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Scharnhorst Nazi Pocket Battleship
Scharnhorst was a famous Nazi World War II pocket battleship, the lead of her class, referred to as either a light battleship or a battlecruiser of the German Kriegsmarine. This 31,500 tonne ship was named after the Prussian general and army reformer Gerhard von Scharnhorst and to commemorate the World War I armoured cruiser SMS Scharnhorst that was sunk in the Battle at the Falkland Islands in December 1914. Scharnhorst often sailed into battle accompanied by her sister-ship, Gneisenau. She was sunk after being engaged by Allied forces at the Battle of North Cape in December 1943.
The sisters - Scharnhorst and Gneisenau
The ship was built at Wilhelmshaven, Germany, launched on 3 October 1936, and commissioned on 7 January 1939. The first commander was Otto Ciliax (until 23 September 1939). After initial service, she was modified in mid-1939, with a new mainmast located further aft and her straight bow replaced by an "Atlantic bow" to improve her seaworthiness. However, her relatively low freeboard ensured that she was always "wet" when at heavy seas. The gunnery report after the engagement with HMS Renown reports serious flooding in the "A" turret that severely reduced its effectiveness. Her armour was equal to that of a battleship and if it had not been for her relatively small-calibre guns she would have been classified as a battleship by the British. The German navy always classified Scharnhorst and Gneisenau as Schlachtschiffe (battleships). These two ships, considered handsome and fast (with a top speed of 31.5 knots), were invariably mentioned at the same time, often fondly being referred to as "the ugly sisters" because they prowled together and wrought havoc on British shipping.
Scharnhorst's nine 28 cm (11 inch; in fact 283 mm - 11.1 inch), main guns, though possessing long range and quite good armour-penetration power because of their high muzzle velocity, were no match for the larger calibre guns of most of the battleships of her day, particularly with the flooding and technical problems that were experienced. The choice of armament was a result of their hasty commissioning.
If a later proposal to upgrade the main armament to six 38 cm (15-inch) guns in three twin turrets had been implemented, Scharnhorst might have been a very formidable opponent, faster than any British capital ship and nearly as well armoured. But due to priorities and constraints imposed by World War II and later the war situation, she retained her 28 cm (11 inch) guns throughout her career. Both Scharnhorst and her sister were designed for an extended range to allow for commerce raiding.
Scharnhorst's first wartime operation was a sortie into the Iceland-Faroes passage, which lasted six days from 21-27 November 1939, with Gneisenau in which she sank the British Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Rawalpindi, although her victim fought a tough defensive battle. The Rawalpindi's Captain, Edward Coverley Kennedy (father of naval Historian Ludovic Kennedy), had been notified at around 15:30 hrs that a large warship had been sighted. Kennedy identified it as the Deutschland. Sighting another large ship, Kennedy thought it was a British Heavy Cruiser, and hoped it would be Rawalpindi's saving grace. He therefore ignored the warning shots fired by Scharnhorst. Unfortunately the ship sighted was Gneisenau, and Kennedy found himself surrounded. The ensuing battle lasted just 15 minutes. Scharnhorst eventually sank the ship, killing 238 of the crew, including Kennedy. The German squadron stopped to rescue 38 survivors from the freezing seas. The German commanders on both Gneisenau and Scharnhorst commented on the bravery of the Captain and his crew.
In the spring of 1940, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau covered the invasion of Norway. They engaged the British battlecruiser HMS Renown on 9 April 1940, with inconclusive results.
As a sideline to Operation Juno, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sank the British aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her escorting destroyers Acasta and Ardent on 8 June at around 64 degrees N off Norway. Scharnhorst's salvos hit Glorious at 16:32, before her torpedo-bombers could be launched. Scharnhorst's second salvo, at 16:38, struck Glorious at the extreme range of 24,000m (26,300yd), one of the longest range hits ever recorded. A Gneisenau salvo subsequently hit the bridge. The destroyers had started to lay smoke to protect Glorious and themselves. Ardent and Acasta made continual attempts to launch torpedoes at the German ships. At about 17:39, Scharnhorst was hit by one of four torpedoes launched by Acasta. Fifty sailors were killed, 2500 tons of water flooded into her and her aft turret was put out of action. Ardent was sunk at around 17:20 having made seven attacks with torpedoes.
Admiral Wilhelm Marschall, aboard his flagship Gneisenau ordered Scharnhorst to cease fire and wasting ammunition on Glorious. At this point Gneisenau was 4,000 metres closer to Glorious than Scharnhorst. Glorious sank shortly after 18:30. Scharnhorst in company with Gneisenau made for Trondheim for repairs, due to their exposed position they were not able to stop to rescue survivors of any of the ships. On the 13 June Fleet Air Arm Blackburn Skua bombers from Ark Royal attacked Scharnhorst in harbour; only a single bomb struck her.
It was not until 23 June that she was able to reach Kiel and a dry dock. She remained there under repair for most of the rest of 1940. In late December 1940, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau attempted to pass through the British blockade into the north Atlantic shipping lanes, but turned back when Gneisenau was damaged by heavy seas.
As a result of the action, between 1, 474 and 1, 530 British sailors were killed.
Atlantic Breakout of the Scharnhorst
From 22 January until 22 March 1941, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau successfully "broke out" into the Atlantic shipping lanes, the only time the ship was to do so. Under the command of Admiral G? L?, on 3 February they broke through the Denmark Strait and the next day reached southern Greenland. Convoy HX-106 was attacked on 8 February, but the attack was broken off when the Royal Navy battleship HMS Ramillies was sighted. Twelve days later, on 22 February, four Allied merchant ships were sighted and sunk east of Newfoundland. By operating in a region of the Atlantic where British air cover was weak to non-existent, the German ships managed to elude the Royal Navy and between the 7th and 9th of March they attacked convoy SL-67, only breaking off the attack when the battleship HMS Malaya was sighted. An unescorted convoy of empty and returning tankers was attacked south-east of Newfoundland on 15 March, and the next day another mixed convoy was detected and attacked with the sinking of 13 ships, four by the Scharnhorst. This was the last engagement before the battlecruisers entered the French port of Brest on 22 March. The Scharnhorst sank eight ships with total tonnage of 49,300 out of the squadron's total of 22 ships with a combined tonnage of 115,600. The Operation lasted exactly two months, and the journey of 17,800 nautical miles (33,000 km) in 59 days was a record for German capital ships.
The next few months would see RAF Bomber Command attack the ship while berthed. The most successful raid was carried out on 24 July 1941 in which Scharnhorst was struck by armour-piercing bombs that caused some flooding, along with an 8? list to starboard. The damage took four months to repair.
Scharnhorst: The Channel Dash
Whilst in Brest, the German ships were the target of repeated, but poorly organised and somewhat hasty air attacks. In July 1941 the Scharnhorst sailed to the port of La Rochelle to the south of Brest. Having been alerted to the sailing via aerial reconnaissance and the French Resistance, the Allies were concerned that the Scharnhorst was about to commence raiding. They therefore mounted a raid of 15 Handley Page Halifax bombers from RAF Stanton Harcourt. The resulting bomb damage was serious enough to cause a large amount of flooding. This forced the Scharnhorst to return once more to Brest for repairs. The resulting damage from this and other raids, together with the troubles with the defective boiler superheater tubes, kept Scharnhorst non-operational into late 1941, when it was decided to send the two battlecruisers and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen back to Germany. Since it was too risky to attempt this via the North Atlantic, on 11 February - 13 February 1942, the three ships, escorted by dozens of minesweepers and other small craft, made a daring dash - the "Channel Dash" - through the English Channel, called Operation Cerberus, to reach Germany. Caught off guard and under heavy German radar jamming, the British were unable to stop the ships with air and surface attacks, though both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau suffered mine damage; Scharnhorst hitting two mines off Flushing and Ameland and Gneisenau one mine off Terschelling.
Repair work and grounding kept Scharnhorst out of action until March 1943, when she went to northern Norway to join the battleship Tirpitz and other German ships threatening the Arctic convoys' route to the Soviet Union. Training exercises over the next several months climaxed in a bombardment of Spitsbergen on 8 September 1943, together with the Tirpitz.
On Christmas Day 1943, Scharnhorst and several destroyers, under the command of Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) Erich Bey, put to sea with the purpose of attacking the Russia-bound Arctic convoys JW 55B and RA 55A north of Norway. Unfortunately for the Germans, their orders had been decoded by the British codebreakers and the Admiralty were able to direct their forces to intercept. The next day, in heavy weather and unable to locate the convoy, Bey detached the destroyers and sent them south, leaving Scharnhorst alone. Less than two hours later, the ship encountered the convoy's escort force of the cruisers HMS Belfast, Norfolk, and Sheffield. Belfast had picked up Scharnhorst at 08:40 and 35,000 yards (32,000 m) using her Type 273 radar and by 09:41, Sheffield had made visual contact. Under cover of snow, the British cruisers opened fire. Belfast attempted to illuminate Scharnhorst with starshell, but was unsuccessful. Norfolk, however, opened fire using her radar to spot the fall of shot and scored two hits. One of these demolished Scharnhorst's main radar aerial, disabling the set and leaving her unable to return accurate fire in low visibility. Norfolk suffered minor damage.
In order to try to get around the cruisers to the convoy, Bey ordered Scharnhorst to take a southeast course away from the cruisers. In the late afternoon, the convoy's covering force, including the British battleship HMS Duke of York, made contact and opened fire. Despite suffering the loss of its hangar and a turret, Scharnhorst temporarily increased its distance from its pursuers. The Duke of York caught up again and fired again - the second salvo wrecked the "A" turret, detonating the charges in "A" magazine which led to the same in "B" magazine. Partial flooding of the magazines quenched the explosions. No Royal Navy ship received any serious damage, though the flagship was frequently straddled, and one of her masts was smashed by an 11-inch (280 mm) shell. At 18:00 Scharnhorst's main battery went silent; at 18:20 another round from Duke of York destroyed a boiler room, reducing Scharnhorst's speed to about 22 knots (41 km/h) and leaving her open to attacks from the destroyers. Duke of York fired her 77th salvo at 19:28.
Battered and crippled as she was, her secondary armament was still firing wildly as the cruiser HMS Jamaica and the destroyers Musketeer, Matchless, Opportune, and Virago closed and launched torpedoes at 19:32. The last three torpedoes, fired by Jamaica at 19:37 from under two miles (3 km) range, were the final crippling blow.
A total of 55 torpedoes and 2,195 shells had been fired at Scharnhorst.
Oberbootsmannsmaat (Petty Officer) Wilhelm G? described the scene:
Matrosenobergefreiter (Sailor) Helmut Backhaus describes the moment of sinking:
Scharnhorst sank at 19:45 hours on 26 December 1943 with her propellers still turning. Of a total complement of 1,968 men, only 36 survivors - none an officer - were rescued from the frigid seas; 30 by HMS Scorpion and 6 by Matchless.
HNoMS Stord (Royal Norwegian Navy) and HMS Scorpion fired their torpedoes from an easterly direction. Stord fired her eight torpedoes as she was about 1,500 yards (1,400 m) from Scharnhorst, while also firing with her guns and scoring hits.
After the battle, Admiral Fraser sent the following message to the Admiralty: "... Please convey to the C-in-C Norwegian Navy. Stord played a very daring role in the fight and I am very proud of her...". In an interview in The Evening News on 5 February 1944 the commanding officer of HMS Duke of York said: "... the Norwegian destroyer Stord carried out the most daring attack of the whole action...".
Later that evening, Admiral Bruce Fraser briefed his officers on board Duke of York: "Gentlemen, the battle against Scharnhorst has ended in victory for us. I hope that if any of you are ever called upon to lead a ship into action against an opponent many times superior, you will command your ship as gallantly as Scharnhorst was commanded today".
Discovery of the Scharnhorst Wreck
On 3 October 2000, the submerged wreck of Scharnhorst was located at about 72?16'N 28?41'E? / ?72.267?N 28.683?E? / 72.267; 28.683, approximately 70 nautical miles (130 km) north-northeast of North Cape at a depth of nearly 300 m and photographed by the Royal Norwegian Navy.
Commanding Officers of the Scharnhorst
External links for the Scharnhorst
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