German battlecruiser Scharnhorst

Missing image

Scharnhorst firing at HMS Glorious 8 June 1940
Career Kriegsmarine Jack
Ordered: 25 January 1934
Laid down: 15 June 1935
Launched: 3 October 1936
Commissioned: 7 January 1939
Fate: Sunk in the Battle of North Cape on 26 December 1943; only 36 survivors
General Characteristics
Displacement: 31,552 tonnes (standard) 38,092 tonnes (full load)
Dimensions: 229.8m x 30m x 8.69m
Armament: 9-11in (283mm) (3x3), 12-5.9in (150mm), 14-4.1in (105mm) AA, 16-37mm AA, 6-21in (533mm) TT
Aircraft: 3 Arado Ar196A-3
Propulsion: Brown-Boveri geared turbines, 125,000shp = 31.65kts
Range: 7,100nm at 19kts
Complement: 1,968

Scharnhorst was a 31,500 ton Gneisenau class battlecruiser of the German Kriegsmarine, named to commemorate the World War I armoured cruiser SMS Scharnhorst, which was in turn named after the Prussian general Gerhard von Scharnhorst.

The ship was built at Wilhelmshaven, Germany, launched in October 1936 under the Hitler regime's massive rearmament program, and commissioned in January 1939. After initial service, in mid-1939 she was modified, with a new mainmast located further aft and her straight bow replaced by a "clipper bow" to improve her seakeeping. However, her relatively low freeboard ensured that she was always very "wet" when at sea. Her main armament, 9 guns of 28 cm, were no match for the 38 cm guns of most of the larger battleships of her day, and this proved to be her undoing on her final voyage.

War began before Scharnhorst's modification work was completed. Her first wartime operation was a sweep into the Iceland-Faroes passage in late November 1939 with her sister Gneisenau in which the British armed merchant cruiser Rawalpindi was sunk. In the spring of 1940 Scharnhorst and Gneisenau covered the invasion of Norway. They engaged the British battlecruiser Renown on 9 April 1940, and sank the carrier HMS Glorious and two destroyers on 8 June at around 64 N off Norway. In the latter action, Scharnhorst was torpedoed. She was further damaged by a bomb a few days later and was under repair for most of the rest of 1940.

From 22 January until 22 March 1941, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau operated in the Atlantic, sinking 22 ships and threatening British seaborne supply lines. While at Brest, France, following this operation, the German ships were the targets of repeated air attacks. The resulting damage kept them non-operational into late 1941, when it was decided to concentrate German surface naval power in the Norwegian theater as a result of the Commando raid on Vaagsoy. Since it was too risky to attempt the redeployment via the North Atlantic, on 11-13 February 1942, the two battlecruisers and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen made a daring "Channel Dash" through the English Channel to reach Germany. Caught off guard, the British were unable to stop the ships with air and surface attacks, though both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were damaged by mines during the later part of the voyage.

Repair work, a grounding and her always troublesome steam powerplant 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 convoy route to the USSR. Training exercises over the next several months climaxed in a bombardment of Spitzbergen on 8 September 1943.

On Christmas day, 1943, Scharnhorst and several destroyers, under the command of Konteradmiral Erich Bey, put to sea with the purpose of attacking the Russia-bound Arctic convoy JW 55B north of Norway. Unfortunately for the Germans, their orders were decoded by the British Ultra codebreakers and the Admiralty sent a superior force to intercept. The next day, unable to locate the convoy, Bey detached the destroyers and sent them south, leaving Scharnhorst alone. Less than two hours, the ship encountered the Royal Navy escorting force of the cruisers Belfast, Norfolk, and Sheffield. Under cover of snow, the British cruisers opened fire, and after several salvoes Scharnhorst's radar was disabled, leaving it unable to return accurate fire in low visibility. Accordingly, Bey ordered the vessel to take a southeast course away from the cruisers. In the late afternoon, the British battleship Duke of York intercepted and opened fire. Despite suffering the loss of its hangar and a turret, Scharnhorst temporarily increased its distance from its pursuers. The great ship's luck ran out, however when another round from Duke of York destroyed a boiler room, reducing its speed. When the destroyers of both Royal Navy forces closed and launched torpedoes, Scharnhorst suffered a series of crippling blows, capsizing and sinking by 1945 hours. Of a total complement of 1,968 men, only 36 were rescued from the frigid seas.

On October 3, 2000, the submerged wreck of Scharnhorst was located approximately 70 miles north-northeast of North Cape at a depth of nearly 300m and photographed by the Norwegian Navy.

This article is in large part derived from a public domain publication of the Naval Historical Center, Department of the U.S. Navy [1] (

References and External Links

da:Slagskib Scharnhorst de:Scharnhorst (Schiff) ja:シャルンホルスト級 nl:Scharnhorst no:Slagskipet Scharnhorst pl:Scharnhorst zh:沙恩霍斯特级战列巡洋舰


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