- The first overseas convoys left Britain via the South Western Approaches. From the Thames they sailed through the English Channel (OA) and from Liverpool through the Irish Sea (OB). Later in September, convoys left Freetown, Sierra Leone (SL), Halifax, Nova Scotia (HX) and Gibraltar (HG) for the UK.

- In the North Atlantic anti-submarine escorts were provided from Britain out to 200 miles west of Ireland (15W) and to the middle of the Bay of Biscay. For a few hundred miles from Halifax, cover was given by Canadian warships. The same degree of protection was given to ships sailing from other overseas assembly ports.

- Cruisers and (shortly) armed merchant cruisers sometimes took over as ocean escorts. Particularly fast or slow ships from British, Canadian and other assembly ports sailed independently, as did the many hundreds of vessels scattered across the rest of the oceans. Almost throughout the war it was the independently-routed ships and the convoy stragglers that suffered most from the mainly German warships, raiders, aircraft and above all submarines that sought to break the Allied supply lines.

OBJECTIVE 2 - Detection and destruction of surface raiders and U-boats.

- Patrols were carried out by RAF Coastal Command in the North Sea, and by Home Fleet submarines off southwest Norway and the German North Sea bases. RAF Bomber Command prepared to attack German warships in their bases.

- Fleet aircraft carriers were employed on anti-U-boat sweeps in the Western Approaches.

OBJECTIVE 3 - Maritime blockade of Germany and contraband control.

- As German merchant ships tried to reach home or neutral ports, units of the Home Fleet sortied into the North Sea and waters between Scotland, Norway and Iceland. The Northern Patrol of old cruisers, followed later by armed merchant cruisers had the unenviable task of covering the area between the Shetlands and Iceland. In addition, British and French warships patrolled the North and South Atlantic.

- Closer to Germany the first mines were laid by Royal Navy destroyers in the approaches to Germany's North Sea bases.

OBJECTIVE 4 - Defence of own coasts.

- Right through until May 1940 U-boats operated around the coasts of Britain and in the North Sea. Scotland's Moray Firth was often a focus for their activities. They attacked with both torpedoes and magnetic mines. Mines were also laid by surface ships and aircraft.

- British East Coast convoys (FN/FS) commenced between the Thames Estuary and the Firth of Forth in Scotland. Southend-on-Sea, the Thames peacetime seaside resort, saw over 2,000 convoys arrive and depart in the course of the war.

- Defensive mine laying began with an anti-U-boat barrier in the English Channel across the Straits of Dover, followed by an East Coast barrier to protect coastal convoy routes.

OBJECTIVE 5 - Escort troops to France and between Britain, the Dominions and other areas under Allied control.

- An immediate start was made transporting the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to France. By the end of 1939 the first Canadian troops had arrived in Britain, and by early 1940 Australian, Indian and New Zealand forces were on their way to Egypt and the Middle East. Troop convoys were always heavily escorted, and the Commonwealth Navies played an important part in protecting the men as they left their home shores. Australian and New Zealand cruisers were particularly active in the Indian Ocean.

Belligerent Warship Strengths in European Waters & Atlantic Ocean

Warship type

Royal Navy
Home waters (a)
& Atlantic (b)

French Navy
Atlantic and Channel

German Navy
European waters
+ Atlantic Station

Battleships

9

2

3 + 2(c)

Carriers

4

1

-

Cruisers

35

3

7

Destroyers

95

20

22

Submarines

25

-

41(d) + 16

Totals

168

26

73 + 18

 

plus escorts

-

plus torpedo boats

Notes:

- Royal Navy was a mix of World War 1, modernised and recently completed ships. The French warships allocated to the Atlantic and the German were mainly modern.

(a) Home Fleet commanded by Adm Sir Charles Forbes with 7 capital ships, 2 carriers and 16 cruisers based at Scapa Flow and Rosyth; Channel Force with 2 battleships, 2 carriers and 3 cruisers; Humber Force with 2 cruisers; and various destroyer flotillas.

(b) North Atlantic Command based at Gibraltar with 2 cruisers and 9 destroyers; America and West Indies Command at Bermuda with 4 cruisers; and South Atlantic at Freetown with 8 cruisers and 4 destroyers.

(c) Pocket battleships "Admiral Graf Spee" in the South and "Deutschland" in the North Atlantic.

(d) Included U-boats on patrol in the North Sea and British coastal waters.


 

AUGUST 1945


Main Wartime Developments

As the war progressed, the Royal and Dominion Navies expanded rapidly with large construction programmes, particularly escort carriers, destroyers, corvettes, frigates, submarines, landing ships and craft.

By mid-1944, 800,000 officers and men and 73,000 WRNS were in uniform.

Vastly improved radars and anti-submarine weapons had been introduced, and the tactics to use them effectively, honed to a fine pitch.

Ship-borne and land-based aircraft became vital in the life and death struggle against the U-boat, the only concern Prime Minister Winston Churchill retained throughout six years of war.

Huge combined operations landings took place with air superiority usually assured.

Although not defeated, magnetic, then acoustic and finally pressure mines were kept under control.

Perhaps of greatest single significance, the 'Ultra' operation against the German Enigma codes allowed the Allies to penetrate to the very heart of German and Axis planning and operations.

In short, in a war that started with Polish cavalry and ended with the Anglo-US atomic bomb, the Royal and Commonwealth Navies faced new and continuing threats and learnt to deal with them technically, operationally and above all, successfully.


But there was a price to be paid:

British Naval Casualties, not including RAF and Army personnel killed in related circumstances - Coastal Command, Defensively-Equipped Merchant Ships (DEMS) etc

Royal Navy - 50,758 killed, 820 missing, 14,663 wounded

Women's Royal Naval Service - 102 killed, 22 wounded

Merchant Navy - 30,248 lost through enemy action

and in ships:


ROYAL NAVY LOSSES
Totals - by Year - by Theatre - by Enemy

Click her for details of major warship losses
also for all Royal Navy ships lost


TOTAL STRENGTH AND LOSSES

ROYAL NAVY
Warship types

Strength as of Sept 1939

Commissioned to Aug 1945

TOTAL IN SERVICE

TOTAL LOSSES

Capital ships

15

5

20

5

Carriers

7

58

65

10

Cruisers

66

35

101

34

Destroyers

184

277

461

153

Submarines

60

178

238

76

TOTALS

332

553

885

278


LOSSES BY YEAR - including not repaired

ROYAL NAVY
Warship types

1939

1940

1941

1942

1943

1944

1945

Totals

Capital ships

1

-

4

-

-

-

-

5

Carriers

1

1

2

3

1

1

1

10

Cruisers

-

3
-

11
(1 RAN)

13
(2 RAN)

4
-

3
-

-

34
(3 RAN)

Destroyers

3
-
-

37
-
(2 RCN)

22
(1 RAN)
-

51
(3 RAN)
(2 RCN)

18
-
(1 RCN)

20
-
(2 RCN)

2
-
-

153
(4 RAN)
(7 RCN)

Submarines

1

24

11

19

13

5

3

76

TOTALS

6

65

50

86

36

29

6

278

 

LOSSES BY THEATRE

ROYAL NAVY
Warship types

Atlantic

Europe

Mediterranean

Indian & Pacific Oceans

Capital ships

1

1

1

2

Carriers

4

3

2

1

Cruisers

4

4

20

6 (3 RAN)

Destroyers

23 (5 RCN)

53 (2 RCN)

67 (2 RAN)

10 (2 RAN)

Submarines

3

23

45

5

TOTALS

35

84

135

24


LOSS BY ENEMY

ROYAL NAVY
Warship types

German

Italian

Japanese

French

Other (a)

Unknown

Total

Capital ships

3

-

2

-

-

-

5

Carriers

8

-

1

-

1

-

10

Cruisers

20

6

5

-

3

-

34

Destroyers

114

15

8

1 (b)

15

-

153

Submarines (c)

24

37

4

-

6

5

76

TOTALS

169

58

20

1

25

5

278

NOTES:

(a) Includes accidental explosion and fire, collision with Royal Navy or Allied ships, deliberately expended, and marine loss from grounding or weather

(b) French shore batteries

(c) Submarines "presumed" or "possibly" lost due to various causes have been allocated to the Axis power most likely to have been responsible

 



SUMMARY OF AXIS NAVY LOSSES
 
German Navy - Italian Navy - Japanese Navy


GERMAN NAVY - ALL MAJOR WARSHIPS
- Totals and (Due to Royal Navy)

GERMAN NAVY

1939

1940

1941

1942

1943

1944

1945

Total

Capital ships

1 (RN)

-

1 (RN)

-

1 (RN)

1

3 (a)

7 (3 RN)

Cruisers

-

3 (2 RN)

-

-

-

-

3 (a)

6 (2 RN)

Raiders

-

-

3 (RN)

3 (1 RN)

1

-

-

7 (4 RN)

Destroyers (b)

-

12 (RN)

-

4 (3 RN)

2 (1 RN)

7 (2 RN)

2

27 (18 RN)

Submarines

9 (RN)

22 (17 RN)

35 (28 RN)

86 (34 RN)

237 (61 RN)

242 (85 RN)

149 (41 RN)

780 (275 RN)

TOTALS

10 (RN)

37 (31 RN)

39 (32 RN)

93 (38 RN)

241 (63 RN)

250 (87 RN)

157 (41 RN)

827 (302 RN)


 

ITALIAN NAVY - to 8th September 1943
Totals and (Due to Royal Navy)

Warship types

1939

1940

1941

1942

1943

Total

Battleships

N/A  

1 (RN)

-

-

-

1 (RN)

Cruisers

N/A  

1 (RN)

6 (RN)

3 (2 RN)

2

12 (9 RN)

Destroyers(a)

N/A

8 (RN)

14 (10 RN)

8 (4 RN)

13 (6 RN)

43 (28 RN)

Submarines

N/A  

20 (12 RN)

18 (14 RN)

22 (17 RN)

25 (13 RN)

85 (56 RN)

TOTALS

N/A

30 (22 RN)

38 (30 RN)

33 (23 RN)

40 (19 RN)

141 (94 RN)


 

JAPANESE NAVY
Totals and (Due to Royal Navy)

Warship types

1939

1940

1941

1942

1943

1944

1945

Total

Battleships

n/a

n/a

-

2

1

4

4

11

Carriers

n/a

n/a

-

6

1

12

2

21

Cruisers

n/a

n/a

-

6

2

24 (1 RN)

9 (3 RN)

41 (4 RN)

Destroyers

n/a

n/a

4

18

34

61

18

135

Submarines

n/a

n/a

3

16 (2.5 RN)

28 (2.5 RN)

53 (3 RN)

27

127 (8 RN)

TOTALS

n/a

n/a  

7

48 (2.5 RN)

66 (2.5 RN)

154 (4 RN)

60 (3 RN)

335 (12 RN)

NOTE: Of 12 submarines sunk by RN: Royal Navy - 4, Australian - 2, Indian - 0.5, New Zealand - 1.5  

 

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