HMS Barham (Battleship, 1915-1941)
The Royal Navy planned to build four fast battleships of the Queen Elizabeth Class but a fifth was added , the Malaya, as a gift of the Malay States. The last of the original four to be laid down was HMS Barham, which was laid down 24th February 24, 1913 on Clydeside, launched 31st October, 1914 and commissioned on 25th August 1915. With a weight of 27,500 tons and planned with a top speed of 25 knots, the ships achieved 24 knots with a power plant 150% greater than the preceding Iron Duke Class.
The original design of the Queen Elizabeth Class presented a very elegant appearance. With balanced twin funnels and classic British tripod, the ships were the epitome of the battleship force of the Royal Navy.
She served in the Grand Fleet during WWI, and at the Battle of Jutland on 31st May 1916 was flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir Hugh Evan-Thomas, commanding the Fifth Battle Squadron. In the battle she received six hits and fired 337 15-Inch rounds. By the end of the War, she was an active member of the British battle fleet.
In 1916, two of Barhams 6" guns were removed and two 3"/20 Mk I guns added. At Jutland she fited 337 shells and took 5 hits in return. In 1918 she was given aircraft platforms on B and X turrets. From 1920 to 1924 she was part of the Atlantic Fleet, and by 1926 the 3" guns were removed and replaced by four 4" Mk V AA guns.
Between 1930 and 1933 she underwent a major refit. Antitorpedo bulges were added, increasing beam to 104' / 31.70m. The two funnels were trunked into one and the deck armour over the magazines was increased to 5". Two octuple 2pdr mountings were also added and two of the torpedo tubes removed, and the aircraft platforms were replaced by a single catapult. These modifications brought the maximum displacement up to 35710 tons.
In 1938 the two remaining torpedo tubes were removed, and the 4" Mk V guns replaced by eight 4" Mk XVI guns in twin mountings. In April 1940 two octuple 2pdr mountings were added. Barham was scheduled for a second major refit in the early 1940s, but the intervention of the war prevented this.
Between the two world wars she was in the Atlantic, Home and Mediterranean Fleets and, at the outbreak of WWII was the flagship of the Vice-Admiral commanding the 1st Battle Squadron and Second-in-Command, Mediterranean at Alexandria.
She was withdrawn from the Mediterranean for Atlantic convoy escort duties and to join the Home Fleet. In December 1939, she formed part of the Home Fleet cover for the first Canadian troop convoy from Halifax to the Clyde. On December 12, 1939 she collided with and sank the destroyer, Duchess.
Two weeks later, on 28th December 1939 she was damaged by a torpedo from U.30 off the West coast of Scotland. She proceeded to Birkenhead for repairs by Cammell Laird & Co. She was out of action for six months.
On 27th August 1940, HMS Barham left Scapa to take part in the expedition for the landing of an Allied military force at Dakar with General de Gaulle in mid-September and, on the 25th, was slightly damaged by by 9.4-Inch and 6.1-Inch shore batteries. In September 1940, she engaged the Vichy French battleship Richelieu in "Operation Menace" at Dakar, Senegal.
After this unsuccessful expedition, she was allocated to the Mediterranean Fleet and left Gibraltar on 7th November, carrying troop reinforcements for Malta, where she arrived on the 10th. During the next twelve months she took part in a number of operations with the Mediterranean Fleet under Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham.
In January, 1941, she was among the ships supporting the Army of the Nile in its offensive under General Wavell. Bardia was bombarded on 3rd January by the battleships Warspite, Valiant and Barham. On 28th March HMS Barham took part in the Battle off Cape Matapan, in which the Italian cruisers Zara, Pola and Fiume and two destroyers were sunk and the battleship Vitorio Veneto was damaged by an aircraft torpedo.
On 21st April, again in company with HM Ships Warspite and Valiant, HMS Barham bombarded Tripoli. From 20th May she took part in the Battle for Crete and, on the 27th May she was hit on Y turret from a bomb from a Ju-88 in a dive-bombing attack off of Crete and was sent to Durban, South Africa for repairs. She left there on 31st July to return to the Mediterranean, arriving at Alexandria on 16th August. For another three months HMS Barham took part in further operations by the Mediterranean Fleet.
On 25 November 1941, while steaming to cover an attack on Italian convoys, HMS Barham was hit by three torpedoes from the German submarine U-331, captained by Kapitänleutnant Freiherr Hans-Diedrich von Tiesenhausen. As she rolled over to port, her after magazines exploded and the ship quickly sank with the loss of over two-thirds of her crew
On November 25 Kapitänleutnant Von Tiesenhausen, commanding the U-331 off the border of Egypt and Libya in the eastern Mediterranean, spotted a procession of three British battleships flanked by eight destroyers. Displaying consummate nerve, Tiesenhausen eased his boat at periscope depth (less than 75 feet) between two destroyers and, from 1,200 yards, fired four torpedoes at the middle battleship in the line. He had no idea which ship it was that he had sunk, by fate or luck. Only months later would he learn it was the Barham. He was so busy trying to escape and save his crew, he only heard the explosion.
"The story of the sinking of the H.M.S. Barham has another strange twist. The U-boat U-331, should have been destroyed that same date, but a remarkable story unfolded.
"Early on during their 3rd patrol, on 17 November, 1941 U-331 dropped off 8 commandos on the Egyptian coast east of Ras Gibeisa. Their mission was to blow up a railway near the coast, but this mission had not succeed.
"On November 25 while patrolling submerged near the British naval base at Alexandria, Egypt Kapitänleutnant Von Tiesenhausen's hydrophone operator reported the sounds of heavy screws. After securing the bearing of the sound, Tiesenhausen eased his boat at periscope depth (less than 75 feet). His view was a reward for how bad the earlier patrols had been; he spotted a procession of three British battleships flanked by eight destroyers. He was able to identify the Queen Elizabeth, Barham and Valiant.
"During the next several hours, on three separate times the U-331 came within sonar range and identified by the sonar operators who reported the event to their superior officers. Sonar being relatively new was not yet trusted nor respected. Remarkably on each of these occasions the sonar operators were told to ignore the sonar contact, the officers believing the contacts to be mere schools of fish. With this advantage, Kapitänleutnant Tiesenhausen was able to carefully work his way under the outlying escort ships to point black range inside the convey itself.
"Displaying consummate nerve, Tiesenhausen eased his boat between two destroyers and, from 1,200 yards, fired four torpedoes at the middle battleship in the line. He had no idea which ship it was that he had sunk, by fate or luck. As usual, the submarine's bow lifted upward after the weight was released. Tiesenhausen could not get it down fast enough, and the conning tower erupted from the water barely 150 yards in front of the third battleship in line, the Valiant, whose captain immediately altered course in order to ram. The U-boat's engineers moved quickly to get their boat under again as the huge ship turned in a wide arc and bore down on them. He was so busy trying to escape and save his crew, he only heard the explosion.
"Agonizing seconds passed. Then, at the last possible moment, the U-boat slid beneath the waves, and the battleship passed harmlessly overhead. Meanwhile, a fourth explosion, probably the magazine going up, disintegrated the Barham, killing 862 men.
"Aboard the U-331, something odd was happening to the depth gauge. As the boat continued its crash dive, the needle indicating depth inexplicably slowed, then stopped at 250 feet. The crew sensed that the boat was still diving, but the gauge said not. It was a dangerous situation, because the boat's maximum safe depth was judged to be 330 feet. Tiesenhausen asked to have a second, forward depth gauge read. The report appalled the entire crew: They had reached the unprecedented depth of 820 feet. As they frantically halted the dive and began to ascend again, the hull, which should have been crushed at that depth, did not so much as spring a leak.
"Tension was great for the crew. Kapitänleutnant Tiesenhausen was not only the most experienced member of his crew, but also the oldest, at age 28 he was some seven years older than most of men serving under him. They had many fears. First, should the U-boat not be able to resurface, they would die from lack of oxygen. Second, should the hull rupture, they would drown. Lastly was the fear of having to surrender to the English. The English at this time would humiliate their u-boat prisoners by first making them strip and at most give them only a woolen blanket. None of which were welcomed thoughts to the crew hiding on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.
"The U-boat had escaped from the enemy above and the lethal pressure below. "In such moments, you do not speak," wrote Tiesenhausen many years later. "You are glad to have been lucky and to be still alive."
"Eventually all was silent above them and they were able to surface. Once on the surface, he reported to his superiors that he had "torpedoed a battleship" but he could not be certain which ship he had hit and how bad the damage had been. As per normal protocol he transmitted this message using the Enigma coding device, unaware that in England, the British were decoding the message as fast as his superiors were.
"Since they were not sure of the results he received back a simple message, "very satisfactory". This event prompted the English not to release the news of the sinking of the Barham even unto the family for some time.
"Only months later would he learn it was the Barham. For his role in sinking the Barham he was decorated with the Iron Cross 1st Class.
"This deed showed great daring on the young U-boat Commander's part. Freiherr von Tiesenhausen had begun his U-boat career in December 1939 on U-23, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Otto Krestchmer. Together they completed three successful patrols and sank five ships for a total of 27,000 tons, as well as one destroyer. By April 1941 when Tiesenhausen had been given command of the U-331, he was already a decorated hero, having received the Iron Cross 2nd Class Iron Cross 2nd Class as well as the U-Bootskriegsabzeichen in 1940. He had a well-deserved reputation he felt compelled to continue. He had been given command of the U-331 as soon as she was built as reward for his heroic career thus far.
"To an outsider, life on board the U-331 must have seemed nightmarish. The crew had no extra clothing, nor way of washing the dirty clothes. Every item of clothing they had was soon dirty, to stay that way until the end of the mission. Fresh water was in tight supply. After a few days out on patrol, their hair and beards were soon matted with diesel oil and brine. The submarine was filled with the stench of diesel oil and human sweat mixed with the odor of cooked foods. While on the surface, the U-boat was tossed about like a fisherman's cork, bobbing, rolling and being shaken about to test every seam. No one could walk even the shortest of distance without the use of handrails. Unless stored properly, every item of cookware to personal gear was thrown about. Submerged the ride was relatively smooth.
"The helm was located next to the ladder connecting the conning tower to the bridge, each time the hatch was opened or closed, the helmsman was drenched with seawater. Submerged the heating and ventilation systems were inadequate. For the crew of 60 men there was but one toilet, and often a line waiting for it.
"Every thing in the U-boat was damp and clammy. When they first sailed, even the torpedo room was filled with bread, cheese and meat hanging due to the space limits. Soon, the fresh food would be molded and rotting.
"No matter how bad the voyage was, there was some comfort in knowing that upon return, clean beds and extended rest was a special reward. The young men took great pride in the role they had earned. Many had started out in the Hitler's youth program. They were tested beyond most human boundaries before being accepted into the service. In training, even the slightest mistake was result in their expulsion from the training program.
"Even the fact that the U-331 was seeing action in the Mediterranean Sea was a source of great pride. The narrow entrance through the Straits of Gibraltar was the trickiest to pass due to the heavy security of the English Navy. Constant air flights, mine fields and patrols made the passage extremely difficult. Further more; should Germany lose the bases in Italy, they would be cut-off with
little chance of exiting the Mediterranean.
"Further complicating this tour of duty was constant mechanical trouble that had caused the U-331 to have to break off pursuit on several occasions.
"HMS Barham had been sunk on November 25, 1941. Ironically almost one year to the day, November 17, 1942 still serving in the Mediterranean north of Algiers in position 37.05N and 02.27E the U331 still commanded by Kapitänleutnant Von Tiesenhausen was badly damaged by a Hudson aircraft. The U-331 signaled surrender to the seaplane, but was attacked by a torpedo-equipped aircraft Albacore from the British aircraft carrier HMS Formidable.
"Kapitänleutnant Von Tiesenhausen was one of only 17 survivors and was forced to bid farewell to 32 members of his crew who did not survive the attack by the Albacore.
"He spent time as a prisoner, first in England and then for three years in Canada. In 1947 he returned to Germany and worked as a joiner. During the autumn of 1951 he left Germany and went back to Canada, and there he lived for the rest of his life. He died on August 17, 2000 in West Vancouver, Canada"
"It amazes me that Kapitänleutnant Von Tiesenhausen was still alive and was able to quickly clear up a key point, he did not know that he had sunk the H.M.S. Barham, he only knew he had sunk a ship. Even if he had contacted Helen Duncan by short wave, he could not have told her that it was the Barham he had sunk. He could not even tell the German high command, the name of the ship.
"On Jan 19, 1998, I interviewed Kapitänleutnant Hans-Diedrich Freiherr von Tiesenhausen by telephone, with the help of his wife. He has very clear memories of the incident, however his hearing did not allow him to speak on the telephone.
"And, where the chances of him escaping certain death that night, to survive to the age of 85 and offer positive proof about what happened that night? He was shocked to hear of the Helen Duncan story and stated, "They never should have treated the poor woman this way. No government, even one at war should be allowed to treat a poor woman so terribly. A pardon is the least they owe her."
"As a part of my Helen Duncan campaign I was blessed to interview Kapitänleutnant Von Tiesenhausen. I must admit that prior to the interview I was nervous. In my mind I saw him as a killer, a member of the 'wolf pack' even a war criminal. All those prejudices had been instilled from too many war movies and never having served in the military. I was surprised to find how nice Kptlt. Von Tiesenhausen was. He was nothing like what I had expected. It was a real surprise for me to learn that he had been attending the HMS Barham reunions and had a close friendship with many of the sailors. He explained to me that he "sunk ships, but once the ship was sunk, all sailors are men and have a common bond."
"In the fall of 2000, I received a notice that he had passed on to the higher side of life. He brought me some education and enlightenment, but more especially, I felt as though a Brother had left me."
thanks to Al Collier
From "Queen Elizabeth Class Battleship" by Alan Raven and John Roberts (Bivouac Books, "Ensign 4", 1975) :
"The loss of the BARHAM, 25 November 1941" "At 16.00 on 24 November 1941, the QUEEN ELIZABETH, BARHAM and VALIANT, escorted by eight destroyers, sailed from Alexandria to cover cruiser operations against two enemy convoys reported to be making for Benghazi. On the following day the fleet ran straight into U331 which passed through the screen without being detected. From the center of the fleet the submarine fired four torpedoes at the second ship in the line, the BARHAM. Firing disturbed the submarine's stability and her conning tower broke surface. For several seconds this remained visible and after passing close down the side of the VALIANT she disappeared beneath the sea and eventually escaped unharmed. Three of the torpedoes struck the BARHAM on the port side between Y turret and the funnel. She immediately took on a heavy list and after a pause at 40° this continued to increase until after four minutes she was on her beam ends. At this moment the after magazines exploded and vented through the starboard side and the upper deck. The ship disappeared from view in an enormous cloud of smoke and when this cleared she was gone. Captain G.C. Cooke and 861 officers and men were lost with the ship. Vice-Admiral Pridham-Wippell and 395 members of the crew were rescued.
Due to the rapidity of her loss the Board of Inquiry were unable to establish the reason for the explosion but it was thought that it might have been due to a fire in the port 4-inch magazines spreading to the main magazines. After the torpedoes struck the internal lightning and communication systems failed rapidly and no general orders were heard probably due to the failure of the broadcasting system. She was operating the correct degree of water-tight sub-division for cruising but the rapid increase in heel prevented any effective counter-measures to save the ship."
U331 German U-Boat Type VII C Boat Kapitanleutnant Hans Diedrich Freiherr Von Tiesenhausen spoke to U331 model builder Dan Kachur about the events of 1941.
On November 25 1941, Kapitanleutnant Von Tiesenhausen spotted a procession of three British battleships flanked by eight destroyers. He was able to identify the Queen Elizabeth, Barham, and Valiant.
Kapitanleutnant Von Tiesenhausen eased the U331 between two destroyers and fired four torpedoes at the middle battleship in the line. The submarine's bow lifted upward after the weight was released. The conning tower erupted from the water in front of the third battleship in line, whose captain immediately altered course in order to ram. The U-boat's engineers moved quickly to get their boat under again as the huge ship turned in a wide arc and bore down on them. Agonizing seconds passed. Then, at the last possible moment, the U-boat slid beneath the waves, and the battleship passed harmlessly overhead.
Aboard the U-331, something odd was happening to the depth gauge. As the boat continued its dive, the needle indicating depth inexplicably slowed and stopped. The crew sensed that the boat was still diving, but the gauge said not. It was a dangerous situation because the boat's maximum safe depth was judged to be 150 meters. Kapitanleutnant Von Tiesenhausen asked to have a second, forward gauge read. The report appalled the crew: they had reached the unprecedented depth of 265 meters.
Tension was great for the crew. First, should the U-boat not be able to resurface, they would die from lack of oxygen. Second, should the hull rupture, they would drown. Lastly was the fear of having to surrender to the English. Pictures
Eventually all was silent above them and they were able to surface. The U-boat had escaped from the enemy above and the lethal pressure below.
"In such moments, you do not speak," Kapitanleutnant Von Tiesenhausen told model builder Dan Kachur.
Kapitanleutnant Hans Diedrich Freiherr Von Tiesenhausen was decorated with the Ritterkreuz, also known as the Knights Cross, for his role in sinking the Barham.
German U-boat U331 model built by Dan Kachur
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