Battle for the Channel

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This was the aborted attempt by the Holy Roman Empire to cross the British Sea and invade the FK. Newspapers in the NAL and elsewhere began to mis-represent the name of the body of water involved based on the a description of it as a "channel." Several news services picked up on this and started calling the British Sea the British Channel.

The name of the event stuck.

Contents

Background

Europe at the start of 1943

The year was 1943. A new form of warfare--the blitzkrieg--had resulted in the conquest of northern France. Prussian troops knew themselves to be an elite, among the finest infantry ever and supported by a deadly new branch of the military, the Luftwaffe. Flotillas of fast airships had already proven their worth. But now an opportunity arose which planners at the Imperial High Command had only briefly considered.

Invading Britain had in theory always been possible. Historically, it had even been carried out twice more-or-less successfully. With the Wehrmacht able to attack the Federated Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Kemr directly, a peace dictated on Prussian terms seemed assured. But to mount such an invasion demanded above all else a navy, a proper Kriegsmarine.

Planners had assumed the Scandinavian Realm would either be totally allied with the Empire, or would stand aloof. That would mean the HRE could expect to either have the premier navy of the world at their disposal or would have to make do with nothing but coastal defensive ships. Towards that end, their coastal vessels tended to be larger than most, and distinctly over-gunned. What they had not expected was a third scenario--one where most of the SR's u-boats would end up under Imperial command, along with two actual battleships and a respectable-enough screen of destroyers. This translated into a small but powerful navy, one that could--if used wisely--deliver decisive blows. More, construction of battleships had been underway when the war broke out within Imperial territory, ships intended for the SR. These two vessels, and another three constructed over the next seven years, were the backbone of the new Imperial Kriegsmarine.

But--was invading Britain a wise thing to attempt? In the end, Adolf Hessler (whose decision it ultimately was) had an answer.

Yes.

After the disaster at Dunkirk, Lord Halifax's government had persuaded their Kemrese oppposites to propose a cease-fire with the Holy Roman Empire. From that moment in 1940 until 1943 the Federates and their powerful navy were effectively out of the war. It is likely Hessler believed that in his old friend Sherrinford Bell, once ambassador to Berlin and now Foreign Secretary, he had in effect an ally towards his war aims. He was soon disabused. Bell's loyalties remained primarily to England and Scotland. He would never be party to what Hessler was in effect demanding--the FK's incorporation into the Holy Roman Empire or, failing that, its naval emasculation.

The constitutional crisis of 1942 pretty much made the next step inevitable. The First Lord of the Admiralty sent a large section of the Royal Fleets on manuevers in the North Atlantic, where Halifax could not as a matter of practicality order them scrapped. More, they began aiding in protection of convoys from the Americas to beleaguered France and Italy. Once King Edward VI made his sympathies to the so-called "War Parties" clear, and a new government in Castreleon took office, Halifax's days as First Lord were numbered.

He resigned on Christmas Day, 1942. Sherrinford Bell was his successor. Adolf von Hessler ordered "Operation Brunhhild" prepared for the Spring, when weather would allow a crossing of the British Sea. England, Scotland and Kemr were to be brought to heel in an amphibian version of Blitzkrieg.

Participants

There were essentially two phases of the Battle for the Channel. The first involved the combined Royal navies of the FK against the Kriegsmarine and seemed to end in a draw. Second was a reduced Kriegsmarine versus the gallant but small Armorican fleet.

But behind all these were a series of policy decisions which shaped all that was to come.

The Federated Kingdoms

The Royal Navies had jointly taken the positon prior to and after the First Great War that their battleships were best designed for speed and manuverability. This meant sacrificing some armor. As a result, their capital ships were the fastest in the world as a group. But they tended to be hurt (or worse) much more easily. The FK military, revelling in their presumed status of Top Nation, took the view that GW1 had been an Allied victory. Had not the wicked territorial designs of the wicked Huns been thwarted? And given that fact, why alter time-proven military doctrines? So as the 1930s saw an increasing arms race that encouraged every battleship in the Royal Navies to be upgraded several times, the essential philosophy behind those upgrades remained the same.

The Holy Roman Empire

The Imperial High Command, on the other hand, had taken pretty much the opposite approach. In between the wars, their studies showed ships lacking good armor died sooner and faster. Dead ships were of no help winning wars, so the Holy Roman Empire funded construction of several massive new battleships, each over 800 feet long. Yet in 1944 only three were available--KMS Brandenburg, KMS Hanover and KMS Nuremberg. The Weimar and Vienna at that point were in the east Mediterranean. Nor could they be recalled without severely weakening efforts on that front. Perhaps more tellingly, the three other ships were in the Baltic, not the northern French ports. Had they been reassigned earlier, as had been Weimar and Nuremberg, history might have played itself out differently.

Field Marshal von Runstedt was put in overall command of putting together an invasion force. Brunnhild called for just enough troops to establish a beachhead and seize a port. They would have to be transported across the British Sea in as large a makeshift flotilla as could be scraped together in four months. Their protection would be as many U-boats as could be spared from anti-convoy duty (not many as it turned out--only nine in the end) and the three Baltic Battleships which were scheduled to arrive as close as possible to the actual invasion date. The Luftwaffe would also lend support, but it was stretched to the limit. Political events in the FK had been (rightly) seen as an opportunity by the Allied Powers, who staged counter-offensives as soon as was feasible. The Italian Navy in particular began raids against the Balkan coast in earnest, requiring maximum effort by the local forces to answer them.

In theory, Operation Brunnhild could have waited another four months, in which case the mighty new Air Cruisers (the Luftwaffe's equivalent of the battleship) would be ready. But Hessler was probably feeling the pinch of time. Relations with Russia were deteriorating rapidly. He needed some kind of blow to keep the war's momentum, put the FK out of the war and discourage the Commonwealth nations from openly siding with his enemies.

The Armorican Navy

This was the wild card that proved vital in the coming battle.

Events

Under the direct orders of Chancellor Hessler, the Wehrmacht and Kriegsmarine started assembling an invasion force in January, 1943. Unfortunately, this was anything but an easy task. The Holy Roman Empire had practically no amphibious landing craft. On the other hand, the British Sea--while hardly a river--was not a terribly wide body of water either. As troop assignments were juggled and logistics rearranged, the problem of how to move the troops needed into Britain was approached in the most expeditious way possible. They would simply use as many large ships as they could get their hands on. In practice, this meant freighters which would be crammed with troops for the crossing. This would be augmented by the French passenger liner Normandie which had been seized.

The actual landing would take place at a suitable location on the coast of England, not far from an actual port city. Seizing such a port (Dover was eventually agreed upon) would be vital. Battleships would clean an area of all resistance and maintain a watch while the slow process of unloading the freighters and the Normandie would be completed as rapidly as possible. Once enough troops were disembarked, the assault on the target port would begin, a pincer movement in which the Wehrmacht would attack by land while the Kriegsmarine would do so from the sea. At this stage of the operation, the Luftwaffe would be deployed to cluster bomb the city's defenses from the air.

Herein was a crucial decision. The Luftwaffe was overstretched in early 1943. For this reason, it was decided to attempt the crossing of the British Sea without air support. This was justified on the (perfectly reasonable) grounds that the Royal Air Corps was believed to be (and at that particular moment was) a very inferior force.

Another crucial question was the timing of sending the battleships from their Baltic bases through the North Sea and to new ports in France where they could then support the invasion. This would put them squarely in the way of the few remaining battleships still in range and not on maneuvers protecting convoys. But even so, those four battleships--Sharpe, King Albert, Termorgan and Seriol were believed to be individually inferior to their Prussian counterparts. So it looked like the odds would be three to four--but the three being more powerful than the four. Maybe.

Phase One

April 2, 1943 KMS Brandenburg, KMS Nuremberg and KMS Hanover set sail for France. Given the peculiar position of the SR at this point, no one seriously expected this fact could be kept from the Allied Powers. Nor was it. Within hours, the Royal Navies knew it. More, they had a pretty shrewd idea what three battleships were doing suddenly steaming into the Atlantic once the weather cleared up enough for a crossing of the British Sea.

On April 8, 1943 the three Kriegsmarine warships came into range of the four FK batteships. As it turned out, the Scottish dirigible Fuatha had spotted the Prussian force almost 48 hours earlier. What happened next was a combat that lasted approximately one half hour--and struck terror in all three of the Federated Kingdoms.

The time was 11:43 a.m. when broadsides from the Brandenburg and Hanover both hit HMS Sharpe within seconds of one another. This had followed a series of exchanges between the two task forces. Already, each of the seven ships had sustained some damage. Tellingly, it was the FK ships so far that had suffered the most. Then...the Sharpe blew up. Shells pierced the mighty ship's rather flimsy armor at exactly the right place to set off a chain reaction, igniting most of the ammunition aboard as well as rupturing the engines, which only added to the carnage. Of 1,400 crewman aboard, less than ten were rescued. Between the four FK warships in the battle, it had been Sharpe which was the most powerful. And it had just ceased to exist.

British Sea

HMS King Albert ordered a withdrawal. The three Imperial dreadnoughts did not pursue, but made for France. The Termorgan, in an act that man professional officers considered heroic under the circumstances, shadowed them all the way to Calais.

Phase Two

The FK's governments and publics were sent into a panic by the loss of Sharpe. What no one realized amid the invasion rumors and plans was that the Prussian battleships were not at all undamaged. Nuremberg had lost the use of one fifteen-inch gun and Brandenburg's rudder was severely damaged as were several points in her armor.

As a result, it was Nuremberg and Hanover who left Calais on April 15, 1943 as the primary escorts to ten freighters and the Normandie. Accompanying them would be six destroyers and nine submarines, divided roughly in half between guarding the north and south sides of the invading force.

The task force set sail with the knowledge that virtually the entire Armorican navy was en route to the waters between Calais and Dover. Records indicate this was not considered much of a threat, which was why five more destroyers from Le Havre sailed just a little too late to catch the defending fleet en route.

At 10:22 a.m. the Nuremberg sighted the ships approaching. Her damaged gun had not had time to be properly repaired so her attack on the Armorican vessels was not as powerful as it otherwise might have been. Still, it was enough to sink Clêdhyf Lydaewon and Enebaeth Rydon within ten minutes and severely damage Gadh Dalyd. Perhaps because of fears the remaining Royal battleships might still enter the fray, six of the nine U-boats were on the north end of the invading force. That meant only three were left to engage three times that number Armorican submarines as well as the frigates. It seems Nuremberg's captain dismissed the Armorican ships for a crucial ten minutes, believing the damage inflicted upon them would be sufficient and that his destroyers plus the U-boats would finish them off. This proved a mistake, because frigates were more powerful that destroyers and had known they would be facing U-boats. More, these were relatively narrow waters where U-boats could not really hide from the steady flow of depth charges that soon blanketed the waters.

U-265 was lost almost immediately. U-59 was damaged soon after and had to withdraw within twenty-five minutes--but not before firing her torpedoes that hit Cynvar, forcing her out of the action. Another torpedo hit Branwen, which continued fighting another fifty minutes before her Captain ordered "Abandon ship."

Here foresight on the part of the Armorican naval planners began to tell. That navy's submarines had held back, while the frigates set their depth charges for relatively shallow depths. There were expecting to face more submarines, but the remaining such, U-300, did what was expected--dove deep. Indeed, U-300 successfully evaded Armorican depth charges, then surfaced to fire torpedoes from behind, sinking Gal an Ynysaw and damaging Gwalchavad.

Meanwhile, all nine Armorican submarines sped into range of the Nuremberg and its destroyer screen. The damage they did proved crucial. Two destroyers were sunk outright, before Hanover began its own barrage of depth charges while hammering away at the Armorican frigates.

By now the battle had lasted a little over an hour and a half. Armorican losses were severe, but had accomplished a surprising amount of damage. The submarines were now trying like mad to get at the freighters and especially the Normandie. The Prussians knew this and had already signalled to the other arm of the task force, which had dispatched its destroyers. The sea in and around the freighters was now a full-on battlefield, not least because the freighters themselves had been armed with small guns and--most importantly--depth charges. Of the six Armorican submarines that made it past the Hanover only two returned to port. Yet they certainly sank one of the troop-laden freighters, and damaged another. Even more importantly, they damaged the Normandie.

Three small attack dirigibles now committed what amounted to a near-suicide run. From different directions, they all descended as quickly as they were physically able to launch their own torpedoes at the Normandie, now leaking oil and slow in the water. With simple hydrogen-filled gasbags it was no surprise when two--the Dâdhwen and Seren--were felled by anti-aircraft fire from Kriegsmarine destroyers and the guns mounted on nearby freighters. Yet one of the Carthan 's torpedoes and one of Bydhec's found their target. The Normandie was mortally wounded, and sank inside forty minutes.

Von Runstedt, following the course of the battle aboard Hanover, realized that he now lacked the troops to carry out the planned operation against Dover. He signalled a retreat.

Aftermath

For all practical purposes that was the one window of opportunity that the Holy Roman Empire had to invade Britain. The time needed to assemble more troops and their transportation would have also allowed the bulk of the Royal Navies to get into position. More, in the interval, France and Italy renewed operations in the Mediterrenean which meant troops and ships could not be spared--especially with a second war looming before year's end. This was Operation Rhinegold.

By summer, the Luftwaffe's air cruisers were ready, beginning with the Ludendorff which began anti-shipping operations in coordination with U-boats. Keeping the FK in the war became a question of the outcome of the Atlantic Air War.

In the FK itself, as well as the Commonwealth and for much of the world, the Armorican Navy by this action attained a prestige rarely surpassed by small militaries. "Never before," said the Kemrese head of government in a radio address, "have so many in the entire world, today and for generations to come, owed so very much to so very few."

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