“The Navy’s here!” HMS Cossack frees prisoners from the Altmark, 16 February 1940

On 16 February, 1940, Royal Navy Tribal-class destroyer HMS Cossack (Capt. Philip Vian, RN) pursued the German prison ship Altmark into Jøssingfjord, Norway, and freed 299 prisoners of war.

The orders to enter neutral Norwegian waters had been approved personally by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. If Capt. Vian was unable to secure the cooperation of the Norwegian authorities to search the Altmark – which herself was in violation of Norwegian neutrality – then he was ordered to board the Nazi vessel regardless, as a copy of the Admiralty signal to Vian shows:

Signal from Admiralty to Captain (D) 4th Flotilla.

Signal from Admiralty to Captain (D) 4th Flotilla sent 16th February 1940.

The official Norwegian inspection of Altmark when she entered territorial waters had, on three separate occasions, failed to discover the 299 prisoners held in the ship’s hold. How thorough were these inspections? To what extent was Adm. Carsten Tank-Nielsen complicit in letting the German’s continue their deception? Where the Norwegians attempting to curry favour Germany? These are questions worthy of debate at another time.

Vian was unable to secure the co-operation of the Norwegian authorities, beyond yet another assurance that the were no prisoners held on the Altmark. At 22:20 on the night of 16th February 1940, Vian brought HMS Cossack alongside the Altmark and sent a boarding party. After a bloody struggle, the armed German guards were overpowered and the prisoners were located.

“Any Englishmen here?”

“Yes! We are all British!”

“Well, the Navy’s here!”

The boarding party from HMS Cossack tackled the Altmark’s German guards in hand-to-hand fighting with fixed bayonets and cutlasses. It was the last recorded use of the cutlass in a boarding action by the Royal Navy.

Cutlass, 1900 Pattern. From the Canadian War Museum.

Concluding the action, Capt. Vian signalled the Admiralty with news of his success, as this copy of his signal shows:

Capt. Vian's signal to the Admiralty sent on the morning of 17 February 1940.

Capt. Vian’s signal to the Admiralty sent on the morning of 17 February 1940.

HMS Cossack left Jøssingfjord unmolested by Norwegian ships, although official protests were lodged through diplomatic channels. She arrived at Leith where she landed the rescued merchant seamen. Vian was awarded the DSO for his actions on the night of 16th/17th February and the phrase, “The Navy’s here!” would enter the history books.

HMS ‘Cossack’ and the prison ship ‘Altmark’, 16 February 1940, by Norman Wilkinson. Painting in collection of National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Copyright Norman Wilkinson Estate.

Don’t expect the Northern Sea Route to be croweded any time soon

Although it’s possible to pilot large cargo vessels through Arctic Waters, there are a number of reasons why it is not particularly attractive to operators. You know… icebergs an’ all that. Getting insurance can be a bit of a bugger, too.

Arctic Shipping Route Plagued by Icebergs and Insurance

The new shipping route opened up through the Arctic by climate change will not be crowded any time soon.

Cargoes of coal, diesel and gas have made the trip but high insurance costs, slow going and strict environmental rules mean there will not be a rush to follow them.

Looser ice means icebergs. One vessel has already been holed, and large ice breaking vessels, not always on hand, are a must.

“Significant safety and navigational concerns remain an obstacle to commercial shipping in the Northern Sea route, despite recent media reports of ‘successful’ transits,” said Richard Hurley, a senior analyst at shipping intelligence publisher IHS Maritime.

“AIS (ship) tracking of vessels in the area shows all vessels are subject to deviation from direct routes as a result of ice, and many areas still cannot be navigated safely without the presence of large icebreakers able to provide assistance such as lead through to clearer waters.”

Last month, a dry bulk vessel carrying coal from Canada passed through the Northwest Passage to deliver a cargo to Finland, in a trip its operators said would save $80,000 worth of fuel and cut shipping time by a week.

The world’s top oil trader Vitol brought tankers in October with Asian diesel to Europe via the Northern Sea route over Russia, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs.

The fast-growing liquefied natural gas market, in which Arctic players like Russia and Norway play a big role, has also seen maiden Arctic voyages.

Hurley said the passage of the Yong Sheng cargo vessel in August from China to Europe via the Northern Sea was only possible with the aid of the world’s largest nuclear powered icebreaker, 50 Let Pobedy, to get it through the Lapatev Sea. Ship tracking showed only four large icebreakers were available at any one time to cover the whole Northern sea route.

Separately, a small Russian oil products tanker was holed in September in the Kara Sea, also off Russia.

“Even though damage was minimal and did not cause a pollution incident, the holing revealed fragility of emergency help,” Hurley said. “Taken together, all the inherent dangers and concerns over potential Arctic pollution count heavily against time and cost savings alone when assessing the commercial viability of the seaway.”


The market is also still nascent for insurers.

“The key obstacle here will remain the insurance, as it’s still simply too risky a proposition for standard commercial insurers,” said Michael Frodl of U.S.-based consultancy C-Level Maritime Risks, who advises insurers.

“The ships aren’t ready, the support facilities and port infrastructure are not yet in place, and the risks haven’t been figured out enough to price insurance correctly.”

Others say the commercial potential is unlikely to be viable for container ships, which transport consumer goods, partly as trade flows develop beyond China in coming decades towards other regions including Africa and South America.

“The further away global trade moves from a totally China-centric export pattern, the more a short ‘polar’ route looses its appeal,” said Jan Tiedemann, shipping analyst with consultancy Alphaliner.

“The Southern route – even if longer – will always have the advantage of serving numerous markets at the same time. Think of the Middle East. Think of transshipment via the (Malacca) Straits to Australia and New Zealand. Think of transshipment in Arabia for East Africa. Think of Med and Black Sea loops.”

Until recent years harsh weather conditions, which can drop to 40 to 50 degrees centigrade below zero, had limited Arctic shipping mostly to small freighters and ice-breakers that supplied northern communities in Canada, Norway or Russia.

According to French ship classification society Bureau Veritas, there were 40 Arctic route trading voyages in 2012 for all vessel classes including oil tankers, with around one million tonnes of cargo moved. That compared with 700 million tonnes transported through the Suez canal.

Knut Espen Solberg of Norwegian shipping and offshore classification group Det Norske Veritas, said dry bulk vessels carrying coal were best suited for Arctic shipping as the potential for environmental potential was less.

“Oil and container spills have a much bigger potential environmental impact than coal, so their shipping is likely to be restricted heavily,” said Solberg, a former Arctic mariner.


Remembering the wartime “X-men” and their attack on the Tirpitz

Nope. It wasn’t John Mills on a Saturday afternoon on BBC2. It was a group of very real, very brave men.

Submariners pay tribute to wartime X-men 70 years after daring Tirpitz raid

Today’s submariners paid their respects to some of their bravest wartime forebears in a remote part of Scotland. Veterans of midget submarines were guests of honour at a service next to Loch Cairnbawn, from where 70 years ago X-craft sailed to cripple Hitler’s flagship, the Tirpitz.

Submariners pay tribute to wartime X-men 70 years after daring Tirpitz raid.

On a cold, wet and windy day in one of the remotest spots in the British Isles, veterans joined current submariners, family members, dignitaries and historians to pay tribute to one of the greatest deeds in the annals of the Silent Service.Seven decades ago this September a handful of midget submarines set out to cripple the pride of Hitler’s Navy, the Tirpitz – the largest battleship in the Western World.

In a raid which was later immortalised on film, half a dozen four-man submarines – known as X-craft – were dispatched to lay explosive charges under the leviathan.

Only three reached the beast in its lair in Altafjord, east of Tromsø, but they succeeded; Tirpitz was knocked out of action for six months.

Submariners pay tribute to wartime X-men 70 years after daring Tirpitz raid.

In HMS X6 on that raid – Operation Source – was Lt John Lorimer. Now in his 90s, and a retired commander he was one of two X-craft veterans who were guests of honour at the 70th anniversary service honouring the men of the Twelfth Submarine Squadron.

He was joined by his former colleague Sub Lt Adam Bergius who took part in missions against the Japanese in the Far East.

Both men were decorated for their deeds in these 30-tonne craft – the DSO for Mr Lorimer, the DSC for Mr Bergius.

And both men trained in the sheltered waters of c, about two dozen miles north of Ullapool on the north-west coast of Scotland.

And it is overlooking those same waters that a memorial to all who served in those midget submarines and chariots (human torpedoes) between 1942 and 1945 stands.

Despite the remoteness of the monument, nearly 150 people made the pilgrimage to honour the X-craft pioneers – 39 of whom made the ultimate sacrifice in missions against the Axis powers.

As the wind gusted and the rain lashed, Jonathan Brett Young, Deputy Lieutenant of Sutherland and a former naval officer, thanked those gathered for making the effort, before author Paul Watkins read extracts from his biography of Godfrey Place, awarded the VC for his part in the Tirpitz raid with Mr Place’s children Melanie and Charles listening.

Submariners pay tribute to wartime X-men 70 years after daring Tirpitz raid.

The Rev Peter Mosley performed the service of remembrance and after the strains of the Naval Hymn faded over the loch, the haunting notes of the Last Post were sounded by Royal Marines Bugler James Trowbridge.

Maj Gen Patrick Marriott, Deputy Lieutenant of Sutherland, closed proceedings. Despite his firm Army background, the general admitting having a soft spot for the Senior Service, as both his parents had served in the RN; indeed, his father commanded two wartime submarines – including HMS Graph, formerly U570, which was captured and put into service under the White Ensign.

Today’s RN was represented at the service by Command Warrant Officer Submarines WO1 Stefano Mannucci, WO1 Bob Morrison and WO1 David Annan from the Faslane Flotilla, and HMS Sutherland’s Lt Cdr Chris Morgan.

“It was a great celebration of a fantastic achievement and a fitting tribute to those from the 39 men of the Twelfth Flotilla who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in operations – and during the hazardous training,”

said WO Morrison.

“If you ever travel north on the A894 to Kylesku you will find a very poignant memorial to an extremely brave deed and as ever a very warm Highland welcome.”

Submariners pay tribute to wartime X-men 70 years after daring Tirpitz raid.

As for Operation Source, six X-craft were towed by ‘mother’ submarines across the North Sea. X9 was lost on the way across and X8 was damaged and had to be scuttled, leaving only four small boats to carry out the mission.

X10 was due to attack the battle-cruiser Scharnhorst, but the ship had sailed on exercises so the mission was aborted.

For the remaining three craft attacking Tirpitz, they had to get past a screen of anti-submarine vessels, anti-torpedo nets and anti-submarine nets before finally laying their charges.

X5 was blown out of the water by the German battleship’s guns before she could lay her charges, but X6 and X7 did. Their crews were unable to escape, abandoned their boats and were taken prisoner.

The operation cost nine British lives, but the blast caused extensive damage both to Tirpitz’s hull – she shipped over 1,400 tonnes of water – and one of her 15in gun turrets was dislodged.

(l-r) Lt T L Martin, Lt K R Hudspeth RANVR, Lt B McFarlane RAN, Lt Godfrey Place and Lt D Cameron RNR.

Tirpitz was out of action until April 1944 – and then the Fleet Air Arm knocked her out for a further two months in a carrier-launched strike.

The battleship was finally sunk by the RAF in November 1944 using 12,000lb ‘earthquake’ bombs which caused Tirpitz to capsize.


Pentagon considers cancelling F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, overseas partners may be in trouble

Yikes! A kick in the budgetary backside for the Pentagon as tough choices are being made between smaller forces, less new equipment, and reduced operations.

But this does not just affect the US military. There are 10 international partners involved in the F-35 boondoggle. In particular, Britain’s Royal Navy has predicated its entire 21st century naval aviation programme on the F-35B STVOL variant. Its new aircraft carriers are under construction without the cats & traps that would permit an alternative (such as the F/A-18E/F) to be substituted affordably.

Is it too late to restart the AV-8B production line?

Pentagon considers cancelling F-35 program, leaked documents suggest

F-35 JSF (AFP Photo / HO)

Leaked documents from a Pentagon budget review suggest that the agency is tired of its costly F-35 fighter jets, and has thoughts about cancelling the $391.2 billion program that has already expanded into 10 foreign countries.

Pentagon officials held a briefing on Wednesday in which they mapped out ways to manage the $500 billion in automated budget cuts required over the next decade. A slideshow laid out a number of suggestions and exposed the Pentagon’s frustration with its F-35 jets, which are designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp. based out of Bethesda, Md. The agency also suggested scrapping plans for a new stealthy, long-range bomber, attendees of the briefing told Reuters.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke to reporters on Wednesday and indicated that the Pentagon might have to decide between a “much smaller force” and a decade-long “holiday” from modernizing weapons systems and technology.

Pentagon briefing slides indicated that a decision to maintain a larger military “could result in the cancellation of the $392 billion Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 program and a new stealthy, long-range bomber,” Reuters reports.

When officials familiar with the budget review leaked the news about the F-35s, the agency tried to downplay its alleged intentions.

The F-35 program is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapon system. A fleet of 2,443 aircraft has an estimated price tag of $391.2 billion, which is up 68 percent from the projected costs measured in 2001. Earlier this year, Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, the F-35 program manager, condemned the manufacturer for “trying to squeeze every nickel” out of the Department of Defense.

Although the warplane is the most expensive combat aircraft in history, its quality is lacking. In February, the US military grounded an entire fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters because of a crack found on a turbine blade on one of the jets, marking the fourth time that a fleet was grounded because of manufacturing problems. In April, Bogdan told a Senate committee that he doubted the planes could withstand a sophisticated cyberattack.

But before the sequestration took effect this year, the Pentagon secured several contracts with Lockheed Martin to ensure the continued production and maintenance of the costly F-35s. This week, the Defense Department struck another deal with the company to produce 71 more jet fighters, claiming the costs per aircraft have been reduced by about 4 percent – an insignificant reduction when compared to the 68 percent price increase that has occurred since 2001.

After news broke of the Pentagon’s prospect to cancel the program, officials tried to control the damage of such an alarming statement that runs counter to the claims they publicly make.

“We have gone to great lengths to stress that this review identified, through a rigorous process of strategic modeling, possible decisions we might face, under scenarios we may or may not face in the future,” Pentagon Spokesman George Little told Reuters in an email when asked about the slides. “Any suggestion that we’re now moving away from key modernization programs as a result of yesterday’s discussion of the outcomes of the review would be incorrect.”

An unnamed defense official familiar with the briefing told Reuters that the leaked budget document indicated possibilities for a worst-case scenario. He admitted that the Pentagon considered scrapping the program, but said it was unlikely, since “cancelling the program would be detrimental to our national defense.”

Regardless of the Pentagon’s intent, Congress is responsible for authorizing Department of Defense spending, and has often forced the agency to make costly and unnecessary weapons purchases.

Last year, US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said that the US has no need for new tanks. But even though senior Army officials have repeatedly stated that there is no need to spend half a billion dollars in taxpayer funds on new 70-ton Abrams tanks, lawmakers from both parties have pushed the Pentagon to accept the useless purchases.

Earlier this year, an investigation revealed that lobbying efforts by Northrop Grumman have kept a costly Global Hawk drone flying, despite the Pentagon’s attempt to end the project. A defense authorization bill passed by Congress requires the Air Force to keep flying its Block 30 Global Hawks through at least 2014, which costs taxpayers $260 million per year.

The US spends more money on defense than any other nation, but lawmakers from both parties often insist that the agency continue to buy tanks and keep ships and planes it no longer needs. Although the Pentagon has expressed its frustration with the costly F-35 fighter jets, there is little the agency can do without congressional support.


Norwegian frigate takes over as flasghip of Operation Ocean Shield

The Royal Norwegian Navy frigate HMNoS Fridtjof Nansen has joined Operation Ocean Shield, NATO’s counter piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa.

The Nansen is the lead ship in her class of 5 multi-role frigates, built for the Sjøforsvaret by Navantia in Ferrol, Spain. The Nansen-class replaced the old (1960s built) Oslo-class frigates and are equipped with the Aegis combat system. For counter piracy operations, the frigates are equipped with 2 RIBs and a detachment of Kystjegerkommandoen naval infantry.

Norwegian frigate leads anti-pirate operation

HMNoS Fridtjof Nansen

The Norwegian frigate “Fridtjof Nansen” is the flag ship and command center for the NATO-led anti-pirate operation Ocean Shield in the Bay of Aden and off the Horn of Africa, over the next six months.The NATO force numbers altogether 700 men, and 170 of these are stationed on the Norwegian frigate.

In addition to the Norwegian contingent, there are also personnel from Denmark, the Netherlands, the Ukraine and USA.

Ocean Shield is an operation set up to combat the threat of piracy in the Bay of Aden and the Indian ocean, an area the size of Western Europe.

Even though 850 seamen were exposed to attacks from Somalia-based pirates in 2012, it was a reduction by nearly 80 per cent from the year before, when nearly 3900 sailors came under attack, the newspaper Vårt Land reports.

Today, aropund 600 seamen are held hostage by Somali pirates.



Daewoo Shipbuilding wins $230m contract from Norwegian Defence Logistics Organization

More good times for South Korean shipyards. Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering has picked up a $230m contract from the Norwegian Defence Logistics Organization for a new logistics and support vessel. This comes on the heels of a $565m order from Atwood Oceanics for a new oil exploration vessel and a $1.4bn contract from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary for four new replenishment tankers.

Daewoo Shipbuilding bags US$230 mln deal from Norway

Daewoo Shipbuilding bags US$230 mln deal from Norway

SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) — Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. of South Korea said Sunday that it has clinched a US$230 million deal from Norway.

Under the deal with the Norwegian Defense Logistics Organization (NDLO), Daewoo Shipbuilding will deliver the logistics and support vessel by September 2016, the company said.

In March this year, Daewoo Shipbuilding also won a 1.6 trillion won ($1.4 billion) contract to build four fleet tankers for Britain’s Royal Navy.

The company has deals valued at $5 billion to build 15 ships so far this year and has raised its order target by 18 percent to $13 billion for 2013.