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New Year’s Battle in the Barents Sea: How the British defeated the Nazis You will read it in: 6 min. December 31, 2022, 12:54 p.m
80 years ago, on December 31, 1942, the famous New Year’s Battle took place in the Barents Sea, in which the ships of the naval forces of Great Britain won the victory over the ships of the Kriegsmarine, the naval forces of the Third Reich. The battle became decisive, because as a result of it, the Nazis abandoned the active use of the surface fleet, focusing on conducting combat operations at sea with the help of submarines. Also, the victory of the British proved the reliability of the Arctic convoys of the Allies, which under the Lend-Lease program delivered weapons, military materials and food from the ports of Great Britain to the USSR.

Convoy JW-51B left Loch Yew in northern Scotland on December 22, 1942. It was one of 42 British Arctic cargo convoys for the Soviet Union sent during 1941–1945. It included 15 transport ships (one of them had to turn back shortly after leaving the port), which was supposed to deliver a large military cargo to the Soviet Union, the scale of which can be estimated in comparison with the modern assistance of foreign partners to Ukraine. It consisted of more than 200 tanks, more than 2,000 cars, 120 military aircraft (87 fighters and 33 bombers), about 11,500 tons of aviation fuel and almost 50,000 tons of other military materials. This was essential and extremely necessary military-technical assistance to the Soviet Union, Convoy JW-51B was escorted and protected by six destroyers (Akeitiz, Orwell, Oribi, Onslow, Obedient and Obduret), two corvettes (Rhododendron and Hyderabad), two armed trawlers (Visalma and Northern Jam) and minesweeper Bramble. Long-range cover of the convoys was provided by operational group R of two cruisers (“Sheffield” and “Jamaica”) and two destroyers. The dispatch of the convoy in the dead of winter was carried out in order to prevent attacks by German aircraft and submarines, which caused heavy losses to the convoy PQ 17 in June and July 1942.

For the first time, a German reconnaissance aircraft managed to spot the JW-51B convoy on December 24, but the ships were soon lost due to a storm. On December 30, the Kriegsmarine submarine U-354 was able to detect British vessels for the second time, southwest of Bear Island. This allowed the German fleet to launch Operation Regenbogen (“Rainbow”) to intercept and destroy the convoy. Two heavy cruisers (“Admiral Hipper” and “Lützow”) and six destroyers (Z4 “Richard Bitzen”, Z6 “Theodor Riedel”, Z16 “Friedrich Eckoldt”, Z29, Z30 and Z31) took part in it.

According to the plan, the German ships were to attack the convoy in two battle groups. The first of them was intended to strike the escort ships from the north, while the second was to sink the transport ships left without cover with a strike from the south. The Germans were not aware of the presence of the British cruisers “Sheffield” and “Jamaica”, which had remained from the escort of the previous convoy JW 51A (December 15-25, 1942), in the area of operations. In addition, the actions of the German squadron were limited by Hitler’s strict order not to risk the main ships of the Kriegsmarine in any case. Both factors significantly influenced the course of the battle.

On the morning of December 31, the first group of German ships—the cruiser Admiral Hipper under the command of Vice Admiral Oskar Kummetz and three destroyers—approached the convoy, which was 120 nautical miles north of the coast of Finnmark, heading east. The British discovered the German ships around 8:30 in the morning, but for almost an hour they thought they were Soviet destroyers. Only after the Germans did not respond to the signal given around 9:15 and opened fire, the British lined up in battle formation to cover the convoy and began the battle. To do this, the destroyers “Onslow”, “Obedient”, “Obduret” and “Orwell” came forward to meet the attackers, and “Akeitiz” began to set up a smoke screen, under the cover of which the convoy transport ships were to depart to the southeast.

“Admiral Gipper” first inflicted heavy damage on the “Akeitiz” clearly visible against the light smoke screen, as a result of which the British destroyer sank after some time. Then the German cruiser shifted its fire to Onslow. The British destroyer was badly damaged, and Captain 1st Rank Robert Sherbrooke, who was in command of the entire British escort, was seriously wounded. The situation was saved only by the intervention of the destroyer Obedient, whose commander, Captain 3rd Rank David Kinloch, took command of the flotilla. Attacking the cruiser Admiral Gipper, he engaged her in an inconclusive firefight, allowing Onslow to withdraw.

During the battle, British destroyers actively simulated preparations for a torpedo attack. This forced Oskar Kummetz, constrained by Hitler’s orders not to risk Kriegsmarine ships, to constantly maneuver and avoid getting too close. During one of these maneuvers, after turning north of the convoy, the Admiral Gipper attacked the minesweeper Bramble, firing her heavy guns and nearly destroying it. Destroyer Z16 “Friedrich Eckoldt” finished off “Bramble”.

In the meantime, the cruisers of Task Force R “Sheffield” and “Jamaica” approached the scene of the battle, having received reports of a combat encounter around 9:30. At about 11:30 they attacked, severely damaged and forced the cruiser Admiral Hipper to retreat, and then destroyed the destroyer Z16 Friedrich Eckoldt by hitting her amidships, sinking the ship in less than two minutes. The appearance of two British cruisers determined the outcome of the battle – the surviving German ships from the first attacking group retreated.

The second group of the attacking Kriegsmarine was also unsuccessful. The cruiser “Lyutsov”, approaching the convoy, which was leaving under the cover of a smoke screen, massively fired at the British transporters, but never hit the target – the smoke screen and snow helped the British avoid defeat. Soon, after a short and fruitless clash with “Sheffield” and “Jamaica”, “Lyutsov” retreated. Fearing a torpedo attack by British destroyers and not wanting to risk the ship, the captain ordered the Admiral Hipper to return to base in Alta Fjord.

The New Year’s battle in the Barents Sea ended with the victory of the British, who did not lose a single transport ship and safely delivered the cargo to the Kola Bay on January 4, 1943. It also had far-reaching consequences – the supreme commander of the Kriegsmarine, Erich Raeder, was removed from his post, and Hitler, enraged by the defeat, even wanted to disband the surface fleet, cut the ships to scrap, and use their guns for coastal defense. Only the new Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy, Karl Dönitz, prevented him from implementing this decision. Despite this, after the defeat in the battle that took place on the last day of 1942, the Kriegsmarine continued to prefer operations using submarines until the end of the war.
Anton Pecherskyi
ArmyInform correspondent

See original article and pictures and maps here: https://armyinform.com.ua/2022/12/31/novorichnyj-bij-u-barenczovomu-mori-yak-brytanczi-rozbyly-naczystiv/