Operation Battle of Ushant

The 'Battle of Ushant' was an action fought between British and German naval forces in the eastern Atlantic off the north-west coast of Brittany (9 June 1944).

Involving British and German destroyer flotillas, the action took place shortly after the Allied 'Neptune' (iii) landings which began the 'Overlord' invasion of northern France. Following a confused nocturnal action, the British sank one of the German destroyers and forced another ashore, where she was wrecked.

On 6 June 1944, the day of 'Neptune' (iii), the remnants of Kapitän Theodor Freiherr von Mauchenheim gennant Bechtolsheim’s German 8th Zerstörerflottille, comprising the 'Typ 36A' destroyers Z-24 and Z-32, and ZH-1 (formerly the Dutch destroyer Gerard Callenburgh), were ordered by Admiral Theodor Krancke, heading the Marinegruppenkommando 'West', to steam from the Gironde estuary to Brest on the north-western tip of Brittany. The order was intercepted by the British, who detailed Canadian-manned Bristol Beaufighter twin-engined anti-ship warplanes of RAF Coastal Command to attack the German ships as they made their way through the Bay of Biscay. In the ensuing raid, Z-32 was slightly damaged. The German ships then made port at Brest, where Z-24 and Z-32 had their anti-aircraft armament increased. After this, the German ships put to sea once again on 8 June in company with the 'Typ 39' class torpedo boat T-24, the sole survivor of Korvettenkapitän Jan-Heinrich Hansen-Nootbaar’s 4th Torpedoboosflottille, under the command of von Bechtolsheim and bound for Cherbourg, where they were to reinforce the German positions.

The Allied forces learned of the German intentions through 'Ultra' intelligence based on decrypts of German signals traffic, and detailed the 10th Destroyer Flotilla to intercept the German ships as they steamed up the English Channel. The 10th Destroyer Flotilla was at this time under the command of Captain Basil Jones, who flew his flag aboard the 'Tribal' class destroyer Tartar. With him were Ashanti, Eskimo and Javelin, the Canadian Haida and Huron, and the Free Polish Piorun and Błyskawica. Jones decided to split his flotilla in two: the 19th Division comprised Eskimo, Javelin, Piorun and Błyskawica, and the 20th Division Tartar, Ashanti, Huron and Haida.

The British flotilla was heading to the west down the English Channel when the German ships were detected by radar just after 01.00 on 9 June. Jones turned his force to meet the German ships, which were now 30 miles (48 km) to the east-north-east of the Ile de Batz. The two flotillas clashed intermittently thereafter, exchanging gunfire and salvoes of torpedoes. Tartar was struck several times, but her crew was able to put out the fires and restore her speed. ZH-1 was then engaged by both Tartar and Ashanti, the latter launching two torpedoes at pointblank range. One of these weapons struck ZH-1, blowing off her bow. With the ship crippled, her captain, Korvettenkapitän Klaus Barckow, gave the order to abandon ship, then scuttled her with depth charges at 02.40. Barckow was among the 39 killed, but 28 men managed to reach France, and the other 140 were recovered by the British.

Haida and Huron had meanwhile been pursuing Z-24 and T-24 until the German ships ran into a British minefield. The Canadians attempted to detour around it but eventually lost the Germans, and Z-24 and T-24 regrouped with the intention of returning to engage the British. Finding that they were not being followed, however, they departed the area. Haida and Huron returned to the scene and came across von Bechtolsheim’s Z-32, which had received a heavy pounding and lost contact with the rest of the German ships. There was some confusion over establishing each other’s identity, but when the Canadians discovered she was a German ship they opened fire. von Bechtolsheim fled at high speed, but having sustained severe damage Z-32 was driven ashore on the Ile de Batz, and then finished off by a squadron of Beaufighter warplanes on the next day.