Monday, January 23, 2006

For AndyJ, Q-ships

I thought of replying in the comments section, but the more I thought on it the bigger the reply got. So here is a whole posting on the subject, enjoy.

And again, why is it that WE, and I mean by that the U.S. have to come to the rescue of the rest of the world. Why can't the "civilized countries" put together a fleet of ships like the Germans had in WWII. Anna, you are going to have to come to my rescue on the names of those ships, I just had a brain fart and can't remember what they were called. I figure that 5-10 of those "pirates" blown out of the water with 37mm cannons would kind of put the damper on their happy time. And being decoy ships, the pirates would never really know which were the real ships and which were the "death ships" - AndyJ

First I will delve into what type of ship AndyJ is talking about. They are called Q-ships and from the outside look like normal merchant ships but in reality had hidden cannons, torpedoes, and even mines; Britain and Germany in both World Wars employed them. Germany used them as commerce raiders while Britain used them to sink U-boats and commerce raiders. Both sides’ Q-ships would change outward appearance to fool belligerent or neutral observers, this would include flying a false flag. You maybe wondering if this would make these ships pirates? No, it would not make them pirate ships, as long as they raised their nation’s flag when attacking. Only if they attacked under a false flag could they be thought of as pirates and treated as such.

A commerce raider sounds very much like a privateer doesn’t it, but there is a world of difference between the two beasts. As the Germans used the term, a commerce raider can be a Q-ship like Atlantis or a pocket battleship like Admiral Scheer, but in both cases the ships are classified as warships and are crewed by regular naval personnel. While a privateer is a ship privately fitted out to prey on an enemy nation’s shipping and is granted legal existence through a Letter of Marque and Reprisal as issued by a warring government. Until the Declaration of Paris[1856], privateers were a valid avenue of warfare; but what the Paris declaration recognized was that privateers tended to go rogue and prey on any shipping which made privateers indistinguishable from pirates.

Are Q-ships called for in the cases seen off Somalia? If what USS Winston Churchill has captured is any indication, the answer is no. What would be effective is the issuance to a portion of a ship’s crew of M-14s to repel boarders and where boarding ladders can be used install a mount for a .50cal heavy machine gun. But we are talking the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf is a short distance away. There is a steady stream of VLCCs plying the waters between the Persian Gulf and the rest of the world. If there is an upgrade in capability of the pirates from a row-boat and a few AK-47s to bigger boats with cannon or anti-ship missile, then something like a Q-ship maybe needed. The British back before Operation Corporate came up with something better than a Q-ship. Box into a few standard sized containers all the stores needed to support a Harrier and lay out a short ski-ramp forward; instant air support and the ship can still carry a useful cargo. I would think a GR.7 Harrier II taking off from a ship the pirates are gunning for would take the starch out of their shorts and make them become honest fishermen, if they survive either a Maverick missile or 25mm cannon shells.

Trivia Question: Does the US Constitution make mention of Letters of Marque and Reprisal?


Anonymous said...

Ah Anna my dear, you have again proven yourself the treasure trove of knowledge that I have come to expect. I bow to my better. However, that is only in my old age, when I was younger, I would have loved to spar wits with you.


Anna said...

Oh I think you do a pretty good job of holding your own. Got an unfair advantage, own a copy of Captain Bernhard Rogge's 'The German Raider Atlantis' in the collection. Dang a paperback book in 1956 only cost $0.35. ^_^

An American commerce raider was USS Essex during the War of 1812 when the ship tried to capture the whole British Pacific whaling fleet. The Royal Navy had to send forces to deal with one American warship far from where those ships were needed. Which is one reason to have commerce raiders.