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 Posted: Sat Jul 6th, 2013 03:55 pm
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Texas Defender
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BHR62-

  Commerce raiders are typically used by a weaker naval power against a stronger one. Their purpose is to attack the enemy's merchant ships to destroy their logistical base. The French call this kind of warfare: "Guerre de course," which translates to: "War of the chase." The raiding nation can employ privately owned ships that it commissions (Privateers), or its own naval units, or a combination of both. Battles against enemy warships are generally avoided, unless quick victory is certain, or fighting is necessary in order for the raider to escape.

  The weaknesses of commerce raiders usually relate to the necessity of operating far from friendly bases. The raiders must often deal with shortages of fuel or ammunition, or provisions, as well as the problem of finding places to repair damage or worn out machinery. Usually, there is little or no support system, and the raider must deal with these problems alone.

  In order to accomplish its mission, the raider must find its prey, while avoiding enemy combatants, for if it is damaged, its mission could well be over. If the raider's general location is known, the stronger naval power can almost always concentrate more powerful ships to the area to track it down.

  In the case of the CSS ALABAMA, in June of 1864, she was greatly in need of repairs, and bottled up in a French port. A US Navy warship of the same approximate strength had found her, and more US Navy ships were on the way to her location. Captain Semmes chose to do battle with the USS KEARSARGE, hoping to escape afterwards. But he must have known that his mission was at an end, since it would be highly unlikely that he could escape without further damage.

  Besides being in poor condition, another disadvantage that the ALABAMA had was the inferior quality of her powder. This might have been the primary cause of the defeat of the ALABAMA, since she was able to hit the stern of the KEARSARGE with a shell. The shell failed to explode. If it had, it might have destroyed the KEARSARGE's ability to steer, allowing the ALABAMA to escape. But it is highly unlikely that a badly damaged ALABAMA could have eluded other US Navy ships that were on their way there.

  Starting in World War I, the Germans introduced a new kind of raider, which was the U-boat. It added a new dimension to eluding superior naval power, which was to escape beneath the surface. But for surface raiders, the problems remained the same.

  I would compare the situation of the CSS ALABAMA in Cherbourg harbor to that of the German surface raider ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE in Montevideo in December of 1939. The GRAF SPEE could outgun anything that it could not outrun, and outrun anything that it could not outgun. But off the River Platte in December of 1939, she was discovered by three British cruisers, and a battle ensued.

  More damage was done to the cruisers than to the GRAF SPEE, but she did suffer damages, and was chased into a neutral port. (Where she could not make repairs). A new British heavy cruiser arrived on the scene to replace the heavily damaged one that left the area, so there were still three British cruisers present that were waiting for the raider to come out. Meanwhile, more powerful units were on their way there.

  The GRAF SPEE could have come out and done battle again, and perhaps she could have escaped temporarily. But at the very least, she would have suffered more damage, and her destruction would have been inevitable. So the German captain scuttled his ship in the River Platte on 17 December 1939.

Admiral Graf Spee - World War II - Kriegsmarine - Pocket Battleship

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