German battleship Scharnhorst
Scharnhorst was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship
A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships were larger, better armed and armored than cruisers and destroyers. As the largest armed ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a...

 and battlecruiser
Battlecruisers were large capital ships built in the first half of the 20th century. They were developed in the first decade of the century as the successor to the armoured cruiser, but their evolution was more closely linked to that of the dreadnought battleship...

, of the German Kriegsmarine
The Kriegsmarine was the name of the German Navy during the Nazi regime . It superseded the Kaiserliche Marine of World War I and the post-war Reichsmarine. The Kriegsmarine was one of three official branches of the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany.The Kriegsmarine grew rapidly...

. She was the lead ship
Lead ship
The lead ship or class leader is the first of a series or class of ships all constructed according to the same general design. The term is applicable military ships and larger civilian craft.-Overview:...

 of her class
Scharnhorst class battleship
The Scharnhorst class were the first capital ships, alternatively referred to as battlecruisers or battleships, built for the German Navy after World War I. The class comprised two vessels: the lead ship Scharnhorst and Gneisenau...

, which included one other ship, Gneisenau
German battleship Gneisenau
Gneisenau was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship and battlecruiser, of the German Kriegsmarine. She was the second vessel of her class, which included one other ship, Scharnhorst. The ship was built at the Deutsche Werke dockyard in Kiel; she was laid down on 6 May 1935...

. The ship was built at the Kriegsmarinewerft
Kriegsmarinewerft Wilhelmshaven
Kriegsmarinewerft Wilhelmshaven was the naval shipyard in Wilhelmshaven, Prussian Hanover, between 1918 and 1945 in the German Navy's extensive base located there.-History:...

 dockyard in Wilhelmshaven
Wilhelmshaven is a coastal town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated on the western side of the Jade Bight, a bay of the North Sea.-History:...

; she was laid down on 15 June 1935 and launched a year and four months later on 3 October 1936. Completed in January 1939, the ship was armed with a main battery of nine 28 cm C/34 guns in three triple turrets, though there were plans to replace these weapons with six 38 cm (15 in) SK C/34 guns in twin turrets.

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau operated together for much of the early portion of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, including sorties into the Atlantic to raid British merchant shipping. During her first operation, Scharnhorst sank the auxiliary cruiser in a short engagement. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau participated in Operation Weserübung
Operation Weserübung
Operation Weserübung was the code name for Germany's assault on Denmark and Norway during the Second World War and the opening operation of the Norwegian Campaign...

, the German invasion of Norway. During operations off Norway, the two ships engaged the battlecruiser and sank the aircraft carrier —in the engagement with Glorious, Scharnhorst achieved one of the longest-range naval gunfire hits in history.

In early 1942, after repeated British bombing raids, the two ships made a daylight dash up the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

 from occupied France to Germany. In early 1943, Scharnhorst joined the Tirpitz
German battleship Tirpitz
Tirpitz was the second of two s built for the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. Named after Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of the Imperial Navy, the ship was laid down at the Kriegsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven in November 1936 and launched two and a half years later in April...

 in Norway to interdict Allied convoys to the Soviet Union. Scharnhorst and several destroyer
In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

s sortied from Norway to attack a convoy; the Germans were instead intercepted by British naval patrols. During the Battle of the North Cape, the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 battleship and her escorts sank Scharnhorst. Only 36 men were pulled from the icy seas, out of a crew of 1,968.

Construction and characteristics

Scharnhorst was ordered as Ersatz Elsass as a replacement for the old pre-dreadnought
Pre-dreadnought battleship is the general term for all of the types of sea-going battleships built between the mid-1890s and 1905. Pre-dreadnoughts replaced the ironclad warships of the 1870s and 1880s...

 , under the contract name "D." The Kriegsmarinewerft
Kriegsmarinewerft Wilhelmshaven
Kriegsmarinewerft Wilhelmshaven was the naval shipyard in Wilhelmshaven, Prussian Hanover, between 1918 and 1945 in the German Navy's extensive base located there.-History:...

 in Wilhelmshaven
Wilhelmshaven is a coastal town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated on the western side of the Jade Bight, a bay of the North Sea.-History:...

 was awarded the contract, where the keel was laid on 16 July 1935. The ship was launched on 3 October 1936, witnessed by Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

, Minister of War Generalfeldmarschall
Field Marshal or Generalfeldmarschall in German, was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used...

 Werner von Blomberg
Werner von Blomberg
Werner Eduard Fritz von Blomberg was a German Generalfeldmarschall, Minister of War and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces until January 1938.-Early life:...

, and the widow of Kapitän zur See Schultz, the commander of the armored cruiser
Armored cruiser
The armored cruiser was a type of warship of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like other types of cruiser, the armored cruiser was a long-range, independent warship, capable of defeating any ship apart from a battleship, and fast enough to outrun any battleships it encountered.The first...

 , which had been sunk at the Battle of the Falkland Islands
Battle of the Falkland Islands
The Battle of the Falkland Islands was a British naval victory over the Imperial German Navy on 8 December 1914 during the First World War in the South Atlantic...

 during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. Fitting-out
Fitting-out, or "outfitting”, is the process in modern shipbuilding that follows the float-out of a vessel and precedes sea trials. It is the period when all the remaining construction of the ship is completed and readied for delivery to her owners...

 out work followed her launch, and was completed by January 1939. Scharnhorst was commissioned into the fleet on 9 January for sea trials, which revealed a dangerous tendency to ship considerable amounts of water in heavy seas. This caused flooding in the bow and damaged electrical systems in the forward gun turret. As a result, she went back to the dockyard for extensive modification of the bow. The original straight stem was replaced with a raised "Atlantic bow." A raked funnel cap was also installed during the reconstruction, along with an enlarged aircraft hangar; the main mast was also moved further aft. The modifications were completed by November 1939, by which time the ship was finally fully operational.

Scharnhorst displaced 32100 LT (32,615.2 MT) as built and 38100 LT (38,711.5 MT) fully loaded, with a length of 234.9 m (770.7 ft), a beam of 30 m (98.4 ft) and a maximum draft of 9.9 m (32.5 ft). She was powered by three Brown, Boveri & Cie
Brown, Boveri & Cie
Brown, Boveri & Cie was a Swiss group of electrical engineering companies.It was founded in Baden, Switzerland, in 1891 by Charles Eugene Lancelot Brown and Walter Boveri who worked at the Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon. In 1970 BBC took over the Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon...

 geared steam turbines, which developed a total of 165930 shp and yielded a maximum speed of 31.5 kn (61.7 km/h) on speed trials. Her standard crew numbered 56 officers and 1,613 enlisted men, though during the war this was augmented up to 60 officers and 1,780 men. While serving as a squadron flagship, Scharnhorst carried an additional ten officers and 61 enlisted men.

She was armed with nine 28 cm (11.1 in) L/54.5 guns arranged in three triple gun turret
Gun turret
A gun turret is a weapon mount that protects the crew or mechanism of a projectile-firing weapon and at the same time lets the weapon be aimed and fired in many directions.The turret is also a rotating weapon platform...

s: two superfiring
The idea of superfire is to locate two turrets in a row, one behind the other, but with the second turret located above the one in front so that the second turret could fire over the first...

 turrets forward—Anton and Bruno—and one aft—Caesar. Her secondary armament consisted of twelve 15 cm (5.9 in) L/55
15 cm SK C/28
The 15 cm SK C/28 was a German medium-caliber naval gun used during the Second World War. It served as the secondary armament for the Bismarck class and Scharnhorst-class battleships, Deutschland-class pocket battleships and the Graf Zeppelin class aircraft carrier...

 guns, fourteen 10.5 cm (4.1 in) L/65
10.5 cm FlaK 38
The 10.5 cm SK C/33 was a German anti-aircraft gun used during World War II by the Kriegsmarine on a number of their larger capital ships. It was later adapted for Luftwaffe as a competitor to the famed 8.8 cm FlaK 18 as the 10.5 cm FlaK 38...

 and sixteen 3.7 cm (1.5 in) L/83, and initially ten 2 cm (0.78740157480315 in) anti-aircraft guns. The number of 2 cm guns was eventually increased to thirty-eight. Six 53.3 cm (21 in) above-water torpedo tubes, taken from the light cruiser
Light cruiser
A light cruiser is a type of small- or medium-sized warship. The term is a shortening of the phrase "light armored cruiser", describing a small ship that carried armor in the same way as an armored cruiser: a protective belt and deck...

s Nürnberg
German cruiser Nürnberg
The Nürnberg, was a German light cruiser of the Leipzig class named after the city of Nuremberg. Some sources consider the Leipzig and Nürnberg to be of separate, single ship, classes...

 and Leipzig
German cruiser Leipzig
The German light cruiser Leipzig was the lead ship of her class . She was the fourth German warship to carry the name of the city of Leipzig.-History:...

, were installed in 1942.

Commanding officers

At her commissioning, Scharnhorst was commanded by Kapitän zur See (KzS) Otto Ciliax
Otto Ciliax
Otto Ciliax was an admiral in the German Navy. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross...

, though his tenure as the ship's commander was brief. In September 1939, an illness forced him to go on sick leave, and he was replaced by KzS Kurt-Caesar Hoffmann
Kurt-Caesar Hoffmann
Vizeadmiral Kurt-Caesar Hoffmann was a Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross recipient during World War II and commander of the battleship Scharnhorst...

. Hoffmann served as the ship's captain for the majority of her active career, up until 1942. On 1 April 1942, Hoffmann, who had been promoted to Konteradmiral
Counter Admiral
Counter admiral is a rank found in many navies of the world, but no longer used in English-speaking countries, where the equivalent rank is rear admiral...

 (Rear Admiral) and awarded the Knight's Cross
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...

, transferred command of the ship to KzS Friedrich Hüffmeier. In October 1943, shortly before Scharnhorsts last mission, Hüffmeier was replaced by KzS Fritz Hintze, who was killed during the ship's final battle.

Service history

Scharnhorsts first operation began on 21 November 1939; the ship, in company with her sister Gneisenau
German battleship Gneisenau
Gneisenau was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship and battlecruiser, of the German Kriegsmarine. She was the second vessel of her class, which included one other ship, Scharnhorst. The ship was built at the Deutsche Werke dockyard in Kiel; she was laid down on 6 May 1935...

, the light cruiser Köln
German cruiser Köln
Köln was a German light cruiser prior to and during World War II, one of three K-Class cruisers named after cities starting with the letter K. This ship was named after the city of Köln . The others in her class were the Königsberg and the Karlsruhe...

, and nine destroyers, was to patrol the area between Iceland and the Faroe Islands
Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are an island group situated between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, approximately halfway between Scotland and Iceland. The Faroe Islands are a self-governing territory within the Kingdom of Denmark, along with Denmark proper and Greenland...

. The intent of the operation was to draw out British units and ease the pressure on the heavy cruiser Admiral Graf Spee
German cruiser Admiral Graf Spee
Admiral Graf Spee was a Deutschland-class heavy cruiser which served with the Kriegsmarine of Nazi Germany during World War II. The vessel was named after Admiral Maximilian von Spee, commander of the East Asia Squadron that fought the battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands in World War I...

, which was being pursued in the South Atlantic. Two days later, the German flotilla intercepted the auxiliary cruiser . At 16:07, lookouts aboard Scharnhorst spotted the British vessel, and less than an hour later Scharnhorst had closed the range. At 17:03, Scharnhorst opened fire, and three minutes later a salvo of her 28 cm guns hit Rawalpindis bridge, killing the captain and the majority of the staff. During the brief engagement, Rawalpindi managed to score at hit on Scharnhorst, which caused minor splinter damage.

By 17:16, Rawalpindi was burning badly and in the process of sinking. Admiral Wilhelm Marschall
Wilhelm Marschall
Wilhelm Marschall was a German admiral during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Pour le Mérite which he received as commander of the German U-boat during World War I...

, aboard Gneisenau, ordered Scharnhorst to pick up survivors, though rescue operations were interrupted by the appearance of the cruiser . The German force quickly fled north before using inclement weather to make the dash south through the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

. Four allied capital ships, the British , , , and the French Dunkerque
French battleship Dunkerque
The Dunkerque was the first unit of a new class of warships of the French Navy built in the 1930s, officially rated as battleships, or even «navires de ligne» , as Dunkerque and Strasbourg constituted, from the commissionig of Strasbourg to some days after Mers-el Kebir, the «1ère Division de Ligne»...

 followed in pursuit. The Germans reached Wilhelmshaven on 27 November, and on the trip both battleships incurred significant damage from heavy seas and winds. Scharnhorst was repaired in Wilhelmshaven, and while in dock, her boilers were overhauled.

Operation Weserübung

Following the completion of repairs, Scharnhorst went into the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

 gunnery training. Heavy ice in the Baltic kept the ship there until February 1940 when she could return to Wilhelmshaven, arriving on 5 February. She was then assigned to the forces participating in Operation Weserübung
Operation Weserübung
Operation Weserübung was the code name for Germany's assault on Denmark and Norway during the Second World War and the opening operation of the Norwegian Campaign...

, the invasion of Denmark and Norway. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were the covering force for the assaults on Narvik
is the third largest city and municipality in Nordland county, Norway by population. Narvik is located on the shores of the Narvik Fjord . The municipality is part of the Ofoten traditional region of North Norway, inside the arctic circle...

 and Trondheim
Trondheim , historically, Nidaros and Trondhjem, is a city and municipality in Sør-Trøndelag county, Norway. With a population of 173,486, it is the third most populous municipality and city in the country, although the fourth largest metropolitan area. It is the administrative centre of...

; the two ships left Wilhelmshaven on the morning of 7 April. They were joined by the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper
German cruiser Admiral Hipper
Admiral Hipper, the first of five ships of her class, was the lead ship of the Admiral Hipper–class of heavy cruisers which served with the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. The ship was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg in July 1935 and launched February 1937; Admiral Hipper...

. Later that day, at around 14:30, the three ships came under attack by a force of British bombers, though the bombers failed to make any hits. Heavy winds caused significant structural damage that evening, and flooding contaminated a portion of Scharnhorsts fuel stores.

At 09:15 the following morning, Admiral Hipper was detached to reinforce the destroyers at Narvik, which had reported engaging British forces. Early on 9 April, the two ships encountered the British battlecruiser HMS Renown
Action off Lofoten
The Action off Lofoten was a naval battle fought between the German Kriegsmarine and the British Royal Navy off the southern coast of the Lofoten Islands, Norway during World War II...

. Gneisenaus Seetakt radar
Seetakt radar
The shipborne Seetakt radar was developed in the 1930s and was used by the German Navy during World War II.In Germany during the late 1920s, Hans Hollmann began working in the field of microwaves, which were to later become the basis of almost all radar systems. In 1935 he published Physics and...

 picked up a radar contact at 04:30, which prompted the crews of both vessels to go to combat stations. Half an hour later, Scharnhorsts navigator spotted gun flashes, though was instead firing at Gneisenau; the Germans returned fire three minutes later. Gneisenau was hit twice in the opening portion of the engagement, and one shell disabled her rear gun turret. Scharnhorsts radar malfunctioned, which prevented her from being able to effectively engage Renown during the battle. At 05:18, the British battlecruiser shifted fire to Scharnhorst, though the latter maneuvered to avoid the falling shells. By 07:15, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had managed to use their superior speed to escape from the pursuing Renown. Heavy seas and the high speed with which the pair of battleships escaped caused them to ship large amounts of water forward. Scharnhorsts forward turret was put out of action by severe flooding. Mechanical problems with her starboard turbines developed after running at full speed, which forced the ships to reduce speed to 25 kn (13.6 m/s).

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had reached a point north-west of Lofoten
Lofoten is an archipelago and a traditional district in the county of Nordland, Norway. Though lying within the Arctic Circle, the archipelago experiences one of the world's largest elevated temperature anomalies relative to its high latitude.-Etymology:...

, Norway, by 12:00 on the 9th. The two ships then turned west for 24 hours while temporary repairs were effected. After a day of steaming west, the ships turned south and rendezvoused with Admiral Hipper on 12 April. An RAF patrol aircraft spotted the three ships that day, which prompted an air attack. The German warships were protected by poor visibility, however, and the three ships safely reached port later that day. Repairs to Scharnhorst were carried out at the Deutsche Werke
Deutsche Werke
Deutsche Werke was a German shipbuilding company founded in 1925 when Kaiserliche Werft Kiel and other shipyards were merged. It came as a result of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I that forced the German defence industry to shrink...

 in Kiel
Kiel is the capital and most populous city in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, with a population of 238,049 .Kiel is approximately north of Hamburg. Due to its geographic location in the north of Germany, the southeast of the Jutland peninsula, and the southwestern shore of the...

. During the repair process, the aircraft catapult that had been installed on the rear gun turret was removed.

The two ships left Wilhelmshaven on 4 June to return to Norway. They were joined by Admiral Hipper and four destroyers. The purpose of the sortie was to interrupt Allied resupply efforts to the Norwegians and to relieve the pressure on German troops fighting in Norway. On 7 June, the squadron rendezvoused with the tanker Dithmarschen to refuel Admiral Hipper and the four destroyers. The next day, a British corvette
A corvette is a small, maneuverable, lightly armed warship, originally smaller than a frigate and larger than a coastal patrol craft or fast attack craft , although many recent designs resemble frigates in size and role...

 was discovered and sunk, along with the oil tanker Oil Pioneer. The Germans then launched their Arado 196 float planes to search for more Allied vessels. Admiral Hipper and the destroyers were sent to destroy Orama, a 19500 LT (19,813 MT) passenger ship, while Atlantis, a hospital ship
Hospital ship
A hospital ship is a ship designated for primary function as a floating medical treatment facility or hospital; most are operated by the military forces of various countries, as they are intended to be used in or near war zones....

, was allowed to proceed unmolested. Admiral Marschall detached Admiral Hipper and the four destroyers to refuel in Trondheim, while he would steam to the Harstad
is the second largest city and municipality by population, in Troms county, Norway – the city is also the third largest in North Norway. Thus Harstad is the natural centre for its district. Situated approximately north of the Arctic Circle, the city celebrated its 100th anniversary in...


At 17:45, the German battleships spotted the British aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

  and two escorting destroyers, and , at a range of some 50000 m (54,680.7 yd). Scharnhorst was closer and therefore fired first. Six minutes after opening fire, Scharnhorst scored a hit at a range of 24100 m (26,356.1 yd). The shell struck the carrier's upper hangar and started a large fire. Less than ten minutes later, a shell from Gneisenau struck the bridge and killed Gloriouss captain. The two destroyers attempted to cover Glorious with smoke screens, but the German battleships could track the carrier with their radar. By 18:26 the range had fallen to 25600 m (27,996.5 yd), and Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were firing full salvos at the carrier. After approximately an hour of shooting, the German battleships sent Glorious to the bottom. They also sank the two destroyers, though before she sank, Acasta managed to hit Scharnhorst with a torpedo at 18:39. Acasta also hit Scharnhorsts forward superfiring turret with her 4.7-inch QF guns, though it did negligible damage. The torpedo hit caused serious damage, however; it tore a hole 14 by and allowed 2500 MT (2,460.5 LT) of water into the ship. The rear turret was disabled and 48 men were killed. The flooding caused a 5 degree list, increased the stern draft by almost a meter, and forced Scharnhorst to reduce speed to 20 kn (10.9 m/s). The ship's machinery was also significantly damaged by the flooding, and the starboard propeller shaft was destroyed.

The damage was severe enough to force Scharnhorst to put in to Trondheim for temporary repairs. She reached port on the afternoon of 9 June, where the repair ship Huaskaran was waiting. The following day a reconnaissance plane from RAF Coastal Command
RAF Coastal Command
RAF Coastal Command was a formation within the Royal Air Force . Founded in 1936, it was the RAF's premier maritime arm, after the Royal Navy's secondment of the Fleet Air Arm in 1937. Naval aviation was neglected in the inter-war period, 1919–1939, and as a consequence the service did not receive...

 spotted the ship, and a raid by twelve Hudson bombers
Lockheed Hudson
The Lockheed Hudson was an American-built light bomber and coastal reconnaissance aircraft built initially for the Royal Air Force shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War and primarily operated by the RAF thereafter...

 took place on the 11th. The Hudsons dropped thirty-six 227 lb (103 kg) armor-piercing bombs, though all missed the ship. The Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 joined in the attacks on the ship by sending the battleship Rodney and the aircraft carrier . On 13 June, Ark Royal launched fifteen Skua dive bombers
Blackburn Skua
The Blackburn B-24 Skua was a carrier-based low-wing, two-seater, single-radial engine aircraft operated by the British Fleet Air Arm which combined the functions of a dive bomber and fighter. It was designed in the mid-1930s, and saw service in the early part of the Second World War...

; German fighters intercepted the attackers and shot eight of them down. The other seven made it past the air defenses and attacked Scharnhorst, though only one scored a hit, though the bomb failed to detonate. The preliminary repairs were completed by 20 June, which permitted the ship to return to Germany under heavy escort. While en route on the 21st, the British launched a pair of air attacks, consisting of six Swordfish torpedo bombers
Fairey Swordfish
The Fairey Swordfish was a torpedo bomber built by the Fairey Aviation Company and used by the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy during the Second World War...

 in the first and nine Beaufort bombers
Bristol Beaufort
The Bristol Beaufort was a British twin-engined torpedo bomber designed by the Bristol Aeroplane Company, and developed from experience gained designing and building the earlier Blenheim light bomber....

 in the second, which were both driven off by anti-aircraft fire and fighters. The Germans intercepted British radio traffic that indicated the Royal Navy was at sea, which prompted Scharnhorst to make for Stavanger
Stavanger is a city and municipality in the county of Rogaland, Norway.Stavanger municipality has a population of 126,469. There are 197,852 people living in the Stavanger conurbation, making Stavanger the fourth largest city, but the third largest urban area, in Norway...

. British naval forces had come to within 35 nmi (64.8 km) of Scharnhorsts position when she turned to Stavanger. The next day, Scharnhorst left Stavanger for Kiel, where repairs were carried out, lasting some six months.

Operation Berlin

Following the completion of repairs, Scharnhorst underwent trials in the Baltic before returning to Kiel in December 1940. There she joined Gneisenau, in preparation for Operation Berlin, a planned raid into the Atlantic Ocean designed to wreak havoc on the Allied shipping lanes. Severe storms caused damage to Gneisenau, though Scharnhorst was undamaged. The two ships were forced to put into port during the storm: Scharnhorst went to Gotenhafen while Gneisenau went to Kiel for repairs. Repairs were quickly completed, and on 22 January 1941, the two ships, under the command of Admiral Günther Lütjens
Günther Lütjens
Günther Lütjens was a German Admiral whose military service spanned almost 30 years. Lütjens is best known for his actions during World War II, primarily his service as admiral of the squadron comprising and her consort, , during the Operation Rheinübung sortie.-Early career:Günther Lütjens was...

, left port for the North Atlantic. They were detected in the Skagerrak
The Skagerrak is a strait running between Norway and the southwest coast of Sweden and the Jutland peninsula of Denmark, connecting the North Sea and the Kattegat sea area, which leads to the Baltic Sea.-Name:...

 and the heavy units of the British Home Fleet deployed to cover the passage between Iceland and the Faroes. The Germans' radar detected the British at long range, which allowed Lütjens to avoid the British patrols, with the aid of a squall
A squall is a sudden, sharp increase in wind speed which is usually associated with active weather, such as rain showers, thunderstorms, or heavy snow. Squalls refer to an increase in the sustained winds over a short time interval, as there may be higher gusts during a squall event...

. By 3 February, the two battleships had evaded the last British cruiser patrol, and had broken into the open Atlantic.

On 6 February, the two ships refueled from the tanker Schlettstadt south of Cape Farewell
Cape Farewell, Greenland
Cape Farewell , is a headland on the southern shore of Egger Island, Greenland. Located at it is the southernmost extent of Greenland, projecting out into the North Atlantic Ocean and the Labrador Sea on the same latitude as Stockholm and the Scottish Shetland Islands. Egger and the associated...

. Shortly after 08:30 on 8 February, lookouts spotted convoy HX-106
Convoy HX-106
Convoy HX-106 consisted of some 41 ships, eastbound from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Liverpool, England. The use of convoys was a standard tactic throughout the Battle of the Atlantic as a defence against U-boats and German commerce raiders....

, though it was escorted by the battleship . Lütjens' orders prohibited him from engaging Allied capital ships, and so the attack was called off. Scharnhorsts commander, KzS Hoffmann, however, closed to 23000 m (25,153.1 yd) in an attempt to lure Ramillies away from the convoy so that Gneisenau could attack the convoy. Lütjens ordered Hoffmann to rejoin the flagship immediately. The two battleships steamed off to the northwest to search for more shipping. On 22 February, the pair spotted an empty convoy sailing west, though it dispersed at the appearance of the battleships. Scharnhorst managed to sink only one ship during the encounter, the 6000 LT tanker Lustrous.

Lütjens then decided to move to a new area, as the surviving members of the dispersed convoy had sent distress signals. He chose the Capetown-Gibraltar convoy route, and positioned himself to the northwest of Cape Verde
Cape Verde
The Republic of Cape Verde is an island country, spanning an archipelago of 10 islands located in the central Atlantic Ocean, 570 kilometres off the coast of Western Africa...

. The two ships encountered another convoy, escorted by the battleship , on 8 March. Lütjens again forbade an attack, though he shadowed the convoy and directed U-boat
U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot , itself an abbreviation of Unterseeboot , and refers to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II...

s to attack it. A pair of U-boats sank a total of 28488 LT of shipping on the night of 8–9 March. Malaya turned on the two battleships and closed to 24000 m (26,246.7 yd), well within the range of the Germans' guns, but Lütjens refused to be drawn into an engagement. He instead turned toward the mid-Atlantic, where Scharnhorst sank the Greek cargo ship Marathon. The two ships then refueled from the tankers Uckermark and Ermland on 12 March.

On 15 March, the two battleships, with the two tankers in company, encountered a dispersed convoy in the mid-Atlantic. Scharnhorst sank two ships. Several days later, the main body of the convoy was located, and Scharnhorst sank another seven ships totaling 27277 LT. One of the surviving ships radioed the location of the German battleships, which summoned the powerful British battleships Rodney and . Scharnhorst and Gneisenau used their high speed to escape in a squall, and the intervention by the British battleships convinced Lütjens that the chances of further success were small. He therefore decided to head for Brest
Brest, France
Brest is a city in the Finistère department in Brittany in northwestern France. Located in a sheltered position not far from the western tip of the Breton peninsula, and the western extremity of metropolitan France, Brest is an important harbour and the second French military port after Toulon...

 in occupied France, which the ships reached on 22 March. Throughout the operation, Scharnhorst had difficulties with the superheater tubes in her boilers. Work lasted until July, which caused the ship to be unavailable during Operation Rheinübung
Operation Rheinübung
Operation Rheinübung was the sortie into the Atlantic by the new German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen on 18–27 May 1941, during World War II...

, the sortie by the new battleship Bismarck
German battleship Bismarck
Bismarck was the first of two s built for the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. Named after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the primary force behind the German unification in 1871, the ship was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg in July 1936 and launched nearly three years later...

 in May 1941.

Air raid on 24 July 1941

After repairs were completed in July, Scharnhorst went to La Pallice for trials on the 21st, where she easily steamed at 30 knots (58.8 km/h). On 24 July, RAF B-17s and B-24s attacked the ship while she was anchored there. The bombers scored five hits in an almost straight line on the starboard side, parallel to the centerline. Three of the bombs were 454 kg (1,000.9 lb) armor-piercing bombs, and the other two were 227 kg (500.4 lb) high-explosive bombs. One of the 227 kg bombs hit the deck just forward of the starboard 15 cm twin turret next to the conning tower
Conning tower
A conning tower is a raised platform on a ship or submarine, often armored, from which an officer can con the vessel; i.e., give directions to the helmsman. It is usually located as high on the ship as practical, to give the conning team good visibility....

. It passed through the upper and middle decks before exploding on the main armored deck, which contained the blast. The joints with the torpedo bulkhead
Torpedo bulkhead
A torpedo bulkhead is a type of armor common on the more heavily armored warships, especially battleships and battlecruisers of the early 20th century. It is designed to keep the ship afloat even if the hull was struck underneath the belt armor by a shell or by a torpedo...

 were weakened enough to cause leaking. The second 227 kg bomb fell forward of the rear main battery turret and penetrated the first two decks. It also exploded on the armored deck, though it tore a small hole in it. The explosion caused splinter damage and disabled the ammunition hoists for the 37 mm anti-aircraft guns.

Two of the 454 kg bombs hit amidships between the 15 cm and 10.5 cm gun turrets; both failed to explode and penetrated the ship completely. The first went through each deck and exited the ship through the double bottom
Double bottom
A double bottom is a ship hull design and construction method where the bottom of the ship has two complete layers of watertight hull surface: one outer layer forming the normal hull of the ship, and a second inner hull which is somewhat higher in the ship, perhaps a few feet, which forms a...

, while the other was deflected by the torpedo bulkhead and penetrated the hull beneath the side belt armor
Belt armor
Belt armor is a layer of heavy metal armor plated on to or within outer hulls of warships, typically on battleships, battlecruisers and cruisers, and on aircraft carriers converted from those types of ships....

. The third 454 kg bomb hit abaft of the rear 28 cm turret, about 3 m (9.8 ft) from the side of the ship. It too failed to detonate, and passed through the side of the hull, which was not protected by the main armor belt. These three hits caused significant flooding and caused an 8 degree list to starboard. The forward and rear gun turrets were temporarily disabled, along with half of her anti-aircraft battery. Two men were killed and fifteen were injured in the attack. Damage control teams managed to correct the list with counter-flooding, and although draft increased by 1 m (3.3 ft), Scharnhorst left for Brest at 19:30. On the morning of 25 July, one of the escorting destroyers shot down a British patrol plane. The ship reached Brest later that day and went into dry dock for repairs. While the damage was being repaired, a new radar system was installed aft, the power output for the forward radar was increased to 100 kW, and the 53.3 cm torpedo tubes were installed.

Operation Cerberus

On 12 January 1942, the German Naval Command, in a conference with Hitler, made the decision to return Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen
German cruiser Prinz Eugen
Prinz Eugen was an Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruiser, the third member of the class of five vessels. She served with the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. The ship was laid down in April 1936 and launched August 1938; Prinz Eugen entered service after the outbreak of war, in August 1940...

 to Germany. The intention was to deploy the vessels to Norway to interdict Allied convoys to the Soviet Union. The so-called "Channel Dash", codenamed Operation Cerberus, would avoid the increasingly effective Allied radar and patrol aircraft in the Atlantic. Vice Admiral Otto Ciliax
Otto Ciliax
Otto Ciliax was an admiral in the German Navy. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross...

, Scharnhorsts first commander, was given command of the operation. In early February, minesweepers
Minesweeper (ship)
A minesweeper is a small naval warship designed to counter the threat posed by naval mines. Minesweepers generally detect then neutralize mines in advance of other naval operations.-History:...

 swept a route through the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

, though the British failed to detect the activity.

At 23:00 on 11 February, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen left Brest. They entered the Channel an hour later; the three ships sped at 27 kn (14.7 m/s), hugging the French coast along the voyage. The British failed to detect their departure, as the submarine that had been tasked with observing the port had withdrawn to recharge its batteries. By 06:30, they had passed Cherbourg, at which point they were joined by a flotilla of torpedo boats. The torpedo boats were led by Kapitän
Kapitän is the German word for Captain. It is also a shortened version of several ranks in the German navy, ranging from Korvettenkapitän to Kapitän zur See. The general meaning is equivalent to Captain....

Erich Bey
Erich Bey
Erich Bey was a German naval officer who most notably served as a commander of the Kriegsmarine's destroyer forces and commanded the battleship Scharnhorst in the Battle of North Cape on 26 December 1943, during which the German ship was sunk. He was killed during that action. Bey was also a...

, aboard the destroyer Z29
German destroyer Z29
Z29 was a built for the Kriegsmarine during World War II.-External links:*...

. General der Jagdflieger (General of Fighter Force) Adolf Galland
Adolf Galland
Adolf "Dolfo" Joseph Ferdinand Galland was a German Luftwaffe General and flying ace who served throughout World War II in Europe. He flew 705 combat missions, and fought on the Western and the Defence of the Reich fronts...

 directed Luftwaffe fighter and bomber forces (Operation Donnerkeil
Operation Donnerkeil
Unternehmen Donnerkeil was the codename for a German military operation of the Second World War. Donnerkeil was designed as an air superiority operation to support the Kriegsmarine Operation Cerberus, also known as the "Channel Dash".In 1941 Kriegsmarine surface vessels had carried out commerce...

) during Cerberus. The fighters flew at masthead-height to avoid detection by the British radar network. Liaison officers were present on all three ships. German aircraft arrived later to jam British radar with chaff. By 13:00, the ships had cleared the Strait of Dover
Strait of Dover
The Strait of Dover or Dover Strait is the strait at the narrowest part of the English Channel. The shortest distance across the strait is from the South Foreland, 6 kilometres northeast of Dover in the county of Kent, England, to Cap Gris Nez, a cape near to Calais in the French of...

, though half an hour later, a flight of six Swordfish torpedo bombers, with Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire
The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries throughout the Second World War. The Spitfire continued to be used as a front line fighter and in secondary roles into the 1950s...

 escort, attacked the Germans. The British failed to penetrate the Luftwaffe fighter shield, and all six Swordfish were destroyed.

Scharnhorst did not make the voyage unscathed, however; at 15:31 she struck an air-dropped magnetic mine in the mouth of the Scheldt, abreast of the forward superfiring turret. The blast damaged the ship's circuit breakers and knocked out her electrical system for 20 minutes. The explosive shock caused serious damage; turret Bruno was jammed, as were the twin and single 15 cm mounts on the port side. The blast also damaged the fuel oil pumps and the bearings in the turbo-generators, which brought the ship to a halt. The power outage disabled the emergency shut-off switches to the boilers and turbines, which could not be turned off until power was restored. The explosion tore a large gash in the side of the hull and allowed 1220 MT (1,200.7 LT) of water into the ship, flooding 30 watertight spaces within five main watertight compartments. Scharnhorst took on a list of one degree and was down by the bows by a meter.

While the ship was immobilized, Admiral Ciliax transferred to Z29. The engine room crews managed to restart the first turbine at 15:49, nearly twenty minutes after the mine explosion. The second and third turbines were restarted at 15:55 and 16:01, respectively, which permitted a speed of 27 knots (52.9 km/h). At around the time the last turbine was restarted, a single bomber dropped several bombs approximately 90 m (98.4 yd) off Scharnhorsts port side, though no damage was done. After she had gotten back under way, twelve Beauforts launched a 10-minute attack that was beaten off by anti-aircraft fire and the escorting Luftwaffe fighters. The British carried out a series of attacks that were all unsuccessful; Scharnhorsts anti-aircraft guns were red-hot by the end of the action, and one 20 mm gun had burst from the strain.

The ship struck another mine off Terschelling on the starboard side at 22:34. The mine briefly knocked out the power system and temporarily disabled the rudders. Two of the three turbines were jammed, and the third had to be turned off. Another 300 MT (295.3 LT) tons of water flooded ten watertight spaces in four main compartments. Only the centerline shaft was operational, which permitted a speed of only 10 kn (5.4 m/s). Partial power was eventually restored to the starboard turbine, which allowed speed to be increased to 14 kn (7.6 m/s). The shock damaged the rotating parts of all of the ship's gun turrets, and three of the 15 cm turrets were seriously jammed. By 08:00, Scharnhorst had reached the Jade Bight, though ice prevented the ship from entering Wilhelmshaven. While waiting outside the port, Admiral Ciliax returned to the ship. The ice had been cleared by noon, permitting Scharnhorsts entrance to Wilhelmshaven. Two days later, Scharnhorst went to Kiel for permanent repairs. Work was conducted in a floating dry dock and lasted until July 1942. Afterward, another round of trials were conducted in the Baltic, which revealed the necessity of replacing several of the boiler tubes.

Deployment to Norway

In early August 1942, Scharnhorst conducted exercises in cooperation with several U-boats. During the maneuvers, she collided with the U-boat U-523, which caused damage that necessitated dry-docking for repairs. Work was completed by September, and the ship conducted further training in the Baltic. Scharnhorst steamed to Gotenhafen in late October for a new rudder, the design of which was based on the lessons learned from the torpedoing of Prinz Eugen and Lützow, both of which had been torpedoed earlier in the year. Boiler and turbine troubles kept the ship in Germany for the remainder of 1942. By December, only two of the three shafts was operational, and a complete overhaul of the propulsion system was required. In early January 1943, the ship was back in service, and after trials, left Germany on 7 January in company with Prinz Eugen and five destroyers. Reports of heavy activity in British airfields near the coast prompted the force to return to port, however. Another attempt to reach Norway was canceled under similar circumstances. On 8 March, however, poor weather grounded the British bombers, and so Scharnhorst and four destroyers were able to make the journey to Norway. A severe storm off Bergen
Bergen is the second largest city in Norway with a population of as of , . Bergen is the administrative centre of Hordaland county. Greater Bergen or Bergen Metropolitan Area as defined by Statistics Norway, has a population of as of , ....

 forced the destroyers to seek shelter, though the larger Scharnhorst was able to continue on, though at the reduced speed of 17 kn (9.3 m/s). At 16:00 on 14 March, Scharnhorst dropped anchor in Bogen Bay outside Narvik. There she met Lützow and the battleship Tirpitz
German battleship Tirpitz
Tirpitz was the second of two s built for the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. Named after Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of the Imperial Navy, the ship was laid down at the Kriegsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven in November 1936 and launched two and a half years later in April...


On 22 March, Scharnhorst, Tirpitz, and Lützow steamed to Altafjord
Altafjord is a fjord in the municipality Alta in Finnmark county, Norway, and is about 38 kilometres long. In the inner southern part of the fjord, near the town of Alta, is the outlet of the 200 kilometre long river Altaelva...

 for repairs to damage incurred in heavy storms. In early April, Scharnhorst, Tirpitz, and nine destroyers conducted a training mission to Bear Island in the Arctic Ocean. On the 8th, a serious internal explosion occurred in the aft auxiliary machinery space above the armor deck. The explosion killed or injured 34 men and prompted the crew to flood the magazines for turret Caesar as a precaution against a magazine explosion. A repair ship completed work on the vessel in two weeks. Fuel shortages prevented major operations for the next six months, during which Scharnhorst was able to conduct only short training maneuvers.

Scharnhorst, Tirpitz, and nine destroyers embarked from Altafjord on an offensive on 6 September known as 'Operation Sicily'; the ships were tasked with bombarding the island of Spitzbergen. During the operation, Scharnhorst destroyed a battery of two 76 mm (3 in) guns and shelled fuel tanks, coal mines, harbor facilities, and military installations. Of particular importance was the weather station that was transmitting weather information to the Allies, which was used to schedule convoys to the Soviet Union. The destroyers landed some 1,000 troops, which pushed the Norwegian garrison into the mountains, completing the mission without major loss. On 22 September, a pair of British X-craft mini-submarines attacked and seriously damaged Tirpitz, which reduced the Arctic Task Force to Scharnhorst and her five escorting destroyers.

Battle of the North Cape

With the rapidly deteriorating military situation for the German Army on the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

, it became increasingly important to interrupt the flow of supplies from the Western Allies to the Soviet Union. By December 1943, the German Army was forced into continuous retreat. The Luftwaffe had been emasculated in four long years of war, and increasing Allied anti-submarine capabilities were steadily degrading the effectiveness of the U-boats. The only effective weapon at the disposal of the Germans in Norway was ScharnhorstTirpitz was badly damaged, and the four remaining heavy cruisers were committed to the Baltic. During a conference with Hitler on 19–20 December, Großadmiral Karl Dönitz
Karl Dönitz
Karl Dönitz was a German naval commander during World War II. He started his career in the German Navy during World War I. In 1918, while he was in command of , the submarine was sunk by British forces and Dönitz was taken prisoner...

 decided to employ Scharnhorst against the next Allied convoy that presented itself. Erich Bey, by now promoted to Konteradmiral, was given command of the task force.

On 22 December Dönitz ordered Bey to be ready to go to sea on a three-hour notice. Later that day, reconnaissance aircraft located a convoy of some 20 transports escorted by cruisers and destroyers approximately 400 nmi (740.8 km) west of Tromsø
Tromsø is a city and municipality in Troms county, Norway. The administrative centre of the municipality is the city of Tromsø.Tromsø city is the ninth largest urban area in Norway by population, and the seventh largest city in Norway by population...

. The convoy was spotted again two days later, and it was determined that the course was definitively toward the Soviet Union. A U-boat reported the convoy's location at 09:00 on 25 December, and Dönitz ordered Scharnhorst into action. In his instructions to Bey, Dönitz advised him to break off the engagement if presented with superior forces, but to remain aggressive. Bey planned to attack the convoy at 10:00 on 26 December if the conditions were favorable for the attack. At this time of year, there was only 45 minutes of full daylight and six hours of twilight, which significantly limited Bey's operational freedom. The Germans were concerned with developments in Allied radar-directed fire control, which allowed British battleships to fire with great accuracy in the darkness; German radar capabilities lagged behind those of their opponents.
Scharnhorst and her five destroyers left port at around 19:00 and were in the open sea four hours later. At 03:19, Bey received instructions from the Fleet Command that Scharnhorst was to conduct the attack alone if heavy seas interfered with the destroyers' ability to fight. Unbeknownst to the Germans, the British were reading the radio transmissions between Scharnhorst and the Fleet Command; Admirals Robert Burnett
Robert Burnett
Admiral Sir Robert Lindsay Burnett, GBE, KCB, CStJ, DSO was an officer in the Royal Navy.-Naval career:Educated at Bedford School, Burnett joined the Royal Navy in 1902. He served on the China Station from 1904 and then with the Atlantic and Mediterranean Fleets from 1908...

 and Bruce Fraser
Bruce Fraser, 1st Baron Fraser of North Cape
Admiral of the Fleet Bruce Austin Fraser, 1st Baron Fraser of North Cape GCB, KBE was a senior British admiral during World War II.-Early naval career:Fraser joined the Royal Navy as a Cadet on 15 January 1904...

 were aware of Bey's plan for the attack on the convoy and could position their forces accordingly. At 07:03, Scharnhorst was some 40 nmi (74.1 km) southwest of Bear Island when she made a turn that would put her in position to attack the convoy at 10:00. Admiral Burnett, commanding the three cruisers , , and escorting Convoy JW 55B
Convoy JW 55B
Convoy JW 55B was an Arctic convoy sent from Great Britain by the Western Allies to aid the Soviet Union during World War II. It sailed in late December 1943, reaching the Soviet northern ports at the end of the month...

, placed his ships between the convoy and Scharnhorsts expected direction of attack. Fraser in the powerful battleship , along with a cruiser and four destroyers, moved to a position southwest of Scharnhorst to block a possible escape attempt.

An hour after making the turn, Bey deployed his destroyers in a line screening Scharnhorst, which remained 10 nmi (18.5 km) behind. Half an hour later, Scharnhorsts loudspeakers called the crew to battle stations in preparation for the attack. At 08:40, Belfast picked up Scharnhorst on her radar, though the Germans were unaware that they had been detected. The German radar had been turned off to prevent the British from picking up on the signals. At 09:21, Belfasts lookouts spotted Scharnhorst at a range of 11000 m (12,029.7 yd). The cruiser opened fire three minutes later, followed by Norfolk two minutes after. Scharnhorst fired a salvo from turret Caesar before turning and increasing speed to disengage from the cruisers. She was hit twice by 20.3 cm (8 in) shells; the first failed to explode and caused negligible damage, but the second struck the forward rangefinders and destroyed the radar antenna. The aft radar, which possessed only a limited forward arc, was the ship's only remaining radar capability.

Scharnhorst turned south and attempted to work around the cruisers, but the superior British radar prevented Bey from successfully carrying out the maneuver. By 12:00, Scharnhorst was to the northeast of the convoy, but Belfast had reestablished radar contact; it took the cruisers twenty minutes to close the range and begin firing. Scharnhorst detected the cruisers with her aft radar and opened fire with her main battery guns before turning away to disengage a second time. Shortly before 12:25, Scharnhorst hit Norfolk twice with 28 cm shells. The first shell hit the forward superstructure and disabled Norfolks gunnery radar. The second 28 cm round struck the ship's "X" barbette and disabled the turret. Scharnhorst then turned again and increased speed, in the hopes of escaping the cruisers and finding the convoy. Burnett chose to keep his distance and shadow Scharnhorst with radar while Fraser made his way to the scene in Duke of York. Meanwhile, the five German destroyers continued searching for the convoy without success. At 13:15, Bey decided to return to base, and at 13:43, he dismissed the destroyers and instructed them to return to port.

At 16:17, Duke of York made radar contact with Scharnhorst; thirty minutes later, Belfast illuminated the German battleship with starshells. At 16:50, Duke of York opened fire at a range of 11000 m (12,029.7 yd); Scharnhorst quickly returned the fire. Five minutes after opening fire, one of Duke of Yorks 14 in (35.6 cm) shells struck Scharnhorst abreast of her forward gun turret. The shell hit jammed the turret's training gears, putting it out of action. Shell splinters started a fire in the ammunition magazine, which forced the Germans to flood both forward magazines to prevent an explosion. Turret Bruno's magazine was quickly drained, though the ship was now fighting with only two-thirds of her main battery. Shortly thereafter, another 14 in shell struck the ventilation trunk attached to Bruno, which caused the turret to be flooded with noxious propellant gases every time the breeches were opened. A third shell hit the deck next to turret Caesar and caused some flooding; shell splinters caused significant casualties. At 17:30, shells struck the forward 15 cm gun turrets and destroyed them both.

At around 18:00, another 14 in shell struck the ship on the starboard side, passed through the thin upper belt armor, and exploded in the number 1 boiler room. It caused significant damage to the ship's propulsion system and slowed the ship to 8 kn (4.4 m/s), though temporary repairs allowed Scharnhorst to return to 22 kn (12 m/s). She managed to add 5000 m (5,468.1 yd) to the distance between her and Duke of York, while straddling the ship with several salvos. Shell splinters rained on Duke of York and disabled the fire-control radar.
At 18:42, Duke of York ceased fire, after having fired 52 salvos and scoring at least 13 hits, but Scharnhorst was pulling away. Many of these hits had decimated the ship's secondary armament, which left her open to destroyer attacks, which Fraser ordered. The destroyers and Stord launched a total of eight torpedoes at 18:50, four of which hit. One torpedo exploded abreast of turret Bruno, which caused it to jam. The second torpedo hit the ship on the port side and caused some minor flooding, and the third struck toward the rear of the ship and damaged the port propeller shaft. The fourth hit the ship in the bow. The torpedoes slowed Scharnhorst to 12 kn (6.5 m/s), which allowed Duke of York to close to 9100 m (9,951.9 yd). With only turret Caesar operational, all available men were sent to retrieve ammunition from the forward turrets to keep the last heavy guns supplied. Fraser then ordered Jamaica and Belfast to move into range and finish the crippled ship off with torpedoes. After several more torpedo hits, Scharnhorst settled further into the water and began to list to starboard. At 19:45, the ship went down by the bows, with her propellers still slowly turning. Of the crew of 1,968 officers and enlisted men, only 36 men survived.

Wreck discovery

In September 2000, a joint expedition to find the sunken battleship conducted by the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

, NRK, and the Royal Norwegian Navy
Royal Norwegian Navy
The Royal Norwegian Navy is the branch of the Norwegian Defence Force responsible for naval operations. , the RNoN consists of approximately 3,700 personnel and 70 vessels, including 5 heavy frigates, 6 submarines, 14 patrol boats, 4 minesweepers, 4 minehunters, 1 mine detection vessel, 4 support...

 began. The underwater survey vessel Sverdrup II, operated by the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment
Norwegian Defence Research Establishment
The Norwegian Defence Research Establishment is a research institute that conducts research and development on behalf of the Norwegian Armed Forces and provides expert advice to political and military defence leaders...

, was used to scan the sea floor. After locating a large submerged object, the research team then used the Royal Norwegian Navy's underwater recovery vessel Tyr
HNoMS Tyr (N50)
HNoMS Tyr is a mine control vessel used for underwater search and recovery by the Royal Norwegian Navy.-History:Tyr was built at Voldnes Skipsverft in 1981 and was used as an offshore standby-ship in the North Sea under the name MS Sandby Master...

 to examine the object visually. The wreck was positively identified by an ROV on 10 September, which located armament consistent with that of Scharnhorst. The ship sank in approximately 290 m (951.4 ft) of water. The hull lies upside down on the seabed, with debris, including the main mast and rangefinders, scattered around the wreck. Extensive damage from shellfire and torpedoes is evident; the bow was blown off, presumably from a magazine explosion in the forward turrets, and lies in a tangled mass of steel some distance from the rest of the hull.

Further reading

  • Garret, Richard. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau: The Elusive Sisters. Hippocrene Books. 1978. ISBN 0-7153-7628-4
  • Winton, John. Death of the Scharnhorst. Cassel. 2003. ISBN 0-304-35697-2
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