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Gneisenau Nazi Pocket Battleship

Career Kriegsmarine Jack
Name: Gneisenau
Ordered: January 25, 1934
Laid down: May 6, 1935
Launched: December 8, 1936
Commissioned: May 21, 1938
Fate: Heavily damaged in an air raid 26/27 February 1942. Decommissioned. Sunk as a blockship 23 March 1945. Scrapped after the war.
General characteristics
Class and type: Scharnhorst
Displacement: 31,500 tonnes (standard) 38,900 tonnes (full load)
Length: 235 m (772 ft) overall
226 m (741.5 ft) waterline
Beam: 30 m (98.4 ft)
Draft: 9.69 m (31 ft 9 in.) at 37,303 tons
Propulsion: 3 Germania geared turbines with single reduction
3 three-bladed propellers, 4.8 m (159 inch) diameter
151,893 shp
Speed: 33 kt
Range: 8,400 nm at 19 kt
Complement: 1,669 (56 officers, 1,613 enlisted)
Sensors and
processing systems:
80-cm wavelength RADAR from 1940

9 28 cm/54.5 (11") SK C/34
12 15 cm/55 (5.9") SK C/28

14 10.5 cm/65 (4.1") SK C/33
16 3.7 cm/L83 (1.5") SK C/30
10 (later 16) 2 cm/65 (0.79") C/30 or C/38
6 533 mm torpedo tubes
Armor: Main belt: 350 mm (13.78 inch)
Deck: 95 mm max.
Aircraft carried: 3 Arado Ar 196A-3, 1 catapult

Gneisenau was a World War II Scharnhorst class capital ship, referred to as either a light battleship or battlecruiser of the German Kriegsmarine. This 31,100-ton ship was the third to carry the name of the Prussian general August von Gneisenau, after the three-masted iron-hulled frigate SMS Gneisenau, which was launched in 1879 and wrecked in 1900; and the World War I armored cruiser SMS Gneisenau, destroyed in the battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914.

She usually sailed into battle accompanied by her sister ship Scharnhorst.

Construction of the Gneisenau

She was laid down in February 1934, at Deutsche Werke Kiel. Construction was, however, delayed. She was then redesigned and re-laid in May 1935. When completed, she displaced just under the Washington Naval Treaty limit of 35,000 tons though Germany had never been covered by that Treaty.

She carried a main armor belt of 350 mm (13.78 inch), comparable to modern battleships of the time, and vastly heavier than the World War I British battlecruisers HMS Renown and HMS Repulse and the French fast battleships Dunkerque and Strasbourg. The ships were armed with nine 280 mm (11 inch) main guns. While these had long range and quite good belt armor penetration power because of their high muzzle velocity, they were no match for the 380 mm (15 inch) guns of most of the battleships of her day. The choice of armament was a result of their hasty commissioning.

If a later proposal to upgrade the main armament to six 15-inch (380 mm) guns in three twin turrets, had been implemented, Gneisenau would have been a very formidable opponent, faster than any British capital ship and as well armored. When Gneisenau was designed, no 380mm guns were available for the German Kriegsmarine. It was decided to go ahead with 280mm guns, because as a commerce raider, she was not intended to fight a capital ship. Instead, superior speed would be used to avoid an engagement with a battleship. Due to priorities and constraints imposed by World War II, she retained her 11-inch guns throughout her career. Both Gneisenau and her sister were designed for an extended range to allow for commerce raiding.

Diagram of nazi pocket battleship Gneisenau
Diagram of nazi pocket battleship Gneisenau

She was considered a handsome ship, and looked as fast as she was. She and her sister ship, Scharnhorst, are generally spoken of as the most successful German design of the period. The main criticism of the design was their relatively low deck height above the water, the "freeboard", which made them "wet" when at heavy seas. This led to alterations in the sheer line and installation of the 'Atlantic Bow' in a winter 1938 refit. She conducted Battle training trials in the Atlantic in August-November 1938.

Operational History of the Gneisenau

Gneisenau in 1938
Gneisenau in 1938

On 9 September 1939, six days after war was declared, she was attacked by Royal Air Force aircraft at Brunsb?oog with no damage. On 8 October, she steamed with the cruiser Allied forces searching for the Deutschland. Gneisenau was often seen in the company of her sister ship Scharnhorst, and the two ships became known as the "ugly sisters" due to their usual prowling together, and the amount of havoc they caused to British shipping.

In November 1939, the two "sister ships" operated in the North Atlantic sank the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Rawalpindi, but Gneisenau then suffered considerable sea damage in a storm.

HMS Renown without a decisive result. However, the ship suffered damage to her forward turret and her main gun director during the action. On 5 May, she set off a magnetic mine about 21 metres off her port quarter, and suffered shock damage, flooding, and loss of steering for 18 minutes. The damage was repaired by 21 May at Kiel. In the British withdrawal from Norway on 8 June, she and Scharnhorst surprised and sank the old British aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her two escorts, the destroyers HMS Acasta and Ardent.

Gneisenau was torpedoed in the North Atlantic in June by HMS Clyde and forced to return to the port of Trondheim, Norway, for repairs.

Atlantic Breakout

After repairs, she re-joined Scharnhorst in their most successful commerce raiding campaign - from January to March, 1941 (Operation Berlin) - with Gneisenau sinking 14 ships and Scharnhorst sinking eight, mostly from unescorted convoys. They avoided the British battleships operating as convoy escorts.

The two ships returned from the open Atlantic to the port of Brest, France, and then started preparations for their next operation. Gneisenau went into the dry dock for minor repairs. In early April, 1941, an unexploded bomb, dropped by RAF Bomber Command bombers during near constant air-raids on the ships, forced Gneisenau out of drydock, and she was anchored in the inner harbor. 22 Squadron of the RAF, a Coastal Command unit based at St. Eval was sent to attack Gneisenau. As a result, Gneisenau was torpedoed on 6 April 1941, reportedly by Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell. The damage was heavy and Gneiseau was put back into drydock - only to be further damaged by four aerial bombs on the night of 9 April-10 April. She underwent repairs at Brest through December, 1941.

The Channel Dash

In 1942, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, accompanied by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, and a covering screen of destroyers and torpedo boats, executed a daring daylight run to Germany, Operation Cerberus. All three of the major ships escaped damage in the furious air and sea battles that ensued in the English Channel. Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen severely damaged the destroyer HMS Worcester. Several salvos from Gneisenau destroyed the starboard side of the bridge. and the no. 1 and 2 boiler rooms. Prinz Eugen hit the destroyer a further four times, setting it on fire. Gneisenau later struck a naval mine off Terschelling, Netherlands, and she required repairs at Kiel.

Air attacks and Nemesis

In the air attacks on 26 February-27 February 1942, on the floating dock where she was being repaired for her mine damage, she became the target of massive RAF attacks by 178 bombers, and she was struck in her bow. Contrary to the normal practice, and since repairs were anticipated to be completed within two weeks, her ammunition had not been unloaded. The resulting fires set off an explosion that destroyed her entire bow section. After emergency bow repairs, Gneisenau steamed under her own power to Gotenhafen, where she was decommissioned while reconstruction work could be engaged in.

The wreck of the Gneisenau.

Reconstruction, Deconstruction and Blockship

The wreck of the Gneisenau
The wreck of the Gneisenau

Although some naval yard work was done from 1942 through 1944 to reconstruct her, Gneisenau was completely withdrawn from service in July 1943 to allow for the replacement of her 28 cm (11") battery with twin 38 cm (15") turrets. Additionally, it was planned to lengthen her bow section by 10 metres, and also replace all her 15 cm and 10.5 cm naval guns with 22 (in 11 dual closed turrets) 128 mm dual-purpose guns. After the sinking of Scharnhorst in December 1943, this work was abandoned.

Gneisenau ended the war as a blockship, sunk in the Gotenhafen harbor on 23 March 1945. She was raised by the Polish, broken up, and scrapped after the war.

After the War: Surviving Relics

One of the 38 cm guns intended for her rearmament exists today at the museum of Hanstholm in Denmark. This gun was planned as part of the German coastal battery "Tirpitz" at Oksby, Denmark, not far from the Bl?nd lighthouse on the southwest coast of Jylland. The original 38 cm guns at Hanstholm (numbers 70,71,74 and 75) were destroyed during the 1950s. Her 28 cm guns from the turret called Anton were removed and sent to the Netherlands for use there; the turrets called Bruno and C?r and their guns were sent to Norway for coastal defence artillery there.

Gneisenau's turret in Norway.

Gneisenau's turret in Norway
Gneisenau's turret in Norway

Her aft main turret, was converted to a coastal battery named Austrfort in land near Trondheim, Norway, and it still exists today as a museum. The second turret called Bruno was stationed as a coastal battery at Fjell fortress near Bergen. Only the concrete base still stands, although highly modified. In Denmark, at the former "Stevnsfort" near R, two twin 15 cm turrets from her secondary armament still exist. In the Netherlands, parts of the guns of turret Anton are on display at the former "Stichting Fort", Hoek Van Holland.

Commanding Officers

  • KzS Erich Forste - 21 May 1938 - 25 November 1939
  • KzS Harald Netzbandt - 25 November 1939 - 20 August 1940
  • KzS / KAdm Otto Fein - 20 August 1940 - 11 April 1942 (Promoted to KAdm on 1 April 1942.)
  • KzS Rudolf Peters - 11 April 1942 - 1 July 1942

Images of the Gneisenau

image 1 of nazi pocket battleship Gneisenau
image 1 of nazi pocket battleship Gneisenau
image 2 of nazi pocket battleship Gneisenau
image 2 of nazi pocket battleship Gneisenau
image 3 of nazi pocket battleship Gneisenau
image 3 of nazi pocket battleship Gneisenau
image 4 of nazi pocket battleship Gneisenau
image 4 of nazi pocket battleship Gneisenau

External links for Gneisenau

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