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The Nazi Invasion of Poland 81 Years Later

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In his poem September 1st 1939, W.H. Auden penned these words in response to Hitler’s invasion of Poland:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Auden’s words are timeless, as they not only pertain to Hitler, but to every tyrant who has tried to destroy other nations and peoples. There are many such men today, and most start with crushing the resistance of their own countrymen, in order to build up a cult following that will enable them to take their need for conquest to other nations. President Trump, like Hitler, Stalin, Putin, Mussolini, and so many more has been engaged in the first steps of tyranny Since he took office: undermining the courts, congress, and state and local governments, eradicating the written and unwritten norms of our democracy and republic, dismembering the constitutional guardrails that prevent any one person or branch of government to rule by fiat. Pitting White Conservative Christian against religious, racial, or ethnic minorities, and engaging in practices that violate the Constitution, Federal and state laws, and destroying the separation of powers that our founders knew were the only guard against tyranny, especially the tyranny of the Executive Branch.

Eighty one years ago Tuesday, the German Wehrmacht on the orders of Adolf Hitler invaded Poland. He had already bloodlessly conquered Austria and Czechoslovakia without war, he believed that he could do it again in Poland, but after years of appeasement the British and French declared war on Germany, it did not help Poland, because the British and French had the means but lacked the will to threaten Germany by invading her scarcely defended western border from a determined French ground attack, or prevent the Royal Navy from attacking her North Sea Ports, or entering the Baltic to aid Poland. Likewise they had refused Stalin’s offer to aid them if they went to war with Czechoslovakia in 1938, which enabled Hitler, the enemy of all things Communist to negotiate a non-aggression It began the European phase of the Second World War and by the time the war was over Europe would be devastated, Hitler would be dead, and the world changed. An epoch had ended, a new epoch begun. It is quite possible that the epoch that began with the defeat of Nazi Germany is ending, and something else, maybe like the previous era from 1918-1945 is returning. But, what follows the epoch that began in 1945 and appears to be ending, is the province futurists, seers, and prophets.

Not being the Prophet, nor the son of the Prophet, I shall not engage in speculation, but return to 1 September 1939.

When Hitler announced the war to a less than enthusiastic German nation, he used his usual lies to shield himself from starting the war. William Shirer, one of the few American reporters remaining in Europe wrote in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich:

“Having lied so often on his way to power and in his consolidation of power, Hitler could not refrain at this serious moment in history from thundering a few more lies to the gullible German people in justification of his wanton act. You know the endless attempts I made for a peaceful clarification and understanding of the problem of Austria, and later of the problem of the Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia. It was all in vain… In my talks with Polish statesmen… I formulated at last the German proposals and… there is nothing more modest or loyal than these proposals. I should like to say this to the world. I alone was in the position to make such proposals, for I know very well that in doing so I brought myself into opposition to millions of Germans. These proposals have been refused…. For two whole days I sat with my Government and waited to see whether it was convenient for the Polish Government to send a plenipotentiary or not… But I am wrongly judged if my love of peace and my patience are mistaken for weakness or even cowardice… I can no longer find any willingness on the part of the Polish Government to conduct serious negotiations with us… I have therefore resolved to speak to Poland in the same language that Poland for months past has used toward us… This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our own territory. Since 5:45 A.M. we have been returning the fire, and from now on bombs will be met with bombs.” 

But things did not turn out Hitler’s way. He expected England and France to remain neutral. When they refused to budge and announced their support for Poland on September 3rd 1939 Hitler called his foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop to his office. One witness told Shirer, who again recorded it in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” 

“When I entered the next room [Schmidt later recounted] Hitler was sitting at his desk and Ribbentrop stood by the window. Both looked up expectantly as I came in. I stopped at some distance from Hitler’s desk, and then slowly translated the British ultimatum. When I finished there was complete silence. Hitler sat immobile, gazing before him… After an interval which seemed an age, he turned to Ribbentrop, who had remained standing by the window. “What now?” asked Hitler with a savage look, as though implying that his Foreign Minister had misled him about England’s probable reaction. Ribbentrop answered quietly: “I assume that the French will hand in a similar ultimatum within the hour.

His duty performed, Schmidt withdrew, stopping in the outer room to apprise the others of what had happened. They too were silent for a moment. Then: Goering turned to me and said: “If we lose this war, then God have mercy on us!” Goebbels stood in a corner by himself, downcast and self-absorbed. Everywhere in the room I saw looks of grave concern.”

Hitler, though he had concluded non-aggression pact with Stalin’s Soviet Union, that divided Poland between the two authoritarian powers, did not believe that Britain or France would do any more than to conclude a peace agreement after he finished Poland. Though France and Britain could have caused havoc and maybe even ended the war had they even attempted a serious campaign against Germany in September 1939, they did not. Hitler’s gamble which gave great concern to his Generals paid off. Poland was defeated, and with his pact with Stalin in place, Hitler was able to turn his attention to the West.

Hitler’s biographer, the late German historian Joachim Fest wrote:

In spite of all expenditures in the preceding years Germany was armed only, for the war that Hitler launched on September 1, not for the war of September 3. The army did consist of 102 divisions, but only half of these were active and battle-ready. The state of its training left much to be desired. The navy was distinctly inferior to the British and even to the French fleets; not even the strength permissible under the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935 had been attained. Shortly after the Western declarations of war reached Berlin, Grand Admiral Raeder declared tersely that the German fleet, or rather “the little that is finished or will be finished in time, can only go down fighting honorably.” The air force alone was stronger than the forces of the enemy; it had 3,298 planes at its disposal. On the other hand, the ammunition supply had been half consumed by the end of the Polish campaign, so that the war could not have been actively continued for even three or four weeks. At Nuremberg, General Jodl called the existing reserves at the outbreak of the war “literally ridiculous.” Troop equipment also amounted to considerably less than the four-month stock that the High Command of the army had demanded. Even a small-scale attack from the West in the fall of 1939 would probably have brought about Germany’s defeat and the end of the war, military experts have concluded.

But Hitler’s war went far beyond a typical military invasion, occupation and revision of borders or exploitation of economic resources. Hitler’s invasion of Poland was his first movement to achieve Lebensraum “living space” in the East. It was also a racial war where the less than human inhabitants of that space, especially the Jews would be expelled from their homes, driven into ghettos, and eventually exterminated. In Poland the victims included the Polish intelligentsia, professors, priests, military officers, government officials, nobility; anyone who might be able to lead a revolt.

By invading Poland Hitler had abandoned politics which had served him so well against, party rivals, domestic opponents, and later European and World leaders. After Poland Hitler rejected political options and pressed forward with war. Fest wrote:

One of the striking aspects of his behavior is the stubborn, peculiarly blind impatience with which he pressed forward into the conflict. That impatience was curiously at odds with the hesitancy and vacillations that had preceded earlier decisions of his. When, in the last days of August, Göring pleaded with him not to push the gamble too far, he replied heatedly that throughout his life he had always played vabanque. And though this metaphor was accurate for the matter at hand, it hardly described the wary, circumspect style with which he had proceeded in the past. We must go further back, almost to the early, prepolitical phase of his career, to find the link with the abruptness of his conduct during the summer of 1939, with its reminders of old provocations and daredevil risks. There is, in fact, every indication that during these months Hitler was throwing aside more than tried and tested tactics, that he was giving up a policy in which he had excelled for fifteen years and in which for a while he had outstripped all antagonists. It was as if he were at last tired of having to adapt himself to circumstances, tired of the eternal talking, dissimulation, and diplomatic wirepulling, and were again seeking “a great, universally understandable, liberating action.”

Hitler having brought about the destruction of Europe died by his own hand in his bunker having determined that the German people were not worthy of him. The conflict which he bathed in the mythological understandings of Wagner and Paganism was also an eschatological war. Race and Lebensraum overrode all sense of ethics, morality, and even diplomacy that might lead to long term alliances with partners that shared shared mutual interests. Instead, Hitler’s most base instincts, hatred, and the racist desire to establish his mythological Aryan Race as the overlords of Poland, and the. Of every other conquered nation put him in a league of his own.

Fest wrote:

Morally, too, he now crossed the boundary that made the war irrevocable. In the same conversation he demanded the repression of any sign “that a Polish intelligentsia is coming forward as a class of leaders. The country is to continue under a low standard of living; we want to draw only labor forces from it.” Territory that went far beyond the borders of 1914 was incorporated into the Reich. The remainder was set up as a general government under the administration of Hans Frank; one part was subjected to a ruthless process of Germanization, the other to an unprecedented campaign of enslavement and annihilation. And while the commandos, the Einsatzgruppen, commenced their reign of terror, arresting, resettling, expelling, and liquidating—so that one German army officer wrote in a horrified letter of a “band of murderers, robbers and plunderers”—Hans Frank extolled the “epoch of the East” that was now beginning for Germany, a period, as he described it in his own peculiar brand of bombastic jargon, “of the most tremendous reshaping of colonizing and resettlement implementation.”

Diplomacy has no place in eschatology. Interestingly, the same day he invaded Poland, he signed an order for a euthanasia program directed against the weakest members of his own German nation. Called the T-4 operation, it was directed by the SS and was the proving ground where those who operated the gas chambers at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Soribor, and Belzec their training in mass murder.

In Hitler’s worldview the handicapped, the mentally ill, and others with any kind of disability were life unworthy of life. They were a drain on society. Sadly, President Trump and his followers view differs little from Hitler’s.

Anyway, this is enough for the night. I shall refrain from further comparisons with the current American President, and the authoritarian and racist leaders taking power in parts of Europe, and the British Prime Minister working to overthrow Britain’s relationship with Europe while threatening the very fabric of the British Constitutional Monarchy, and the unity of the United Kingdom.

The British Historical John Keegan wrote: “The great men of power who seek to change the nations they belong to usually are pretty terrible people.” I cannot think of any more accurate words to describe President Trump and his cult, be they political, law enforcement, military, media, or common citizens.

The ghosts of the past seldom remain there and often return with a vengeance when awakened by the same forces that unleashed them then.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crimes against humanity, Foreign Policy, History, Military, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, war crimes trials, world war two in europe

“Say I slew them not.” And the Queen replied, “Then say they were not slain. But dead they are ….” Trump’s Denial of Responsibly and the Guilt of His Supporters For 158,000 Dead Americans




Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a hard week because of a mechanical failure that led to another instance of flooding in our house. Since Tuesday we have been living with the HVAC people fixing the problem for no charge since it was a second occurrence in two years.

We have been living with the dehumidifiers and fans installed by ServPro, and seen large amounts of ceiling drywall pulled down because it was too saturated to salvage. Because we are in a heat wave like we haven’t seen in July in years, and the fact that the dehydration units are pumping out hot air into the intakes of of our HVAC it is doing the best it can. I finally got the inside temperature to 76 degrees last night and got it to 75 before I got to bed.

We haven’t slept well all week because of the noise and heat. Last night Judy went upstairs to bed not long after we came home from dinner, she was exhausted. The puppies were with me, with Izzy resuming her role as the police when the little ones get out of line. Izzy protects Maddy Lyn when Pierre, accepting his new role as the middle child with the grace of Jan Brady, growls and snaps at her. Admittedly, he is jealous, but he has always been a diva, a male diva, or miva. Likewise, because Maddy doesn’t back down, Izzy sometimes has to push her down and hold her down with one of her beefy paws, before kissing her like a big sister or mommy. Since I couldn’t sleep I had Izzy and Maddy asleep by me while Pierre was perched high on the couch, in one of his usual spots, when Judy came down about 3 AM.

Since I have been ruminating on the unconstitutional, racist and repugnant police state policies, as well as continuing to sell our national security and the trust of our allies for the Thirty-Pieces of Silver given to him by Vladimir Putin, and with Judy passed out and me still being unable to sleep last night I caught up on some correspondence and then put on the films Nuremberg about the trial of the Major Nazi War Criminals, and Judgment at Nuremberg a factionalized film account of the Judges Trial at Nuremberg.

I watched these films to remind myself that there can be justice for men who lead nations to catastrophe. Despite the lies of the President and his sycophants serving in high office and their supporters who fight against science, medicine, and public health by politicizing the best practice of public health in a pandemic where the pathogen is airborne and highly contagious. For over half a year the President and his closest advisers knew about the threat and they did nothing then to stop it by preparing our people, our medical system, and Governments at all levels on the best practices to stop any airborne virus until there is a vaccine or truly effective treatment; wearing protective masks, maintaining safe social distancing, and washing our Hans with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and avoid large gatherings of any kind.  However that for them is curtailing their freedom. Their freedom to do what I ask? Well, quite simply, the freedom to ignore social responsibility, to ignore the responsibilities to other people dictated by their primarily Christian Faith, which is interpreted as restricting their religious freedom. Both of which infect millions with the highly contagious virus and kills people of all ages, often destroying most of their vital organs and leaves survivors with long periods of recuperation and Long term medical problems never imagined.

The incompetence, wrapped in negligence, stuffed with ignorance, and sustained malignant narcissistic sociopaths who live in a cloud cuckoo land of lies, distortions and conspiracy theories promoted by the President himself and have no empathy for anyone is beyond comprehension for any rational human being with an once of humanity in his or her heart.

There can be no justice without the people who directed the policies at Federal, State, and Local levels being brought to justice for the deaths of what will amount to probably twice the 158,000 who are already dead, and the nearly 4.7 million who have already been infected and nearly 2.4 million currently infected with the virus. All of this is happening while the President is attempting coerce something into  sending children back to schools without tests, without tracing, without adequate PPE, in facilities that often have poor ventilation, aboard packed school busses, so they can bring the disease back to their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the uncounted number of people in their social circles.

The blood of all the dead, the suffering of the infected, and the destitution of those without jobs, losing their medical insurance, and faced with the prospect of eviction or foreclosure and being homeless is on the hands of everyone who enacted or supported such policies. If there is no price to pay, then justice is nothing, it is a farce to protect the guilty. To me such people need to be held accountable to the law, the Constitution, and to the basic elements of human compassion to do no harm to others.

If this offends you I am not sorry. If you are a person who willingly gathered without face masks or social distancing, even under the penalty of laws enacted by your state governors or legislatures, then you are a criminal. The fact is that infected people, even without showing symptoms can infect others, sometimes hundreds.

It used to be that many if not most of the Presidents supporters used to always claim their moral supremacy by claiming to be pro-life, and demanded the personal responsibility, and a willingness to take responsibility for their actions. But those were lies to gain political power. For the vast majority of them being pro-life only meant being against abortion, burps once out of the womb, the life of a Black, Brown, Yellow, or Red child was worthless. That sad legacy goes back to the First English and other European colonists arrived in the Western Hemisphere. As far as personal responsibility that only applied to non-Whites and the poor. It is a part of our past that we must face and own up to or have their blood on our hands too.

Of course there are exceptions, there always are, but in large part what I have written today is true of the President and the vast majority of people and Republican Party leaders who still support him. This is the truth, and as for me  “I will tell the truth even if the whole world conspires against me…” as Burt Lancaster playing the German Jurist Ernst Janning said in Judgment at Nuremberg.

During his closing argument at the Major War Crimes trials, Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson acting as the American Prosecutor said these words. Change the names and titles from the Nazis involved to current Trump administration officials and the words are as true as when Justice Jackson uttered them in 1946:

Rudolf Hess

The zealot Hess, before succumbing to wanderlust, was the engineer tending the Party machinery, passing orders and propaganda down to the Leadership Corps, supervising every aspect of Party activities, and maintaining the organization as a loyal and ready instrument of power.

Joachim von Ribbentrop

When apprehensions abroad threatened the success of the Nazi regime for conquest, it was the double-dealing Ribbentrop, the salesman of deception, who was detailed to pour wine on the troubled waters of suspicion by preaching the gospel of limited and peaceful intentions.

Wilhelm Keitel

Keitel, the weak and willing tool, delivered the armed forces, the instrument of aggression, over to the Party and directed them in executing its felonious designs.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner

Kaltenbrunner, the grand inquisitor, assumed the bloody mantle of Heydrich to stifle opposition and terrorise into compliance, and buttressed the power of National Socialism on a foundation of guiltless corpses.

Alfred Rosenberg

It was Rosenberg, the intellectual high priest of the “master race”, who provided the doctrine of hatred which gave the impetus for the annihilation of Jewry, and who put his infidel theories into practice against the Eastern occupied territories. His woolly philosophy also added boredom to the long list of Nazi atrocities.

Hans Frank

The fanatical Frank, who solidified Nazi control by establishing the new order of authority without law, so that the will of the Party was the only test of legality, proceeded to export his lawlessness to Poland, which he governed with the lash of Caesar and whose population he reduced to sorrowing remnants.

Wilhelm Frick

Frick, the ruthless organiser, helped the Party to seize power, supervised the police agencies to ensure that it stayed in power, and chained the economy of Bohemia and Moravia to the German war machine.

Julius Streicher

Streicher, the venomous vulgarian, manufactured and distributed obscene racial libels which incited the populace to accept and assist the progressively savage operations of “race purification”.

Walter Funk

As Minister of Economics Funk accelerated the pace of rearmament, and as Reichsbank president banked for the SS the gold teeth-fillings of concentration camp victims -probably the most ghoulish collateral in banking history.

Hjalmar Schacht

It was Schacht, the facade of starched respectability, who in the early days provided the window-dressing, the bait for the hesitant, and whose wizardry later made it possible for Hitler to finance the colossal rearmament programme, and to do it secretly.

Karl Dönitz

Donitz, Hitler’s legatee of defeat, promoted the success of the Nazi aggressions by instructing his pack of submarine killers to conduct warfare at sea with the illegal ferocity of the jungle.

Erich Raeder

Raeder, the political admiral, stealthily built up the German Navy in defiance of the Versailles Treaty, and then put it to use in a series of aggressions which he had taken a leading part in planning.

Baldur von Schirach

Von Schirach, poisoner of a generation, initiated the German youth in Nazi doctrine, trained them in legions for service in the SS and Wehrmacht, and delivered them up to the Party as fanatic, unquestioning executors of its will.

Fritz Sauckel

Sauckel, the greatest and cruellest slaver since the Pharaohs of Egypt, produced desperately needed manpower by driving foreign peoples into the land of bondage on a scale unknown even in the ancient days of tyranny in the kingdom of the Nile.

Alfred Jodl

Jodl, betrayer of the traditions of his profession, led the Wehrmacht in violating its own code of military honour in order to carry out the barbarous aims of Nazi policy.

Franz von Papen

Von Papen, pious agent of an infidel regime, held the stirrup while Hitler vaulted into the saddle, lubricated the Austrian annexation, and devoted his diplomatic cunning to the service of Nazi objectives abroad.

Arthur Seyess-Inquart

Seyss-Inquart, spearhead of the Austrian fifth column, took over the government of his own country only to make a present of it to Hitler, and then, moving north, brought terror and oppression to the Netherlands and pillaged its economy for the benefit of the German juggernaut.

Konstantin von Neurath

Von Neurath, the old-school diplomat, who cast the pearls of his experience before the Nazis, guided Nazi diplomacy in the early years, soothed the fears of prospective victims, and as Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia strengthened the German position for the coming attack on Poland.

Albert Speer

Speer, as Minister of Armaments and Production, joined in planning and executing the programme to dragoon prisoners of war and foreign workers into German war industries, which waxed in output while the labourers waned in starvation.

Hans Fritzsche

Fritzsche, radio propaganda chief, by manipulation of the truth goaded German public opinion into frenzied support of the regime, and anaesthetised the independent judgement of the population so that they did their masters’ bidding without question.

Martin Bormann

Bormann, who has not accepted our invitation to this reunion, sat at the throttle of the vast and powerful engine of the Party, guiding it in the ruthless execution of Nazi policies, from the scourging of the Christian Church to the lynching of captive Allied airmen.

The activities of all these defendants, despite their varied backgrounds and talents, were joined with the efforts of other conspirators not now in the. dock, who played still other essential roles: They blend together into one consistent and militant pattern animated by a common objective to reshape the map of Europe by force of arms. Some of these defendants were ardent members of the Nazi movement from its birth. Others, less fanatical, joined the common enterprise later, after success had made participation attractive by the promise of rewards. This group of latter-day converts remedied a crucial defect in the ranks of the original true believers, for as Dr. Siemers has pointed out in his summation:

“… There were no specialists among the National Socialists for the particular tasks. Most of the National Socialist collaborators did not previously follow a trade requiring technical education.”

It was the fatal weakness of the early Nazi band that it lacked technical competence. It could not from among its own ranks make up a government capable of carrying out all the projects necessary to realize its aims. Therein lies the special crime and betrayal of men like Schacht and von Neurath, Speer and von Papen, Raeder and Donitz, Keitel and Jodl. It is doubtful whether the Nazi master plan could have succeeded without their specialized intelligence which they so willingly put at its command. They did so with knowledge of its announced aims and methods, and continued their services after practice had confirmed the direction in which they were tending. Their superiority to the average run of Nazi mediocrity is not their excuse. It is their condemnation.

The dominant fact which stands out from all the thousands of pages of the record of this trial is that the central crime of the whole group of Nazi crimes -the attack on the peace of the world -was clearly and deliberately planned. The beginning of these wars of aggression was not an unprepared and spontaneous springing to arms by a population excited by some current indignation. A week before the invasion of Poland Hitler told his military commanders:

“I shall give a propagandist cause for starting war -never mind whether it be plausible or not. The victor shall not be asked later on whether we told the truth or not. In starting and making a war, it is not the right that matters, but victory.”

The propagandist incident was duly provided by dressing concentration camp inmates in Polish uniforms, in order to create the appearance of a Polish attack on a German frontier radio station. The plan to occupy Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg first appeared as early as August, 1938, in connection with the plan for attack on Czechoslovakia. The intention to attack became a programme in May, 1939, when Hitler told his commanders that:

“The Dutch and Belgian air bases must be occupied by armed forces. Declarations of neutrality must be ignored.”

Thus, the follow-up wars were planned before the first was launched. These were the most carefully plotted wars in all history. Scarcely a step in their terrifying succession and progress failed to move according to the master blueprint or the subsidiary schedules and timetables until long after the crimes of aggression were consummated. Nor were the war crimes and the crimes against humanity unplanned, isolated or spontaneous offences. Apart from our undeniable evidence of their plotting, it is sufficient to ask whether six million people could be separated from the population of several nations on the basis of their blood and birth, could be destroyed and their bodies disposed of, unless the operation had fitted into the general scheme of government. Could the enslavement of five millions of labourers, their impressment into service, their transportation to Germany, their allocation to work where they would be most useful, their maintenance, if slow starvation can be called maintenance, and their guarding have been accomplished if it did not fit into the common plan? Could hundreds of concentration camps located throughout Germany, built to accommodate hundreds of thousands of victims, and each requiring labour and materials for construction, manpower to operate and supervise, and close gearing into the economy -could such efforts have been expended under German autocracy if they had not suited the plan? Has the Teutonic passion for organization suddenly become famous for its toleration of non-conforming activity? Each part of the plan fitted into every other. The slave labour programme meshed with the needs of industry and agriculture, and these in turn synchronised with the military machine. The elaborate propaganda apparatus geared with the programme to dominate the people and incite them to a war which their sons would have to fight. The armament industries were fed by the concentration camps. The concentration camps were fed by the Gestapo. The Gestapo was fed by the spy system of the Nazi Party. Nothing was permitted under the Nazi iron rule that was not in accordance with the programme.

Everything of consequence that took place in this regimented society was but a manifestation of a premeditated and unfolding purpose to secure the Nazi State a place in the sun by casting all others into darkness.

COMMON DEFENCES AGAINST THE CHARGE OF COMMON RESPONSIBILITY

The defendants meet this overwhelming case, some by admitting a limited, responsibility, some by putting the blame on others, and some by taking the position, in effect, that while there have been enormous crimes there are no criminals. Time will not permit me to examine each individual and particular defence, but there are certain lines of defence common to so many cases that they deserve some consideration.

Counsel for many of the defendants seek to dismiss the charge of a common plan or conspiracy on the ground that the pattern of the Nazi plan does not fit into the concept of conspiracy applicable in German law to the plotting of a highway robbery or a burglary. Their concept of conspiracy is in the terms of a stealthy meeting in the dead of night, in a secluded hide-out, in which a group of felons plot every detail of a specific crime. The Charter forestalls resort to such parochial and narrow concepts of conspiracy taken from local law by using the additional and non-technical term, “common plan”. Omitting entirely the alternative term of “conspiracy”, the Charter reads that “leaders, organisers, instigators, and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan to commit” any of the described crimes “are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan”.

The Charter concept of a common plan really represents the conspiracy principle in an international context. A common plan or conspiracy to seize the machinery of a State, to commit crimes against the peace of the world, to blot a race out of existence, to enslave millions, and to subjugate and loot whole nations cannot be thought of in the same terms as the plotting of petty crimes, although the same underlying principles are applicable. Little gangsters may plan who will carry a pistol and who a stiletto, who will approach a victim from the front and who from behind, and where they will waylay him. But in planning war, the pistol becomes a Wehrmacht, the stiletto a Luftwaffe. Where to strike is not a choice of dark alleys, but a matter of world geography. The operation involves the manipulation of public opinion, the law of the State, the police power, industry, and finance. The baits and bluffs must be translated into a nation’s foreign policy. Likewise, the degree of stealth which points to a guilty purpose in, a conspiracy will depend upon its object. The clandestine preparations of a State against international society, although camouflaged to those abroad, might be quite open and notorious among its own people. But stealth is not an essential ingredient of such planning. Parts of the common plan may be proclaimed from the housetops, as anti-Semitism was, and parts of it kept under cover, as rearmament for a long time was. It is a matter of strategy how much of the preparation shall be made public, as was Goering’s announcement in 1935 of the creation of an air force, and how much shall be kept covert, as in the case of the Nazis’ use of shovels to teach “labour corps” the manual of arms. The forms of this grand type of conspiracy are amorphous, the means are opportunistic, and neither can divert the law from getting at the substance of things.

The defendants counted, however, that there could be no conspiracy involving aggressive war because (1) none of the Nazis wanted war; (2) rearmament was only intended to provide the strength to make Germany’s voice heard in the family of nations; and (3) the wars were not in fact aggressive wars but were defensive wars against a “Bolshevik menace”.

When we analyse the argument that the Nazis did not want war it comes down, in substance, to this: “The record looks bad indeed -objectively -but when you consider the state of my mind -subjectively I hated war. I knew the horrors of war. I wanted peace.” I am not so sure of this. I am even less willing to accept Goering’s description of the General Staff as pacifist. However, it will not injure our case to admit that as an abstract proposition none of these defendants liked war. But they wanted things which they knew they could not get without war. They wanted their neighbours’ lands and goods. Their philosophy seems to be that if the neighbours would not acquiesce, then they are the aggressors and are to blame for the war. The fact is, however, that war never became terrible to the Nazis until it came home to them, until it exposed their deceptive assurances to the German people that German cities, like the ruined one in which we meet, would be invulnerable. From then on, war was terrible.

But again the defendants claim: “To be sure, we were building guns. But not to shoot. They were only to give us weight in negotiating.” At its best this argument amounts to a contention that the military forces were intended for blackmail, not for battle. The threat of military invasion which forced the Austrian Anschluss, the threats which preceded Munich, and Goering’s threat to bomb the beautiful city of Prague if the President of Czechoslovakia did not consent to the Protectorate, are examples of what the defendants had in mind when they talked of arming to back negotiation.

But from the very nature of German demands, the day was bound to come when some country would refuse to buy its peace, would refuse to pay Dane-geld,

“For the end of that game is oppression and shame, And the nation that plays it is lost.”

Did these defendants then intend to withdraw German demands, or was Germany to enforce them and manipulate propaganda so as to place the blame for the war on the nation so unreasonable as to resist? Events have answered that question, and documents such as Admiral Carl’s memorandum, earlier quoted, leave no doubt that the events occurred as anticipated.

But some of the defendants argue that the wars were not aggressive and were only intended to protect Germany against some eventual danger from the “menace of Communism”, which was something of an obsession with many Nazis.

At the outset this argument of self-defence fails because it completely ignores this damning combination of facts clearly established in the record: first, the enormous and rapid German preparations for war; second, the repeatedly avowed intentions of the German leaders to attack, which I have previously cited; and third, the fact that a series of wars occurred in which German forces struck the first blows, without warning, across the borders of other nations.

Even if it could be shown -which it cannot -that the Russian war was really defensive, such is demonstrably not the case with those wars which preceded it.

It may also be pointed out that even those who would have you believe that Germany was menaced by Communism also compete with each other in describing their opposition to the disastrous Russian venture. Is it reasonable that they would have opposed that war if it were undertaken in good faith in self-defence.

It is sought to balance the frivolous self-defence theory against the facts, as advocates often do, by resort to a theory of law. Dr. Jahrreiss, in his scholarly argument for the defence, rightly points out that no treaty provision and no principle of law denied Germany, as a sovereign nation, the right of self-defence. He follows with the assertion for which there is authority in classic International Law, that:

“… every State is alone judge of whether in a given case it is waging a war of self-defence”.

It is not necessary to examine the validity of an abstract principle which does not apply to the facts of our case. I do not doubt that if a nation arrived at a judgement that it must resort to war in self-defence, because of conditions affording reasonable grounds for such an honest judgement, any Tribunal would accord it great and perhaps conclusive weight, even if later events proved that judgement mistaken.

But the facts in this case call for no such deference to honest judgement because no such judgement was ever pretended, much less honestly made.

In all the documents which disclose the planning and rationalisation of these attacks, not one sentence has been or can be cited to show an honest fear of attack. It may be that statesmen of other nations lacked the courage forthrightly and fully to disarm. Perhaps they suspected the secret rearmament of Germany. But if they hesitated to abandon arms, they did not hesitate to neglect them. Germany well knew that her former enemies had allowed their armaments to fall into decay, so little did they contemplate another war. Germany faced a Europe that not only was unwilling to attack, but was too weak and pacifist even adequately to defend, and went to the very verge of dishonour, if not beyond, to buy its peace. The minutes we have shown you of the Nazis’ secret conclaves identify no potential attacker. They bristle with the spirit of aggression and not of defence. They contemplate always territorial expansion, not the maintenance of territorial integrity.

Minister of War von Blomberg, in his 1937 directive prescribing general principles for the preparation for war of the armed forces, has given the lie to these feeble claims of self-defence. He stated at that time:

“The general political situation justifies the supposition that Germany need not consider an attack on any side. Grounds for this are, in addition to the lack of desire for war in almost all nations, particularly the Western Powers, the deficiencies in the preparedness for war in a number of States and of Russia in particular.”

Nevertheless, he recommended: “a continuous preparation for war in order to (a) counter-attack at any time, and (b) to enable the military exploitation of politically favourable opportunities should they occur”.

If these defendants may now cynically plead self-defence, although no honest need of self-defence was asserted or contemplated by any responsible leader at that time, it reduces non-aggression treaties to a legal absurdity. They become additional instruments of deception in the hands of the aggressor, and traps for well-meaning nations. If there be in non-aggression pacts an implied condition that each nation may make a bona fide judgement as to the necessity for self-defence against imminent threatened attack, it certainly cannot be invoked to shelter those who never made any such judgement at all.

In opening this case I ventured to predict that there would be no serious denial that the crimes charged were committed, and that the issue would concern the responsibility of particular defendants. The defendants have fulfilled that prophecy. Generally, they do not deny that these things happened, but it is contended that they “just happened”, and that they were not the result of a common plan or conspiracy.

One of the chief reasons the defendants say why there was no conspiracy is the argument that conspiracy was impossible with a dictator. The argument runs that they all had to obey Hitler’s orders, which had the force of law m the German State, and hence obedience could not be made the basis of a criminal charge. In this way it is explained that while there have been wholesale killings, there have been no murderers.

This argument is an effort to evade Article 8 of the Charter, which provides that the order of the Government or of a superior shall not free a defendant from responsibility but can only be considered in mitigation. This provision of the Charter corresponds with the justice and with the realities of the situation, as indicated in defendant Speer’s description of what he considered to be the common responsibility of the leaders of the German nation; he said that … with reference to decisive matters, there was a joint responsibility. There must be a joint responsibility among the leaders, because who else could take the responsibility for the development of events, if not the close associates who work with and around the head of the State?

And again he told the Tribunal that … it was impossible after the catastrophe to evade this joint responsibility, and that if the war had been won, the leaders would also have laid claim to joint responsibility.

Like much of defence counsel’s abstract arguments, the contention that the absolute power of Hitler precluded a conspiracy crumbles in the face of the facts of record. The Fuehrerprinzip of absolutism was itself a part of the common plan, as Goering has pointed out. The defendants may have become the slaves of a dictator, but he was their dictator. To make him such was, as Goering has testified, the object of the Nazi movement from the beginning. Every Nazi took this oath:

“I pledge eternal allegiance to Adolf Hitler. I pledge unconditional obedience to him and the Fuehrers appointed by him.”

Moreover, they forced everybody else in their power to take it. This oath was illegal under German law, which made it criminal to become a member of an organization in which obedience to “unknown superiors or unconditional obedience to known superiors is pledged”. These men destroyed free government in Germany and now plead to be excused from responsibility because they became slaves. They are in the position of the boy of fiction who murdered his father and mother and then pleaded for leniency because he was an orphan.

What these men have overlooked is that Adolf Hitler’s acts are their acts. It was these men among millions of others, and it was these men leading millions of others, who built up Adolf Hitler and vested in his psychopathic personality not only innumerable lesser decisions but the supreme issue of war or peace. They intoxicated him with power and adulation. They fed his hates and aroused his fears. They put a loaded gun in his eager hands. It was left to Hitler to pull the trigger, and when he did they all at that time approved. His guilt stands admitted, by some defendants reluctantly, by some vindictively. But his guilt is the guilt of the whole dock, and of every man in it.

But it is urged that these defendants could not be in agreement on a common plan or conspiracy because they were fighting among themselves or belonged to different factions or cliques. Of course, it is not necessary that men should agree on everything in order to agree on enough things to make them liable for a criminal conspiracy. Unquestionably there were conspiracies within the conspiracy, and intrigues and rivalries and battles for power. Schacht and Goering disagreed, but over which of them should control the economy, not over whether the economy should be regimented for war. Goering claims to have departed from the plan because, through Dahlerus, he conducted some negotiations with men of influence in England just before the Polish war. But it is perfectly clear that this was not an effort to prevent aggression against Poland but to make that aggression successful and safe by obtaining English neutrality. Rosenberg and Goering may have had some differences as to how stolen art should be distributed, but they had none about how it should be stolen. Jodl and Goering may have disagreed about whether to denounce the Geneva Convention, but they never disagreed about violating it. And so it goes through the whole long and sordid story. Nowhere do we find a single instance where any one of the defendants stood up against the rest and said: “This thing is wrong and I will not take part in it.” Wherever they differed, their differences were as to method or jurisdiction, but always within the framework of the common plan.

Some of the defendants also contend that in any event there was no conspiracy to commit war crimes or crimes against humanity because Cabinet members never met with the military commanders to plan these acts. But these crimes were only the inevitable and incidental results of the plan to commit the aggression for purposes of Lebensraum. Hitler stated, at a conference with his commanders, that:

“The main objective in Poland is the destruction of the enemy and not the reaching of a certain geographical line.”

Frank picked up the tune and suggested that when their usefulness was exhausted,

“… then, for all I care, mincemeat can be made of the Poles and Ukrainians and all the others who run around here -it does not matter what happens”.

Reichskommissar Koch in the Ukraine echoed the refrain:

“I will draw the very last out of this country. I did not come to spread bliss ….”

This was Lebensraum in its seamy side. Could men of their practical intelligence expect to get neighboring lands free from the claims of their tenants without committing crimes against humanity?

The last stand of each defendant is that even if there was a conspiracy, he was not in it. It is therefore important in examining their attempts at avoidance of responsibility to know, first of all, just what it is that a conspiracy charge comprehends and punishes.

In conspiracy we do not punish one man for another man’s crime. We seek to punish each for his own crime of joining a common criminal plan in which others also participated. The measure of the criminality of the plan and therefore of the guilt of each participant is, of course, the sum total of crimes committed by all in executing the plan. But the gist of the offence is participation in the formulation or execution of the plan. These are rules which every society has found necessary in order to reach men, like these defendants, who never get blood on their own hands but who lay plans that result in the shedding of blood. All over Germany today, in every zone of occupation, little men who carried out these criminal policies under orders are being convicted and punished. It would present a vast and unforgivable caricature of justice if the men who planned these policies and directed these little men should escape all penalty.

These men in this dock, on the face of this record, were not strangers to this programme of crime, nor was their connection with it remote or obscure. We find them in the very heart of it. The positions they held show that we have chosen defendants of self-evident responsibility. They are the very highest surviving authorities in their respective fields and in the Nazi State. No one lives who, at least until the very last moments of the war, outranked Goering in position, power, and influence. No soldier stood above Keitel and Jodl, and no sailor above Raeder and Donitz. Who can be responsible for the double-faced diplomacy if not the Foreign Ministers, von Neurath and Ribbentrop, and the diplomatic handyman, von Papen? Who should be answerable for the oppressive administration of occupied countries if Gauleiter, Protectors, Governors and Commissars such as Frank, Seyss-Inquart, Frick, von Schirach, von Neurath, and Rosenberg are not? Where shall we look for those who mobilised the economy for total war if we overlook Schacht and Speer and Funk? Who was the master of the great slaving enterprise if it was not Sauckel? Where shall we find the hand that ran the concentration camps if it was not the hand of Kaltenbrunner? Who whipped up the hates and fears of the public, and manipulated the Party organizations to incite these crimes, if not Hess, von Schirach, Fritzsche, Bormann and the unspeakable Julius Streicher? The list of defendants is made up of men who played indispensable and reciprocal parts in this tragedy. The photographs and the films show them again and again together on important occasions. The documents show them agreed on policies and on methods, and all working aggressively for the expansion of Germany by force of arms.

Hermann Goering

Each of these men made a real contribution to the Nazi plan. Each man had a key part. Deprive the Nazi regime of the functions performed by a Schacht, a Sauckel, a von Papen, or a Goering, and you have a different regime. Look down the rows of fallen men and picture them as the photographic and documentary evidence shows them to have been in their days of power. Is there one who did not substantially advance the conspiracy along its bloody path towards its bloody goal? Can we assume that the great effort of these men’s lives was directed towards ends they never suspected?

To escape the implications of their positions and the inference of guilt from their activities, the defendants are almost unanimous in one defence. The refrain is heard time and again: these men were without authority, without knowledge, without influence, without importance. Funk summed up the general self-abasement of the dock in his plaintive lament that:

“I always, so to speak, came up to the door. But I was not permitted to enter.”

In the testimony of each defendant, at some point there was reached the familiar blank wall: nobody knew anything about what was going on. Time after time we have heard the chorus from the dock:

“I only heard about these things here for the first time.”

These men saw no evil, spoke none, and none was uttered in their presence. This claim might sound very plausible if made by one defendant. But when we put all their stories together, the impression which emerges of the Third Reich, which was to last a thousand years, is ludicrous. If we combine only the stories of the front bench, this is the ridiculous composite picture of Hitler’s Government that emerges. It was composed of:

A No. 2 man who knew nothing of the excesses of the Gestapo which he created, and never suspected the Jewish extermination programme although he was the signer of over a score of decrees which instituted the persecution of that race;

A No. 3 man who was merely an innocent middleman transmitting Hitler’s orders without even reading them, like a postman or delivery boy;

A Foreign Minister who knew little of foreign affairs and nothing of foreign policy;

A Field-Marshal who issued orders to the armed forces but had no idea of the results they would have in practice;

A Security Chief who was of the impression that the policing functions of his Gestapo and SD were somewhat on the lines of directing traffic;

A Party philosopher who was interested in historical research, and had no idea of the violence which his philosophy was inciting in the twentieth century;

A Governor-General of Poland who reigned but did not rule;

A Gauleiter of Franconia whose occupation was to pour forth filthy writings about the Jews, but who had no idea that anybody would read them;

A Minister of the Interior who knew not even what went on in the interior of his own office, much less the interior of his own department, and nothing at all about the interior of Germany;

A Reichsbank President who was totally ignorant of what went in and out of the vaults of his bank;

A Plenipotentiary for the War Economy who secretly marshalled the entire economy for armament, but had no idea it had anything to do with war.

This may seem like a fantastic exaggeration, but this is what you would actually be obliged to conclude if you were to acquit these defendants.

They do protest too much. They deny knowing what was common knowledge. They deny knowing plans and programmes that were as public as Mein Kampf and the Party programme.

They deny even knowing the contents of documents which they received and acted upon. Nearly all the defendants take two or more conflicting positions. Let us illustrate the inconsistencies of their positions by the record of one defendant -who, if pressed, would himself concede that he is the most intelligent, honourable and innocent man in the dock. That is Schacht. And this is the effect of his own testimony -but let us not forget that I recite it not against him alone, but because most of its self-contradictions are found in the testimony of several defendants.

Schacht did not openly join the Nazi movement until it had won, nor openly desert it until it had lost. He admits that he never gave it public opposition, but asserts that he never gave it private loyalty. When we demand of him why he did not stop the criminal course of the regime in which he was a Minister, he says he had not a bit of influence. When we ask why he remained a member of the criminal regime, he tells us that by sticking on he expected to moderate its programme. Like a Brahmin among Untouchables, he could not bear to mingle with the Nazis socially, but never could he afford to separate from them politically. Of all the Nazi aggressions by which he now claims to have been shocked, there is not one that he did not support before the world with the weight of his name and prestige. Having armed Hitler to blackmail a continent, his answer now is to blame England and France for yielding. Schacht always fought for his position in a regime he now affects to despise. He sometimes disagreed with his Nazi confederates about what was expedient in reaching their goal, but he never dissented from the goal itself. When he did break with them in the twilight of the regime, it was over tactics, not principles. From then on he never ceased to urge others to risk their positions and their necks to forward his plots, but never on any occasion did he hazard either of his own. He now boasts that he personally would have shot Hitler if he had had the opportunity, but the German newsreel shows that even after the fall of France, when he faced the living Hitler, he stepped out of line to grasp the hand he now claims to loathe and hung upon the words of the man he now says he thought unworthy of belief. Schacht says he steadily “sabotaged” the Hitler Government. Yet the most relentless secret service in the world never detected him doing the regime any harm until long after, he knew the war to be lost and the Nazis doomed. Schacht, who dealt in “hedges” all his life, always kept himself in a position to claim that he was in either camp. The plea for him is as specious on analysis as it is persuasive on first sight. Schacht represents the most dangerous and reprehensible type of opportunism -that of the man of influential position who is ready to join a movement that he knows to be wrong because he thinks it is winning.

These defendants, unable to deny that they were the men in the very highest ranks of power, and unable to deny that the crimes I have outlined actually happened, know that their own denials are incredible unless they can suggest someone who is guilty.

The defendants have been unanimous, when pressed, in shifting the blame on other men, sometimes on one and sometimes on another. But the names they have repeatedly picked are Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, Goebbels and Bormann. All of these are dead or missing. No matter how hard we have pressed the defendants on the stand, they have never pointed the finger at a living man as guilty. It is a temptation to ponder the wondrous workings of a fate which has left only the guilty dead and only the innocent alive. It is almost too remarkable.

The chief villain on whom blame is placed -some of the defendants vie with each other in producing appropriate epithets -is Hitler. He is the man at whom nearly every defendant has pointed an accusing finger.

I shall not dissent from this consensus, nor do I deny that all these dead and missing men shared the guilt. In crimes so reprehensible that degrees of guilt have lost their significance they may have played the most evil parts. But their guilt cannot exculpate the defendants. Hitler did not carry all responsibility to the grave with him. All the guilt is not wrapped in Himmler’s shroud. It was these dead men whom these living chose to be their partners in this great conspiratorial brotherhood, and the crimes that they did together they must pay for one by one.

It may well be said that Hitler’s final crime was against the land he had ruled. He was a mad “messiah” who started the war without cause and prolonged it without reason. If he could not rule he cared not what happened to Germany. As Fritzsche has told us from the stand, Hitler tried to use the defeat of Germany for the self-destruction of the German people. He continued the fight when he knew it could not be won, and continuance meant only ruin.

Speer, in this courtroom, has described it as follows:

“… The sacrifices which were made on both sides after January, 1945, were senseless. The dead of this period will be the accusers of the man responsible for the continuation of that fight, Adolf Hitler, and the ruined cities which in this last phase lost tremendous cultural values and in which a colossal number of dwellings were destroyed …. The German people remained faithful to Adolf Hitler until the end. He betrayed them knowingly. He finally tried to throw them into the abyss ….”

Hitler ordered everyone else to fight to the last and then retreated into death by his own hand. But he left life as he lived it, a deceiver; he left the official report that he had died in battle. This was the man whom these defendants exalted to a Fuehrer. It was they who conspired to get him absolute authority over all of Germany. And in the end he and the system they had created for him brought the ruin of them all. As stated by Speer in cross-examination:

“… the tremendous danger of the totalitarian system, however, only became really clear at the moment when we were approaching the end. It was then that one could see what the principle really meant, namely, that every order should be carried out without criticism. Everything that has become known during this trial, especially with regard to orders which were carried out without any consideration, has proved how evil it .was in the end…. Quite apart from the personality of Hitler, on the collapse of the totalitarian system in Germany it became clear what tremendous dangers there are in a system of that kind. The combination of Hitler and this system has brought about these tremendous catastrophes in the world.”

But let me for a moment turn devil’s advocate. I admit that Hitler was the chief villain. But for the defendants to put all blame on him is neither manly nor true. We know that even the head of the State has the same limits to his senses and to the hours of his days as do lesser men. He must rely on others to be his eyes and ears as to most that goes on in a great empire. Other legs must run his errands; other hands must execute his plans.

On whom did Hitler rely for such things more than upon these men in the dock? Who led him to believe he had an invincible air armada if not Goering? Who kept disagreeable facts from him? Did not Goering forbid Field-Marshal Milch to warn Hitler that in his opinion Germany was not equal to the war upon Russia? Did not Goering, according to Speer, relieve General Galland of his air force command for speaking of the weaknesses and bungling of the air force? Who led Hitler, utterly untravelled himself, to believe in the indecision and timidity of democratic peoples if not Ribbentrop, von Neurath, and von Papen? Who fed his illusion of German invincibility if not Keitel, Jodl, Raeder, and Donitz? Who kept his hatred of the Jews inflamed more than Streicher and Rosenberg? Who would Hitler say deceived him about conditions in concentration camps if not Kaltenbrunner, even as he would deceive us? These men had access to Hitler and often could control the information that reached him and on which he must base his policy and his orders. They were the Praetorian Guard, and while they were under Caesar’s orders, Caesar was always in their hands.

If these dead men could take the witness stand and answer what has been said against them, we might have a less distorted picture of the parts played by these defendants. Imagine the stir that would occur in the dock if it should behold Adolf Hitler advancing to the witness box, or Himmler with an armful of dossiers, or Goebbels, or Bormann with the reports of his Party spies, or the murdered Roehm or Canaris. The ghoulish defence that the world is entitled to retribution only from the cadavers is an argument worthy of the crimes at which it is directed.

We have presented to this Tribunal an affirmative case based on incriminating documents whic are sufficient, if unexplained, to require a finding of guilt on Count One against each defendant. In the final analysis, the only question is whether the defendants’ own testimony is to be credited as against the documents and other evidence of their guilt. What, then, is their testimony worth?

The fact is that the Nazi habit of economising in the use of truth pulls the foundations out from under their own defences. Lying has always been a highly approved Nazi technique. Hitler, in Mein Kampf, advocated mendacity as a policy. Von Ribbentrop admits the use of the “diplomatic lie”. Keitel advised that the facts of rearmament be kept secret so that they could be denied at Geneva. Raeder deceived about rebuilding the German Navy in violation of Versailles. Goering urged Ribbentrop to tell a “legal lie” to the British Foreign Office about the Anschluss, and in so doing only marshalled him the way he was going. Goering gave his word of honour to the Czechs and proceeded to break it. Even Speer proposed to deceive the French into revealing the specially trained among their prisoners.

Nor is the lie direct the only means of falsehood. They all speak with a Nazi double meaning with which to deceive the unwary. In the Nazi dictionary of sardonic euphemisms “Final solution” of the Jewish problem was a phrase which meant extermination; “Special treatment” of prisoners of war meant killing; “Protective custody” meant concentration camp; “Duty labour” meant slave labour; and an order to “take a firm attitude” or “take positive measures” meant to act with unrestrained savagery. Before we accept their word at what seems to be its face value, we must always look for hidden meanings. Goering assured us, on his oath, that the Reich Defence Council never met “as such”. When we produced the stenographic minutes of a meeting at which he presided and did most of the talking, he reminded us of the “as such” and explained this was not a meeting of the Council “as such” because other persons were present. Goering denies “threatening” Czechoslovakia. He only told President Hacha that he would “hate to bomb the beautiful city of Prague”.

 

Besides outright false statements and those with double meanings, there are also other circumventions of truth in the nature of fantastic explanations and absurd professions. Streicher has solemnly maintained that his only thought with respect to the Jews was to resettle them on the island of Madagascar. His reason for destroying synagogues, he blandly said, was only because they were architecturally offensive. Rosenberg was stated by his counsel to have always had in mind a “chivalrous solution” to the Jewish problem. When it was necessary to remove Schuschnigg after the Anschluss, Ribbentrop would have had us believe that the Austrian Chancellor was resting at a “villa”. It was left to cross-examination to reveal that the “villa” was Buchenwald concentration camp. The record is full of other examples of dissimulations and evasions. Even Schacht showed that he, too, had adopted the Nazi attitude that truth is any story which succeeds. Confronted on cross-examination with a long record of broken vows and false words, he declared in justification -and I quote from the record:

“I think you can score many more successes when you want to lead someone if you don’t tell them the truth than if you tell them the truth.”

This was the philosophy of the National Socialists. When for years they have deceived the world, and masked falsehood with plausibilities, can anyone be surprised that they continue that habit of a lifetime in this dock? Credibility is one of the main issues of this trial. Only those who have failed to learn the bitter lessons of the last decade can doubt that men who have always played on the unsuspecting credulity of generous opponents would not hesitate to do the same now.

It is against such a background that these defendants now ask this Tribunal to say that they are not guilty of planning, executing, or conspiring to commit this long list of crimes and wrongs. They stand before the record of this trial as bloodstained Gloucester stood by the body of his slain King. He begged of the widow, as they beg of you: “Say I slew them not.” And the Queen replied, “Then say they were not slain. But dead they are ….” If you were to say of these men that they are not guilty, it would be as true to say that there has been no war, there are no slain, there has been no crime.

That is as true today as when he spoke thee,. How can so called Christian Conservatives claim any innocence in the crimes and willful actions of a President and administration whose words and actions to deny the danger for temporary political gain, proclaiming without evidence that the Coronavirus 19 was not a danger and would go away, who blocked the efforts of the CDC and other respected and experienced experts in stopping viral pandemics, and mounted a massive propaganda campaign to discredit them in the face of massive factual data proving them wrong.

The fact of the matter is that they are as guilty as any Nazi who condemned a man or woman to death in a gas chamber, by firing squads, explosives, by biting in churches or synagogues, by hanging by the noose or meat hooks, by the guillotine, In medical experiments, or by working them to death or starving them.

The excuse that some will claim that that never thought it would come to the disaster we are facing when they repeated the lies that COVID19 would just go away, or that debunked medications would cure it, or any number of other lies and conspiracy theories were true, are as guilty as the people who promoted them, be they politicians, pundits, or preachers.

Honestly, I will tell the truth, no matter what people say. If someone claims to be pro-life I will ask them what they did to help any of the post-born, whose lives are just as valuable as a pre-born fetus. I am against abortion with some exceptions dictated by medical conditions that presume the death of the fetus as well as the mother, or weigh the survival of each in the full consideration of the values and desires of those who have to live with the decision. However, abortion aside, if you deem the life of any person of less value to dying from COVID19 based on their race, ethnicity, age, or citizenship you are not pro-life. If you are willing to claim that your right not to not follow fact based evidence about wearing masks in public outweighs  endangering others to disease and death is somehow responsible or pro-life, then you are a liar and anyone that gets this disease and dies or suffers from any of the potential life long effects of it because of your actions,myou are as guilty as sin.

In Judgment at Nuremberg, Spencer Tracy playing Judge Haygood tells The court about the eminent German Jurist, Ernst Janning played by Burt Lancaster, who is honestly repentant for his actions is the sterilization sand killings of the handicapped:

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

At the end of the film the following exchange between Janning and Haygood there Is this final exchange following the sentencing with Janning thanking Haygood for the sentence, but still trying to profess ignorance.

Ernst Janning: Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, you must believe it!
Judge Dan Haywood: Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

That is the problem who still argue to deflect the blame from themselves for denying the virus, taking no action to stop it, or propagating complete falsehoods to inoculate themselves against blame. President Trump himself set the precedent for this by early in the game claiming “I am not responsible for anything.” No American President has ever made that claim, and Harry S. Truman, set the tone for Presidential responsibility when he proclaimed “The Buck Stops Here.” And gave a warning to future President’s: “If you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” President Trump who lies at a pace unmatched by any previous President or elected Senator, Representative, or cabinet official ever made until he became President. Now his sycophants all do the same. Nothing is their responsibility, including nearly 160,000 Americans who died from Coronavirus 19. They remind me of the Nuremberg defendants, though in complete control they knew nothing, or they were “just following orders.” How long will it before the supposedly Christian, conservative, pro-life enablers of mass murderers, finally recognize their their bloodguilt in theses deaths, which will continue to mount. I think that the death toll by the election will be close to 300,000, or well above if schools are opened without the means to contain the the virus.

Any federal or state secretary of education, President or Governor, or board of education will share the guilt and bathe their hands in the blood of the victims. But such people who would order such actions has no conscience, and really do not care if those children contract the virus, spread it to their families, friends, teachers, or school staff are infected and die from it or suffer the rest of their mortal lives with conditions caused by the virus. If it was up to me every elected or appointed official carrying out these policies would be arrested and charged with crimes against humanity, and maybe even genocide, especially if most of the students in the affected School districts are Black, Latino, Native American, or Asian.

There is a particular point that I want to re-emphasize: it is the matter of personal responsibility for ones actions and their affects on others. If an elected or appointed official chooses to make policy, and act against the weight of verifiable scientific and historical evidence To advance their political or religious ideology at the cost of hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of infections that leave many of those infected with lifelong physical complications including heart disease, kidney disease, pulmonary and respiratory disease, early strokes, and too many other physiological diseases and conditions yet to be determined as  new effects of it on the physical bodies of those infected, even mildly come to light in the coming weeks, months, and years.

I will not remain silent. I cannot. I fully concur with the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote:

“The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” and also“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Until the majority of Americans is willing to fight this and decide that our duty is to of those being persecuted, victimized, and killed  by the Trump regime, we will all have some of the blood on our hands. I cannot remain silent, for silence only brings death, and enables tyranny. which only enables the tyrant, in this case our President, his administration, the legislators who support him as well as the state and local officials doing their damnedest to implement his genocidal policies. They are all complicit in the deaths of at least 158,000 Americans, while dictating policies that if we are lucky will only double that number by th November elections.

As for me I repeat the words of Sophie Scholl, a leader of the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance movement. Sophie wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

A year later Major General Henning Von Tresckow wrote:

“It is almost certain that we will fail. But how will future history judge the German people, if not even a handful of men had the courage to put an end to that criminal?”… and “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

That is our choice today. Will we stand with the persecuted, or join the ranks of the persecutors and bystanders? It is an honest and well thought out question for anyone who calls themself a Christian, or any non-Christian who who supports, stands by, and carries out such illegal and unconstitutional orders from a President who believed that he is above the laws of God and man?

I leave you with that,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Power, Beauty and Tragedy at Sea: The Battlecruisers Scharnhorst & Gneisenau

Scharnhorst

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I was too tired last two nights to write anything. Thursday I had a long but good day at work and had to clean out much of my private email last night before I could do anything else because I was at over 90% of my email storage capacity. And it took forever to sort through it and get it down to almost 50%. Likewise, I did very little on social media. I finally caught up on my comics from the last couple of days and replied to some correspondence that I needed to do and began to work on this last night, but again found that I was too tired to complete it. So when it appeared that I wouldn’t complete it until after midnight I simply said “what the hell” and put it off until now.

This is another one of those posts to switch things up and write about a class of warships that I find fascinating, the World War II German Battlecruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. First and foremost I think that they were among the most beautiful capital ships ever built. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t have design flaws, or were superior to many other capital ships. Gneisenau’s career was cut short by Germany’s inability to protect her while in port, while Scharnhorst was the victim of an ill planned sortie under the command of an admiral who had no experience commanding large ships and who had only assumed command of her task force the day before. So if you are a Naval history or warship  buff, enjoy.

Have a great day, stay inside and if you have to go out wear a mask and keep a safe distance from others to protect you and them.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

The naval architects of Germany in the early 1930s designed some of the most beautiful as well as deadly warships of the Second World War.  Following Nazi Germany’s rejection of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles the Kreigsmarine enacted building program to enlarge and modernize the German Navy.

Gneisenau refueling  from Tanker Westerwald in July 1939 

The first major units constructed were actually begun by the predecessor to the Kreigsmarine, the Reichsmarine of the Weimar Republic.  These were the Deutschland class Armored Ships, Panzerschiffe, sometimes called “Pocket Battleships” and later during the war were reclassified as Heavy Cruisers. These ships were designed to replace the old pre-Dreadnaught battleships which Germany was allowed to retain following the Treaty of  Versailles. The ships incorporated electric welds to reduce displacement, diesel engines for extended cruising range to enable them to serve as commerce raiders and a battery of six 11” guns. It was believed that as surface raiders their speed would allow them to avoid battle with all existing battleships except the three British Battlecruisers Hood, Renown, and Repulse, while being able to outgun any heavy or light cruiser they might encounter on such a mission. While they were an advance over anything in the German inventory they were outclassed by Hood, Renown and Repulse, as well as later French Dunkerque and Strasbourg. 

Gneisenau

The next and first truly capital ships built by the Kriegsmarine were the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau battleships which in reality were battle cruisers because of their light main battery of 11” guns as opposed to the 14”, 15” or 16” batteries of other nations battleships. The Hermans did. plan to rearm them with 15” guns but the war kept that from happening.

Scharnhorst before the War 

Despite the disparity in their main armament, their displacement and armor protection was comparable to other battleships of the era and their designed speed of 31.5 knots was superior to almost all other battleships of the era including the British King George V Class and the US North Carolina class.  Only the British Hood was superior to them in speed. However, their speed came at a cost, they did not have the long cruising range to make them truly effective commerce raiders because they were propelled by steam turbines which consumed large amounts of fuel. Since the Germans did not have a fleet replenishment system like the U.S. Navy, nor the secure network of worldwide bases of the Royal Navy, they could only operate in the Northern Atlantic or Arctic for limited amounts of time. If damaged there were few safe harbors for them which had the capability of repairing them without them being exposed to allied bombers.

Gneisenau Main Battery

As built they displaced 31,000 toms, however at full combat load they both weighed in at nearly 38,000 tons and were 772 feet long.  They had an armor belt that was nearly 14 inches thick.  Armed with a main battery of nine 11” guns and a secondary armament of twelve 5.9 inch guns they also mounted a powerful for the time anti- aircraft battery of fourteen 4.1 inch guns, 16 37mm and 16 20mm anti-aircraft cannons.  Additionally they mounted six 21” torpedo tubes and carried three Arado 196 A3 scout planes.  The main battery was eventually to be replaced by six 15” guns but this never occurred although Gneisenau was taken in hand after being damaged in Operation Cerberus to mount the new weapons but the conversion was never completed.

Scharnhorst in Action Against HMS Glorious

Scharnhorst was laid down on 15 June 1935 and launched 3 October 1936. She was commissioned 7 January 1939.  Her sister Gneisenau was laid down 6 May 1935, launched 8 December 1936 and commissioned 21 May 1938.  Upon the commencement of the Second World War the two sisters began a reign of destruction on British shipping in the North Atlantic. On 23 November 1939 they sank the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Rawalpindi while on patrol near the Faroe Islands.

During Operation Weserübung the pair surprised sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers HMS Ardent and Acasta on 7 June 1940. It was the only time a Fleet carrier was caught and sunk by battleships during the war. However, Scharnhorst was hit by a torpedo from Acasta which led to her being withdrawn to Trondheim, for temporary repairs before retiring to Kiel for permanent repairs.

Scharnhorst during Operation Berlin and being Refueled during the Operation

From January to March 1941 they conducted Operation Berlin under the command of Admiral Gunther Lütjens against British merchant shipping in the North Atlantic sinking 22 ships before returning to base. During the action the task force encountered the British Battleships HMS Ramillies and HMS Malaya escorting different convoys which Lütjens refused to engage. After sinking ships from another convoy they encountered HMS King George V and HMS Rodney which they escaped using their superior speed, but by now, Lütjens realize that the danger of continuing the outweighed the potential success and headed for repairs in the port Brest, in occupied France.

While in Brest Scharnhorst needed repairs to a superheater for her boilers, while Gneisenau was damaged during a British air raid and were unable to deploy with Bismarck and Prinz Eugen for Operation Rheinübung, during which Bismarck sank HMS Hood, but was damaged by a 14” shell from HMS Prince of Wales which cut the fuel line from the ship’s forward fuel tanks. Lütjens decided to cut the mission short and escape to Brest, but was damaged by an aerial torpedo from a Swordfish torpedo bomber flying from HMS Ark Royal which wrecked her steering gear and allowed HMS King George V, HMS Rodney, as well as cruisers and destroyers to catch and sink her on May 27th. Prinz Eugen returned safely to Brest to join the Battlecruisers.

The Channel Dash Seen from Prinz Eugen above and below


                          Admiral Cilliax Addressing the Crew of Scharnhorst at Kiel

While at Brest Gneisenau was again bombed and torpedoed requiring extensive repairs.  Due to the exposed location of the port, the German high command decided to return the ships to Germany along with the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen.  Commanded by Vice Admiral Otto Ciliax,  Operation Cerberus took place from 11-13 February 1942. It involved the Battlecruisers and Prinz Eugen, accompanied by destroyers, E-Boats, and R-Boats. The force was protected heavy Luftwaffe fighter cover, Code named Operation Donnerkeil the air operation was commanded by the legendary Luftwaffe fighter ace, General Adolf  Galland. 

The dash up the English Channel, was unsuccessfully contested by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. The German ships successfully broke through the Channel in broad daylight and protected itself from being damaged by aircraft, motor torpedo boats, destroyers, and shore batteries. Once clear of the channel and headed for home both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau struck mines which caused various amounts of damage, but both got through to Kiel.

The success of the daylight passage through the English Channel shocked and infuriated the British public. The Times of London published an editorial on 14 February which fumed:

Vice Admiral Ciliax has succeeded where the Duke of Medina Sidonia failed. Nothing more mortifying to the pride of our sea-power has happened since the seventeenth century. […] It spelled the end of the Royal Navy legend that in wartime no enemy battle fleet could pass through what we proudly call the English Channel.

Despite the fact that then Operation was successful, the high command of the German Navy Their breakthrough was an embarrassment to the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. The high Command of the German Navy considered it a tactical victory but a strategic defeat, for it had traded a base, albeit exposed from which it could conduct offensive operations, to the defense of Norway, a mission of dubious value at best.

                                    Gneisenau after being Bombed in Floating Dry Dock

While undergoing repairs in a floating dry dock at Kiel Gneisenau was heavily damaged by the Royal Air Force on the night of 26-27 February. The damage was such that the Kriegsmarine High Command decided to elongate her damaged bow section and rearmament to replace her main battery with 15” guns. Once seaworthy she steamed to the port of Gotenhafen for full repairs and rearmament. Although some work was completed the conversion was halted by Hitler who was infuriated by the failure of a German Task Force at the Battle of the Barents Sea, 30-31 December 1942. Hitler fired Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, and and gave an order to scrap what remained of the German surface fleet and concentrate on the U-Boat war. Admiral Karl Donitz prevented the scrapping of the fleet, but most ships were laid up and their crews reassigned to provide crews for U-Boats. Gneisenau was disarmed with her 11” and twin 5.9” removed and installed along the Atlantic Wall. One triple 11” turret, either Bruno or Dora was installed as part of a coastal defense battery in Norway. The battery was taken over by the Norwegians after liberation and remained in commission as Austrått Fort until 1968. Since then it has become a well preserved museum.

When the Red Army approached Gotenhafen her remaining crew moved her to the harbor entrance and sank her as a block ship on 27 March 1945.  Following the war she was raised by the Poles and scrapped in 1951.

Gneisenau Sunk as Blockship 

Turret of Gneisenau at Austrått Fort Norway

 

Scharnhorst was repaired following Operation Cerberes and in March 1943 was transferred to Norway where along with Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer, Lutzow (the former Deutschland), Admiral Hipper and Prinz Eugen she became part of a “fleet in being” poised to strike the Allied convoys bound for Russia. On Christmas Day 1943 under the command of Rear Admiral Erich Bey the Scharnhorst set sail with several destroyers undertook Operation Ostfront and the ensuing battle became known as the Battle of North Cape. The mission was an attack on two Russia bound convoys. But the orders were intercepted and decoded by the British. Admiral Bruce Fraser planned a trap to intercept and neutralize Scharnhorst. 

Once Scharnhorst sailed the battleship HMS Duke of York, four cruisers and a number of destroyers as she closed on the convoy. However, due to the sea conditions Bey detached his escorting destroyers and ordered them to return to port.  Duke of York and her supporting cruisers and destroyers engaged Scharnhorst. Bey now realized he had no chance of destroying the convoy and attempted to escape.  However, Scharnhorst was damaged and her speed and maneuvering capabilities impaired.  Now virtually defenseless and surrounded the great ship was sunk with the loss of all but 36 of her 1968 man crew. Her wreck was discovered 3 October 2000 some 70 miles north of North Cape Norway.

Sinking of Scharnhorst by Charles Turner ( c) National Maritime Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Survivors of Scharnhorst debark in England 

Thus ended the careers of two of the most beautiful battleships ships to grace the seas. Though their  careers were short they both survived frequent heavy battle damage to return and fight again.  Perhaps  their greatest weakness was the inability of the German Navy to provide them adequate escorts at sea, and the inability of the Luftwaffe to protect them against air strikes while in port. But ultimately their great weakness was the poor naval strategy employed by Hitler and Raeder at the beginning of the war which ensured their destruction. Of the major German surface units only the Pocket Battleships we’re capable of long range commerce raiding operations. The short range of the other heavy German ships, their reliance on steam turbines rather than Diesel engines, lack of air and surface support at sea, and secure overseas bases that that could operate doomed all of them to failure, and resulted in the deaths of far too many brave sailors, fighting for their country in an unrighteousness and evil cause.

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Christmas Tragedy: The Senseless Loss of the Scharnhorst at North Cape

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is the Second Day of Christmas or as it is also known, the Feast of St. Stephen; and Boxing Day, oh for the days of Ali and Frazier… but I digress…

Christmastide is a joyous time for many, but in the course of history there have been times that military men have fought and died in hopeless battles far from their families. Thus it is often a time of sorrow, especially for those that die alone. Among those who died alone in the Arctic darkness of December 26th 1943 were the officers and crew of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

Schlachtschiff

The Scharnhorst along with her sister ship Gneisenau were the product of the naval architects of Germany who in the early 1930s designed some of the most beautiful as well as deadly warships of the Second World War.  Following Germany’s rejection of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles the Kreigsmarine enacted a building program to enlarge and modernize the German Navy which then was composed of obsolete pre-Dreadnaught battleships and a few modern light cruisers and destroyers.   The first major units constructed were actually begun by the predecessor to the Kreigsmarine, the Reichsmarine Of the Weimar Republic.  These were the Deutschland class Armored Ships, sometimes called “Pocket Battleships” and later reclassified as Heavy Cruisers. These ships were designed to replace the old pre-Dreadnaught battleships and incorporated electric welds to reduce displacement, diesel engines for extended cruise range to enable them to serve as commerce raiders and a battery of six 11” guns.  While an advance over anything in the German inventory they were outclassed by the British battle cruisers Hood, Renown and Repulse.

However, the first true capital ships built by the Kriegsmarine were the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau They were classed as battleships by the Germans, but in reality they were battle cruisers because of their light main battery of 11” guns as opposed to the 14”, 15” or 16” batteries of other nations battleships.  In fact, their main battery was Despite this in displacement and armor protection of the ships was comparable to other battleships of the era and their designed speed of 31.5 knots was superior to almost all other battleships of the era including the British King George V Class and the US Navy’s  North Carolina class.  Only the massive battlecruiser HMS Hood was their superior in speed and firepower.

As built Scharnhorst and Gneisenau displaced 31,000 toms, however at full combat load they both weighed in at nearly 38,000 tons and were 772 feet long.  They had an armor belt that was nearly 14 inches thick.  Armed with a main battery of nine 11” guns and a secondary armament of twelve 5.9 inch guns they also mounted a powerful for the time anti- aircraft battery of fourteen 4.1 inch guns, 16 37mm and 16 20mm anti-aircraft cannons.  Additionally they mounted six 21” torpedo tubes and carried three Arado 196 A3 scout planes.  The main battery was eventually to be replaced by six 15” guns but this never occurred; Gneisenau was taken in hand to mount the new weapons but the conversion was never completed due to Hitler’s anger after the failure of a German task force during the Battle of the Barents Sea in December 1942.

scharnhorst2

Scharnhorst firing at HMS Glorious 

Laid down on 15 June 1935 and launched 3 October 1936 Scharnhorst was commissioned 7 January 1939.  Her sister Gneisenau was laid down 6 May 1935, launched 8 December 1936 and commissioned 21 May 1938.  Upon the commencement of the Second World War the two sisters began a reign of destruction on British shipping. In November they sank the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Rawalpindi During Operation Weserübung the pair surprised sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers, the only time a Fleet carrier was caught and sunk by battleships during the war.   From January to March 1941 they conducted Operation Berlin against British merchant shipping in the North Atlantic sinking 22 ships before returning to base.

eeb893a0b92de4ae595de56fe0fd90ca

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during Operation Cerebus

While in the port of Brest Gneisenau was bombed and torpedoed requiring extensive repairs.  Due to the exposed location of the port the German high command decided to return the ships to Germany along with the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen.  The operation was called Operation Cerberus and it took place from 11-13 February 1942. The ships made a dash up the English Channel which was unsuccessfully contested by the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. However, both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were damaged by mines and needed subsequent repairs.  While undergoing repairs in Kiel Gneisenau was further damaged by the Royal Air Force requiring repairs in or to steam to the port of Gotenhafen for repair and conversion.  Although some work was completed she was decommissioned and sunk as a blockship on 23 March 1945.  Following the war she was raised by the Poles and scrapped.

Scharnhorst was repaired following Operation Cerberes and in March 1943 was transferred to Norway where along with Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer, Lutzow (the former Deutschland), Admiral Hipper and Prinz Eugen she became part of a “fleet in being” poised to strike the Allied convoys bound for Russia.

Admiral_Bruce_Fraser_1943_IWM_A_16489

Admiral Bruce Fraser

The German surface ships were a potent force that if the circumstances allowed could devastate the Russia bound convoys and the Commander of the British Home Fleet, Admiral Bruce Fraser was determined to entrap and destroy any of these ships that threatened any convoy. As such in December 1943 Fraser formed a task group built around the HMS Duke of York to be ready to pounce on any German raider that threatened the convoys. His intent was to catch any of these ships, especially Scharnhorst and trap them between the convoys and their base, in conduction with a second task group centered around the cruisers HMS Belfast, HMS Norfolk, and HMS Sheffield, Known as Force One, and destroy the German battleship.

The key to British the British operation was Enigma the German code machine and cipher system which they had acquired from captured U-Boats, and which British code-breakers had mastered. The Germans decided to send Scharnhorst and five destroyers to locate and destroy convoy JW-55B which had been spotted by Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft. Because of Enigma, Fraser knew that Scharnhorst would attempt to intercept the convoy and put his plan to set the trap in motion.

Battle_of_North_Cape_26_December_1943_map

Scharnhorst and her escorts set sail on Christmas Day 1943 under the command of Rear Admiral Erich Bey to conduct Operation Ostfront. But Bey was new to command, he had been promoted to Konteradmiral on the day the force sailed, having taken the place of Admiral Oskar Kummetz who had left for Germany to take a long convalescent leave. Bey was an experienced commander, but all of his experience was on destroyers. He was a torpedo expert, but had never served aboard a battleship, or even a cruiser, and he was a a novice when it came to the large caliber guns aboard the Scharnhorst. His position was made worse by the fact that the task force staff had been thinned out by the Navy, for few expected it to be sent in combat.

However, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, had decided that given the right conditions, specifically that an exposed convey without heavy support which could be engaged with a high degree of success could be attacked. This convoy was JW-55B, which had been spotted by a German weather observation aircraft on the 22nd Of December. However, the weather was so foul that no further spotting of it or any other British ships was made. There was no question that further air reconnaissance was possible, Berlin was satisfied that the convoy had no support, as German Historian Wolfgang Zank wrote that Berlin followed its motto: “Was nicht gemeldet wird, ist auch nicht da” or “What isn’t reported, isn’t there.” 

Bey wasn’t convinced while still transiting Alta Fjord, he radioed Berlin to inform the high command of how the weather would interfere with the operations of his five destroyers, after all he was a destroyerman and had commanded destroyers in such weather. He was attempting to get the mission called off, but Berlin insisted on the attack. Dönitz replied “I believe in your attacking spirit. Sieg Heil!” With no recourse, Bey put to sea.

However, his destroyers could not keep pace with Scharnhorst so Bey detached them and sailed alone to fight the enemy.

Since Fraser knew that the Germans were coming he had the convoy to temporarily reverse course. This action caused Bey to find nothing where he expected the convoy to be, but he did encounter and engage at long range Fraser’s cruisers including HMS Norfolk, HMS Sheffield both veterans of the the hunt for and sinking of the Bismarck and the HMS Belfast. Scharnhorst’s guns damaged the heavy cruiser Norfolk, but the radar directed fire of the British cruisers landed a hit which knocked out her search radar leaving the German ship virtually blind as the weather worsened and darkness set in.

Bey, thinking he had shaken his pursuers, set course for Alta Fjord at full speed, however, Belfast had maintained contact and Fraser with Duke of York closed the distance and at 1617 her radar picked up the German at a range of 45,500 yards. By 1632 she was 29,700 yards away. Scharnhorst was oblivious to the danger, and at 1648 Belfast illuminated the German ship and Duke of York opened fire at just under 12,000 yards scoring hits which disabled Scharnhorst’s forward turrets and destroyed her airplane hanger. Bey changed course and increased speed, briefly opening the range and momentarily giving the Germans hope, but that was not to be.

At 1820 Duke of York struck a devastating blow on the German ship. A 14” shell pierced the armored belt and exploded in Scharnhorst’s number one boiler room reducing her speed to just 10 knots. Quick repairs were made enabling the ship to steam at 22 knots, but now she was vulnerable to torpedo attacks by the British destroyers.

When he did not find the convoy in the expected location Bey detached his destroyers to expand the search area, leaving Scharnhorst alone to face the enemy.

Rear Admiral Erich Bey

At about 0900 on December 26th 1943 the cruisers of Force One discovered Scharnhorst and the  Battle of North Cape was on. Though little damage was suffered in the first engagement, the radar of Scharnhorst was knocked out, leaving her not only without air support or escort, but blind.

HMS Duke of York underway, and firing her main battery

Scharnhorst attempted to flee, but Fraser’s Duke of York  and her four escorting destroyers destroyers intercepted her. Without radar in the blinding snow squalls Scharnhorst was surprise by their appearance. Duke of York’s first radar direct salvos knocked out her forward main battery but the German ship appeared to be making a getaway when a shell from Duke of York hit her number one boiler room and reduced her speed to barely ten knots. Although the German engineers and damage control teams made some repairs and were able to bring her speed back up to 22 knots, the British ships rapidly made up the distance enabling the British destroyers to launch torpedo attacks.

Knowing the ship was doomed Admiral Bey dispatched a message to the high command of the Kriegsmarine: “We will fight on until the last shell is fired.” 

While Scharnhorst attempted to fight off her attackers and escape she was struck by torpedoes from several destroyers as being punished at distance of under 10,000 yards by Duke of York’s 14″ shells, as well as the 6″ shells of HMS Belfast and HMS Jamaica. Savaged by at least 13 hits by Duke of York’s 14” shells and numerous torpedo hits, incapable of further resistance, the German ship capsized and sank, her massive screws still turning at 1945 hours with the loss of all but 36 of her 1968 man crew. Admiral Bey was not among the survivors, though he was spotted in the water

As she sank bow first survivors attempted to abaneon ship. Günter Sträter, who survived amd was rescued noted:

“In the water now the sailors were looking to get the rafts”,… those  who found a place on the rafts sang both verses of the song: ‘On a sailor’s grave, there are no roses blooming.’ I did not hear cries for help. It all happened exactly and without panic. “

Survivors were rescued by the British destroyers HMS wreck was discovered on October 3rd 2000 some 70 miles north of North Cape Norway. Of the ships engaged, only HMS Belfast survives, as a museum ship in the Thames River in London.

Scharnhorst_survivors_A_021202

Survivors of Scharnhorst 

Admiral Fraser praised the gallantry of the German ship to his officers later that night saying: “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”

After the battle Grand Admiral Erich Raeder who had authorized the sortie was relieved as commander in chief of the navy and was replaced by Grand Admiral Karl Donitz who commanded the U-Boat forces. Hitler was furious and ended most surface naval operations.

800px-Scharnhorst-WHV-April-2011

Memorial to Scharnhorst and her crew at Kiel and the HMS Belfast moored as a Museum ship in the Thames River, London 

I have written many times about the tragedy of war, on land and at sea. Having served in combat zones on land and having been shot at by the enemy, as well as having served at sea on a cruiser I have a sense of what these men must have gone through on that final day of their lives. Though I am a realist and know that such tragedies will likely occur again, in fact I expect them and predict that the United States Navy will see its share of nautical disasters when it faces well equipped and trained opponents.

All that being said, I really do pray for the day that war will be no more and that those who serve in harm’s way will never have to do so again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, nazi germany, World War II at Sea, world war two in europe

Fall Weiß: The Invasion Of Poland at 80 Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Eighty years ago today the German Wehrmacht on the orders of Adolf Hitler invaded Poland. It began the European phase of the Second World War and by the time the war was over Europe would be devastated, Hitler would be dead, and the world changed. An epoch had ended, a new epoch begun. It is quite possible that the epoch that began with the defeat of Nazi Germany is ending, and something else, maybe like the previous era from 1918-1945 is returning. But, what follows the epoch that began in 1945 and appears to be ending, is the province futurists, seers, and prophets.

Not being the Prophet, nor the son of the Prophet, I shall not engage in speculation, but return to 1 September 1939.

Hitler, who had concluded non-aggression pact with Stalin’s Soviet Union did not believe that Britain or France would do any more than to conclude a peace agreement after he finished Poland. Though France and Britain could have caused havoc and maybe even ended the war had they even attempted a serious campaign against Germany in September 1939, they did not. Hitler’s gamble which gave great concern to his Generals paid off. Poland was defeated, and with his pact with Stalin in place, Hitler was able to turn his attention to the West.

Hitler’s biographer, the late German historian Joachim Fest wrote:

In spite of all expenditures in the preceding years Germany was armed only, for the war that Hitler launched on September 1, not for the war of September 3. The army did consist of 102 divisions, but only half of these were active and battle-ready. The state of its training left much to be desired. The navy was distinctly inferior to the British and even to the French fleets; not even the strength permissible under the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935 had been attained. Shortly after the Western declarations of war reached Berlin, Grand Admiral Raeder declared tersely that the German fleet, or rather “the little that is finished or will be finished in time, can only go down fighting honorably.” The air force alone was stronger than the forces of the enemy; it had 3,298 planes at its disposal. On the other hand, the ammunition supply had been half consumed by the end of the Polish campaign, so that the war could not have been actively continued for even three or four weeks. At Nuremberg, General Jodl called the existing reserves at the outbreak of the war “literally ridiculous.” Troop equipment also amounted to considerably less than the four-month stock that the High Command of the army had demanded. Even a small-scale attack from the West in the fall of 1939 would probably have brought about Germany’s defeat and the end of the war, military experts have concluded.

But Hitler’s war went far beyond a typical military invasion, occupation and revision of borders or exploitation of economic resources. Hitler’s invasion of Poland was his first movement to achieve Lebensraum “living space” in the East. It was also a racial war where the less than human inhabitants of that space, especially the Jews would be expelled from their homes, driven into ghettos, and eventually exterminated. In Poland the victims included the Polish intelligentsia, professors, priests, military officers, government officials, nobility; anyone who might be able to lead a revolt.

By invading Poland Hitler had abandoned politics which had served him so well against, party rivals, domestic opponents, and later European and World leaders. After Poland Hitler rejected political options and pressed forward with war. Fest wrote:

One of the striking aspects of his behavior is the stubborn, peculiarly blind impatience with which he pressed forward into the conflict. That impatience was curiously at odds with the hesitancy and vacillations that had preceded earlier decisions of his. When, in the last days of August, Göring pleaded with him not to push the gamble too far, he replied heatedly that throughout his life he had always played vabanque. And though this metaphor was accurate for the matter at hand, it hardly described the wary, circumspect style with which he had proceeded in the past. We must go further back, almost to the early, prepolitical phase of his career, to find the link with the abruptness of his conduct during the summer of 1939, with its reminders of old provocations and daredevil risks. There is, in fact, every indication that during these months Hitler was throwing aside more than tried and tested tactics, that he was giving up a policy in which he had excelled for fifteen years and in which for a while he had outstripped all antagonists. It was as if he were at last tired of having to adapt himself to circumstances, tired of the eternal talking, dissimulation, and diplomatic wirepulling, and were again seeking “a great, universally understandable, liberating action.”

Hitler having brought about the destruction of Europe died by his own hand in his bunker having determined that the German people were not worthy of him. The conflict which he bathed in the mythological understandings of Wagner and Paganism was also an eschatological war. Race and Lebensraum overrode all sense of ethics, morality, and even diplomacy that might lead to long term alliances with partners that shared shared mutual interests. Instead, Hitler’s most base instincts, hatred, and the racist desire to establish his mythological Aryan Race as the overlords of Poland, and the. Of every other conquered nation put him in a league of his own.

Fest wrote:

Morally, too, he now crossed the boundary that made the war irrevocable. In the same conversation he demanded the repression of any sign “that a Polish intelligentsia is coming forward as a class of leaders. The country is to continue under a low standard of living; we want to draw only labor forces from it.” Territory that went far beyond the borders of 1914 was incorporated into the Reich. The remainder was set up as a general government under the administration of Hans Frank; one part was subjected to a ruthless process of Germanization, the other to an unprecedented campaign of enslavement and annihilation. And while the commandos, the Einsatzgruppen, commenced their reign of terror, arresting, resettling, expelling, and liquidating—so that one German army officer wrote in a horrified letter of a “band of murderers, robbers and plunderers”—Hans Frank extolled the “epoch of the East” that was now beginning for Germany, a period, as he described it in his own peculiar brand of bombastic jargon, “of the most tremendous reshaping of colonizing and resettlement implementation.”

Diplomacy has no place in eschatology. Interestingly, the same day he signed an order for a euthanasia program directed against the weakest members of his own German nation. In his worldview the handicapped, the mentally ill, and others with any kind of disability were life unworthy of life. They were a drain on society.

Anyway, this is enough for the night. I shall refrain from an comparisons with the current American President, the authoritarian and racist leaders taking power in parts of Europe, and the British Prime Minister working to overthrow Britain’s relationship with Europe while threatening the very fabric of the British Constitutional Monarchy, and the unity of the United Kingdom.

The ghosts of the past seldom remain there and often return with a vengeance when awakened by the same forces that unleashed them then.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, leadership, Military, nazi germany, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

The Death Ride Of the Scharnhorst at North Cape

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was the Second Day of Christmas or as it is also known, the Feast of St. Stephen.

Christmastide is a joyous time for many, but in the course of history there have been times that military men have fought and died in hopeless battles far from their families. Thus it is often a time of sorrow, especially for those that die alone. Among those who died alone in the Arctic darkness of December 26th 1943 were the officers and crew of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

Schlachtschiff

The Scharnhorst along with her sister ship Gneisenau were the product of the naval architects of Germany who in the early 1930s designed some of the most beautiful as well as deadly warships of the Second World War.  Following Germany’s rejection of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles the Kreigsmarine enacted a building program to enlarge and modernize the German Navy which then was composed of obsolete pre-Dreadnaught battleships and a few modern light cruisers and destroyers.   The first major units constructed were actually begun by the predecessor to the Kreigsmarine, the Reichsmarine Of the Weimar Republic.  These were the Deutschland class Armored Ships, sometimes called “Pocket Battleships” and later reclassified as Heavy Cruisers. These ships were designed to replace the old pre-Dreadnaught battleships and incorporated electric welds to reduce displacement, diesel engines for extended cruise range to enable them to serve as commerce raiders and a battery of six 11” guns.  While an advance over anything in the German inventory they were outclassed by the British battle cruisers Hood, Renown and Repulse.

However, the first true capital ships built by the Kriegsmarine were the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau They were classed as battleships by the Germans, but in reality they were battle cruisers because of their light main battery of 11” guns as opposed to the 14”, 15” or 16” batteries of other nations battleships.  In fact, their main battery was Despite this in displacement and armor protection of the ships was comparable to other battleships of the era and their designed speed of 31.5 knots was superior to almost all other battleships of the era including the British King George V Class and the US Navy’s  North Carolina class.  Only the massive battlecruiser HMS Hood was their superior in speed and firepower.

As built Scharnhorst and Gneisenau displaced 31,000 toms, however at full combat load they both weighed in at nearly 38,000 tons and were 772 feet long.  They had an armor belt that was nearly 14 inches thick.  Armed with a main battery of nine 11” guns and a secondary armament of twelve 5.9 inch guns they also mounted a powerful for the time anti- aircraft battery of fourteen 4.1 inch guns, 16 37mm and 16 20mm anti-aircraft cannons.  Additionally they mounted six 21” torpedo tubes and carried three Arado 196 A3 scout planes.  The main battery was eventually to be replaced by six 15” guns but this never occurred; Gneisenau was taken in hand to mount the new weapons but the conversion was never completed due to Hitler’s anger after the failure of a German task force during the Battle of the Barents Sea in December 1942.

scharnhorst2

Scharnhorst firing at HMS Glorious 

Laid down on 15 June 1935 and launched 3 October 1936 Scharnhorst was commissioned 7 January 1939.  Her sister Gneisenau was laid down 6 May 1935, launched 8 December 1936 and commissioned 21 May 1938.  Upon the commencement of the Second World War the two sisters began a reign of destruction on British shipping. In November they sank the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Rawalpindi During Operation Weserübung the pair surprised sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers, the only time a Fleet carrier was caught and sunk by battleships during the war.   From January to March 1941 they conducted Operation Berlin against British merchant shipping in the North Atlantic sinking 22 ships before returning to base.

eeb893a0b92de4ae595de56fe0fd90ca

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during Operation Cerebus

While in the port of Brest Gneisenau was bombed and torpedoed requiring extensive repairs.  Due to the exposed location of the port the German high command decided to return the ships to Germany along with the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen.  The operation was called Operation Cerberus and it took place from 11-13 February 1942. The ships made a dash up the English Channel which was unsuccessfully contested by the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. However, both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were damaged by mines and needed subsequent repairs.  While undergoing repairs in Kiel Gneisenau was further damaged by the Royal Air Force requiring repairs in or to steam to the port of Gotenhafen for repair and conversion.  Although some work was completed she was decommissioned and sunk as a blockship on 23 March 1945.  Following the war she was raised by the Poles and scrapped.

Scharnhorst was repaired following Operation Cerberes and in March 1943 was transferred to Norway where along with Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer, Lutzow (the former Deutschland), Admiral Hipper and Prinz Eugen she became part of a “fleet in being” poised to strike the Allied convoys bound for Russia.

 

Admiral_Bruce_Fraser_1943_IWM_A_16489

Admiral Bruce Fraser

The German surface ships were a potent force that if the circumstances allowed could devastate the Russia bound convoys and the Commander of the British Home Fleet, Admiral Bruce Fraser was determined to entrap and destroy any of these ships that threatened any convoy. As such in December 1943 Fraser formed a task group built around the HMS Duke of York to be ready to pounce on any German raider that threatened the convoys. His intent was to catch any of these ships, especially Scharnhorst and trap them between the convoys and their base, in conduction with a second task group centered around the cruisers HMS Belfast, HMS Norfolk, and HMS Sheffield, Known as Force One, and destroy the German battleship.

The key to British the British operation was Enigma the German code machine and cipher system which they had acquired from captured U-Boats, and which British code-breakers had mastered. The Germans decided to send Scharnhorst and five destroyers to locate and destroy convoy JW-55B which had been spotted by Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft. Because of Enigma, Fraser knew that Scharnhorst would attempt to intercept the convoy and put his plan to set the trap in motion.

Battle_of_North_Cape_26_December_1943_map

Scharnhorst and her escorts set sail on Christmas Day 1943 under the command of Rear Admiral Erich Bey to conduct Operation Ostfront. But Bey was new to command, he had been promoted to Konteradmiral on the day the force sailed, having taken the place of Admiral Oskar Kummetz who had left for Germany to take a long convalescent leave. Bey was an experienced commander, but all of his experience was on destroyers. He was a torpedo expert, but had never served aboard a battleship, or even a cruiser, and he was a a novice when it came to the large caliber guns aboard the Scharnhorst. His position was made worse by the fact that the task force staff had been thinned out by the Navy for few expected it to be sent in combat.

However, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, had decided that given the right conditions, specifically that an exposed convey without heavy support which could be engaged with a high degree of success could be attacked. This convoy was JW-55B, which had been spotted by a German weather observation aircraft on the 22nd Of December. However, the weather was so foul that no further spotting of it or any other British ships was made. There was no question that further air reconnaissance was possible, Berlin was satisfied that the convoy had no support, as German Historian Wolfgang Zank wrote that Berlin followed its motto: “Was nicht gemeldet wird, ist auch nicht da” or “What isn’t reported, isn’t there.” 

Bey wasn’t convinced while still transiting Alta Fjord, he radioed Berlin to inform the high command of how the weather would interfere with the operations of his five destroyers, after all he was a destroyerman and had commanded destroyers in such weather. He was attempting to get the mission called off, but Berlin insisted on the attack. Dönitz replied “I believe in your attacking spirit. Sieg Heil!” With no recourse, Bey put to sea.

However, his destroyers could not keep pace with Scharnhorst so Bey detached them and sailed alone to fight the enemy.

Since Fraser knew that the Germans were coming he had the convoy to temporarily reverse course. This action caused Bey to find nothing where he expected the convoy to be, but he did encounter and engage at long range Fraser’s cruisers including HMS Norfolk, HMS Sheffield both veterans of the the hunt for and sinking of the Bismarck and the HMS Belfast. Scharnhorst’s guns damaged the heavy cruiser Norfolk, but the radar directed fire of the British cruisers landed a hit which knocked out her search radar leaving the German ship virtually blind as the weather worsened and darkness set in.

Bey, thinking he had shaken his pursuers, set course for Alta Fjord at full speed, however, Belfast had maintained contact and Fraser with Duke of York closed the distance and at 1617 her radar picked up the German at a range of 45,500 yards. By 1632 she was 29,700 yards away. Scharnhorst was oblivious to the danger, and at 1648 Belfast illuminated the German ship and Duke of York opened fire at just under 12,000 yards scoring hits which disabled Scharnhorst’s forward turrets and destroyed her airplane hanger. Bey changed course and increased speed, briefly opening the range and momentarily giving the Germans hope, but that was not to be.

At 1820 Duke of York struck a devastating blow on the German ship. A 14” shell pierced the armored belt and exploded in Scharnhorst’s number one boiler room reducing her speed to just 10 knots. Quick repairs were made enabling the ship to steam at 22 knots, but now she was vulnerable to torpedo attacks by the British destroyers.

When he did not find the convoy in the expected location Bey detached his destroyers to expand the search area, leaving Scharnhorst alone to face the enemy.

Rear Admiral Erich Bey

At about 0900 on December 26th 1943 the cruisers of Force One discovered Scharnhorst and the  Battle of North Cape was on. Though little damage was suffered in the first engagement, the radar of Scharnhorst was knocked out, leaving her not only without air support or escort, but blind.

HMS Duke of York firing her main battery

Scharnhorst attempted to flee, but Fraser’s Duke of York  and her four escorting destroyers destroyers intercepted her. Without radar in the blinding snow squalls Scharnhorst was surprise by their appearance. Duke of York’s first radar direct salvos knocked out her forward main battery but the German ship appeared to be making a getaway when a shell from Duke of York hit her number one boiler room and reduced her speed to barely ten knots. Although the German engineers and damage control teams made some repairs and were able to bring her speed back up to 22 knots, the British ships rapidly made up the distance enabling the British destroyers to launch torpedo attacks.

Knowing the ship was doomed Admiral Bey dispatched a message to the high command of the Kriegsmarine: “We will fight on until the last shell is fired.” 

While Scharnhorst attempted to fight off her attackers and escape she was struck by torpedoes from several destroyers as being punished at distance of under 10,000 yards by Duke of York’s 14″ shells, as well as the 6″ shells of HMS Belfast and HMS Jamaica. Savaged by at least 13 hits by Duke of York’s 14” shells and numerous torpedo hits, incapable of further resistance, the German ship capsized and sank, her massive screws still turning at 1945 hours with the loss of all but 36 of her 1968 man crew. Admiral Bey was not among the survivors, though he was spotted in the water

As she sank bow first survivors attempted to abaneon ship. Günter Sträter, who survived amd was rescued noted:

“In the water now the sailors were looking to get the rafts”,… those  who found a place on the rafts sang both verses of the song: ‘On a sailor’s grave, there are no roses blooming.’ I did not hear cries for help. It all happened exactly and without panic. “

Survivors were rescued by the British destroyers HMS wreck was discovered on October 3rd 2000 some 70 miles north of North Cape Norway. Of the ships engaged, only HMS Belfast survives, as a museum ship in the Thames River in London.

Scharnhorst_survivors_A_021202

Survivors of Scharnhorst 

Admiral Fraser praised the gallantry of the German ship to his officers later that night saying: “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”

After the battle Grand Admiral Erich Raeder who had authorized the sortie was relieved as commander in chief of the navy and was replaced by Grand Admiral Karl Donitz who commanded the U-Boat forces. Hitler was furious and ended most surface naval operations.

800px-Scharnhorst-WHV-April-2011

Memorial to Scharnhorst and her crew at Kiel and the HMS Belfast

I have written many times about the tragedy of war, on land and at sea. Having served in combat zones on land and having been shot at by the enemy, as well as having served at sea on a cruiser I have a sense of what these men must have gone through on that final day of their lives. Though I am a realist and know that such tragedies will likely occur again, in fact I expect them and predict that the United States Navy will see its share of nautical disasters when it faces well equipped and trained opponents.

All that being said, I really do pray for the day that war will be no more and that those who serve in harm’s way will never have to do so again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, nazi germany, World War II at Sea

Death in the Arctic: The Sinking of the Scharnhorst at North Cape

Schlachtschiff Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was the Second Day of Christmas or as it is also known, the Feast of St. Stephen.

Christmastide is a joyous time for many, but in the course of history there have been times that military men have fought and died in hopeless battles far from their families. Thus it is often a time of sorrow, especially for those that die alone. Among those who died alone in the Arctic darkness of December 26th 1943 were the officers and crew of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

Schlachtschiff

The Scharnhorst along with her sister ship Gneisenau were the product of the naval architects of Germany who in the early 1930s designed some of the most beautiful as well as deadly warships of the Second World War.  Following Germany’s rejection of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles the Kreigsmarine enacted a building program to enlarge and modernize the German Navy which then was composed of obsolete pre-Dreadnaught battleships and a few modern light cruisers and destroyers.   The first major units constructed were actually begun by the predecessor to the Kreigsmarine, the Reichsmarineof the Weimar Republic.  These were the Deutschland class Armored Ships, sometimes called “Pocket Battleships” and later reclassified as Heavy Cruisers. These ships were designed to replace the old pre-Dreadnaught battleships and incorporated electric welds to reduce displacement, diesel engines for extended cruise range to enable them to serve as commerce raiders and a battery of six 11” guns.  While an advance over anything in the German inventory they were outclassed by the British battle cruisers Hood, Renown and Repulse.

However, the first truly capital ships built by the Kriegsmarine were the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau Rated as battleships, in reality they were battle cruisers because of their light main battery of 11” guns as opposed to the 14”, 15” or 16” batteries of other nations battleships.  Despite this in displacement and armor protection of the ships was comparable to other battleships of the era and their designed speed of 31.5 knots was superior to almost all other battleships of the era including the British King George V Class and the US Navy’s  North Carolina class.  Only the massive battlecruiser HMS Hood was their superior in speed and firepower.

As built Scharnhorst and Gneisenau displaced 31,000 toms, however at full combat load they both weighed in at nearly 38,000 tons and were 772 feet long.  They had an armor belt that was nearly 14 inches thick.  Armed with a main battery of nine 11” guns and a secondary armament of twelve 5.9 inch guns they also mounted a powerful for the time anti- aircraft battery of fourteen 4.1 inch guns, 16 37mm and 16 20mm anti-aircraft cannons.  Additionally they mounted six 21” torpedo tubes and carried three Arado 196 A3 scout planes.  The main battery was eventually to be replaced by six 15” guns but this never occurred; Gneisenau was taken in hand to mount the new weapons but the conversion was never completed due to Hitler’s anger after the failure of a German task force during the Battle of the Barents Sea in December 1942.

scharnhorst2Scharnhorst firing at HMS Glorious 

Laid down on 15 June 1935 and launched 3 October 1936 Scharnhorst was commissioned 7 January 1939.  Her sister Gneisenau was laid down 6 May 1935, launched 8 December 1936 and commissioned 21 May 1938.  Upon the commencement of the Second World War the two sisters began a reign of destruction on British shipping. In November they sank the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Rawalpindi During Operation Weserübung the pair surprised sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers, the only time a Fleet carrier was caught and sunk by battleships during the war.   From January to March 1941 they conducted Operation Berlin against British merchant shipping in the North Atlantic sinking 22 ships before returning to base.

eeb893a0b92de4ae595de56fe0fd90caScharnhorst and Gneisenau during Operation Cerebus

While in the port of Brest Gneisenau was bombed and torpedoed requiring extensive repairs.  Due to the exposed location of the port the German high command decided to return the ships to Germany along with the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen.  The operation was called Operation Cerberus and it took place from 11-13 February 1942. The ships made a dash up the English Channel which was unsuccessfully contested by the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. However, both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were damaged by mines and needed subsequent repairs.  While undergoing repairs in Kiel Gneisenauwas further damaged by the Royal Air Force requiring repairs in or to steam to the port of Gotenhafen for repair and conversion.  Although some work was completed she was decommissioned and sunk as a blockship on 23 March 1945.  Following the war she was raised by the Poles and scrapped.

Scharnhorst was repaired following Operation Cerberes and in March 1943 was transferred to Norway where along with Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer, Lutzow (the former Deutschland), Admiral Hipper and Prinz Eugen she became part of a “fleet in being” poised to strike the Allied convoys bound for Russia.

Admiral_Bruce_Fraser_1943_IWM_A_16489Admiral Bruce Fraser

The German surface ships were a potent force that if the circumstances allowed could devastate the Russia bound convoys and the Commander of the British Home Fleet, Admiral Bruce Fraser was determined to entrap and destroy any of these ships that threatened any convoy. As such in December 1943 Fraser formed a task group built around the HMS Duke of York to be ready to pounce on any German raider that threatened the convoys. His intent was to catch any of these ships, especially Scharnhorst and trap them between the convoys and their base, in conduction with a second task group centered around the cruisers HMS Belfast, HMS Norfolk, and HMS Sheffield, Known as Force One, and destroy the German battleship.

The key to British the British operation was Enigma the German code machine and cipher system which they had acquired from captured U-Boats, and which British code-breakers had mastered. The Germans decided to send Scharnhorst and five destroyers to locate and destroy convoy JW-55B which had been spotted by Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft. Because of EnigmaFraser knew that Scharnhorst would attempt to intercept the convoy and put his plan in motion.

Battle_of_North_Cape_26_December_1943_mapScharnhorst and her escorts set sail on Christmas Day 1943 under the command of Rear Admiral Erich Bey to conduct Operation Ostfront. Since Fraser knew that the Germans were coming he had the convoy to temporarily reverse course which caused the Germans to miss the convoy. When he did not find the convoy in the expected location Bey detached his destroyers to expand the search area, leaving Scharnhorst alone to face the enemy.

scharnhort_operation_ostfront_5Rear Admiral Erich Bey

At about 0900 on December 26th 1943 the cruisers of Force One discovered Scharnhorst and the  Battle of North Cape was on. Though little damage was suffered in the first engagement, the radar of Scharnhorst was knocked out, leaving her not only without air support or escort, but blind.

6050465664_e1f42ac7f8_oHMS Duke of York firing her main battery

Scharnhorst attempted to flee but Fraser’s Duke of York  and her four escorting destroyers destroyers intercepted her. Without radar in the blinding snow squalls Scharnhorst was surprised. Duke of York’s first radar direct salvos knocked out her forward main battery but the German ship appeared to be making a getaway when a shell from Duke of York hit her number one boiler room and reduced her speed to barely ten knots. Although the German engineers and damage control teams made some repairs and were able to bring her speed back up to 22 knots, the British ships rapidly made up the distance enabling the British destroyers to launch torpedo attacks.

Knowing the ship was doomed Admiral Bey dispatched a message to the high command of the Kriegsmarine: “We will fight on until the last shell is fired.”

While she still attempted to fight off her attackers and escape she was struck by torpedoes from several destroyers as well as was pummeled by the at at distance of under 10,000 yards by Duke of York’s 14″ shells, as well as the 6″ shells of HMS Belfast and HMS Jamaica. Savaged by hits and incapable of further resistance the German ship capsized and sank at 1945 hours with the loss of all but 36 of her 1968 man crew.  Her wreck was discovered on October 3rd 2000 some 70 miles north of North Cape Norway.

Scharnhorst_survivors_A_021202Survivors of Scharnhorst 

Admiral Fraser praised the gallantry of the German ship to his officers later that night saying: “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”

After the battle Grand Admiral Erich Raeder who had authorized the sortie was relieved as commander in chief of the navy and was replaced by Grand Admiral Karl Donitz who commanded the U-Boat forces. Hitler was furious and ended most surface naval operations.

800px-Scharnhorst-WHV-April-2011Memorial to Scharnhorst and her crew at Kiel

I have written many times about the tragedy of war, on land and at sea. Having served in combat zones on land and having been shot at by the enemy, as well as having served at sea on a cruiser I have a sense of what these men must have gone through on that final day of their lives. Though I am a realist and know that such tragedies will likely occur again, I do pray for the day that war will be no more and that those who serve in harm’s way will never have to again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, nazi germany, World War II at Sea

The Battle of North Cape: The Death of the Scharnhorst

Schlachtschiff "Scharnhorst"

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have posted a number of articles dealing with the tragedy of war during the Christmas season and I am continuing that on this day which is often called the Second Day of Christmas or the Feast of St. Stephen.

Christmastide is a joyous time for many, but in the course of history there have been times that military men have fought and died in hopeless battles far from their families. Thus it is often a time of sorry, especially for those that die alone. Among those who died alone in the Arctic darkness of December 26th 1943 were the officers and crew of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

Schlachtschiff "Scharnhorst"

Scharnhorst in port

The Scharnhorst along with her sister ship Gneisenau were the product of the naval architects of Germany who in the early 1930s designed some of the most beautiful as well as deadly warships of the Second World War.  Following Germany’s rejection of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles the Kreigsmarine enacted a building program to enlarge and modernize the German Navy which then was composed of obsolete pre-Dreadnaught battleships and a few modern light cruisers and destroyers.   The first major units constructed were actually begun by the predecessor to the Kreigsmarine, the Reichsmarineof the Weimar Republic.  These were the Deutschland class Armored Ships, sometimes called “Pocket Battleships” and later reclassified as Heavy Cruisers. These ships were designed to replace the old pre-Dreadnaught battleships and incorporated electric welds to reduce displacement, diesel engines for extended cruise range to enable them to serve as commerce raiders and a battery of six 11” guns.  While an advance over anything in the German inventory they were outclassed by the British battle cruisers Hood, Renown and Repulse.

However, the first truly capital ships built by the Kriegsmarine were the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau Rated as battleships, in reality they were battle cruisers because of their light main battery of 11” guns as opposed to the 14”, 15” or 16” batteries of other nations battleships.  Despite this in displacement and armor protection of the ships was comparable to other battleships of the era and their designed speed of 31.5 knots was superior to almost all other battleships of the era including the British King George V Class and the US Navy’s  North Carolina class.  Only the massive battlecruiser HMS Hood was their superior in speed and firepower.

As built Scharnhorst and Gneisenau displaced 31,000 toms, however at full combat load they both weighed in at nearly 38,000 tons and were 772 feet long.  They had an armor belt that was nearly 14 inches thick.  Armed with a main battery of nine 11” guns and a secondary armament of twelve 5.9 inch guns they also mounted a powerful for the time anti- aircraft battery of fourteen 4.1 inch guns, 16 37mm and 16 20mm anti-aircraft cannons.  Additionally they mounted six 21” torpedo tubes and carried three Arado 196 A3 scout planes.  The main battery was eventually to be replaced by six 15” guns but this never occurred although Gneisenau was taken in hand to mount the new weapons but the conversion was never completed.

scharnhorst2

Scharnhorst firing at HMS Glorious 

Laid down on 15 June 1935 and launched 3 October 1936 Scharnhorst was commissioned 7 January 1939.  Her sister Gneisenau was laid down 6 May 1935, launched 8 December 1936 and commissioned 21 May 1938.  Upon the commencement of the Second World War the two sisters began a reign of destruction on British shipping. In November they sank the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Rawalpindi During Operation Weserübung the pair surprised sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers, the only time a Fleet carrier was caught and sunk by battleships during the war.   From January to March 1941 they conducted Operation Berlin against British merchant shipping in the North Atlantic sinking 22 ships before returning to base.

eeb893a0b92de4ae595de56fe0fd90ca

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during Operation Cerebus

While in the port of Brest Gneisenau was bombed and torpedoed requiring extensive repairs.  Due to the exposed location of the port the German high command decided to return the ships to Germany along with the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen.  The operation was called Operation Cerberus and it took place from 11-13 February 1942. The ships made a dash up the English Channel which was unsuccessfully contested by the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. However, both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were damaged by mines and needed subsequent repairs.  While undergoing repairs in Kiel Gneisenauwas further damaged by the Royal Air Force requiring repairs in or to steam to the port of Gotenhafen for repair and conversion.  Although some work was completed she was decommissioned and sunk as a blockship on 23 March 1945.  Following the war she was raised by the Poles and scrapped.

Scharnhorst was repaired following Operation Cerberes and in March 1943 was transferred to Norway where along with Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer, Lutzow (the former Deutschland), Admiral Hipper and Prinz Eugen she became part of a “fleet in being” poised to strike the Allied convoys bound for Russia.

Admiral_Bruce_Fraser_1943_IWM_A_16489

Admiral Bruce Fraser

The German surface ships were a potent force that if the circumstances allowed could devastate the Russia bound convoys and the Commander of the British Home Fleet, Admiral Bruce Fraser was determined to entrap and destroy any of these ships that threatened any convoy. As such in December 1943 Fraser formed a task group built around the HMS Duke of York to be ready to pounce on any German raider that threatened the convoys. His intent was to catch any of these ships, especially Scharnhorst and trap them between the convoys and their base, in conduction with a second task group centered around the cruisers HMS Belfast, HMS Norfolk, and HMS Sheffield, Known as Force One, and destroy the German battleship.

The key to British the British operation was Enigma the German code machine and cipher system which they had acquired from captured U-Boats, and which British code-breakers had mastered. The Germans decided to send Scharnhorst and five destroyers to locate and destroy convoy JW-55B which had been spotted by Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft. Because of EnigmaFraser knew that Scharnhorst would attempt to intercept the convoy and put his plan in motion.

Battle_of_North_Cape_26_December_1943_map

 

Scharnhorst and her escorts set sail on Christmas Day 1943 under the command of Rear Admiral Erich Bey to conduct Operation Ostfront. Since Fraser knew that the Germans were coming he had the convoy to temporarily reverse course which caused the Germans to miss the convoy. When he did not find the convoy in the expected location Bey detached his destroyers to expand the search area, leaving Scharnhorst alone to face the enemy.

scharnhort_operation_ostfront_5

Rear Admiral Erich Bey

At about 0900 on December 26th 1943 the cruisers of Force One discovered Scharnhorst and the  Battle of North Cape was on. Though little damage was suffered in the first engagement, the radar of Scharnhorst was knocked out, leaving her not only without air support or escort, but blind.

6050465664_e1f42ac7f8_o

HMS Duke of York firing at Scharnhorst

Scharnhorst attempted to flee but Fraser’s Duke of York  and her four escorting destroyers destroyers intercepted her. Without radar in the blinding snow squalls Scharnhorst was surprised. Duke of York’s first radar direct salvos knocked out her forward main battery but the German ship appeared to be making a getaway when a shell from Duke of York hit her number one boiler room and reduced her speed to barely ten knots. Although the German engineers and damage control teams made some repairs and were able to bring her speed back up to 22 knots, the British ships rapidly made up the distance enabling the British destroyers to launch torpedo attacks.

Knowing the ship was doomed Admiral Bey dispatched a message to the high command of the Kriegsmarine: “We will fight on until the last shell is fired.”

While she still attempted to fight off her attackers and escape she was struck by torpedoes from several destroyers as well as was pummeled by the at at distance of under 10,000 yards by Duke of York’s 14″ shells, as well as the 6″ shells of HMS Belfast and HMS Jamaica. Savaged by hits and incapable of further resistance the German ship capsized and sank at 1945 hours with the loss of all but 36 of her 1968 man crew.  Her wreck was discovered 3 October 2000 some 70 miles north of North Cape Norway.

Scharnhorst_survivors_A_021202

Survivors of Scharnhorst 

Admiral Fraser praised the gallantry of the German ship to his officers later that night saying: “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”

After the battle Grand Admiral Erich Raeder who had authorized the sortie was relieved as commander in chief of the navy and was replaced by Grand Admiral Karl Donitz who commanded the U-Boat forces. Hitler was furious and ended most surface naval operations.

800px-Scharnhorst-WHV-April-2011

Memorial to Scharnhorst and her crew at Kiel

I have written many times about the tragedy of war, on land and at sea. Having served in combat zones on land and having been shot at by the enemy, as well as having served at sea on a cruiser I have a sense of what these men must have gone through on that final day of their lives. Though I am a realist and know that such tragedies will likely occur again, I do pray for the day that war will be no more and that those who serve in harm’s way will never have to again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, World War II at Sea

Death in the Arctic: Scharnhorst at North Cape

Schlachtschiff "Scharnhorst"

Christmastide is a joyous time for many, but in the course of history there have been times that military men have fought and died in hopeless battles far from their families. Thus it is often a time of sorry, especially for those that die alone. Among those who died alone in the Arctic darkness of December 26th 1943 were the officers and crew of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

Schlachtschiff "Scharnhorst"

Scharnhorst in port

The Scharnhorst along with her sister ship Gneisenau were the product of the naval architects of Germany who in the early 1930s designed some of the most beautiful as well as deadly warships of the Second World War.  Following Germany’s rejection of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles the Kreigsmarine enacted a building program to enlarge and modernize the German Navy which then was composed of obsolete pre-Dreadnaught battleships and a few modern light cruisers and destroyers.   The first major units constructed were actually begun by the predecessor to the Kreigsmarine, the Reichsmarine of the Weimar Republic.  These were the Deutschland class Armored Ships, sometimes called “Pocket Battleships” and later reclassified as Heavy Cruisers. These ships were designed to replace the old pre-Dreadnaught battleships and incorporated electric welds to reduce displacement, diesel engines for extended cruise range to enable them to serve as commerce raiders and a battery of six 11” guns.  While an advance over anything in the German inventory they were outclassed by the British battle cruisers Hood, Renown and Repulse.

However, the first truly capital ships built by the Kriegsmarine were the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau Rated as battleships, in reality they were battle cruisers because of their light main battery of 11” guns as opposed to the 14”, 15” or 16” batteries of other nations battleships.  Despite this in displacement and armor protection of the ships was comparable to other battleships of the era and their designed speed of 31.5 knots was superior to almost all other battleships of the era including the British King George V Class and the US Navy’s  North Carolina class.  Only the massive battlecruiser HMS Hood was their superior in speed and firepower.

As built Scharnhorst and Gneisenau displaced 31,000 toms, however at full combat load they both weighed in at nearly 38,000 tons and were 772 feet long.  They had an armor belt that was nearly 14 inches thick.  Armed with a main battery of nine 11” guns and a secondary armament of twelve 5.9 inch guns they also mounted a powerful for the time anti- aircraft battery of fourteen 4.1 inch guns, 16 37mm and 16 20mm anti-aircraft cannons.  Additionally they mounted six 21” torpedo tubes and carried three Arado 196 A3 scout planes.  The main battery was eventually to be replaced by six 15” guns but this never occurred although Gneisenau was taken in hand to mount the new weapons but the conversion was never completed.

scharnhorst2

Scharnhorst firing at HMS Glorious 

Laid down on 15 June 1935 and launched 3 October 1936 Scharnhorst was commissioned 7 January 1939.  Her sister Gneisenau was laid down 6 May 1935, launched 8 December 1936 and commissioned 21 May 1938.  Upon the commencement of the Second World War the two sisters began a reign of destruction on British shipping. In November they sank the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Rawalpindi During Operation Weserübung the pair surprised sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers, the only time a Fleet carrier was caught and sunk by battleships during the war.   From January to March 1941 they conducted Operation Berlin against British merchant shipping in the North Atlantic sinking 22 ships before returning to base.

eeb893a0b92de4ae595de56fe0fd90ca

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during Operation Cerebus

While in the port of Brest Gneisenau was bombed and torpedoed requiring extensive repairs.  Due to the exposed location of the port the German high command decided to return the ships to Germany along with the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen.  The operation was called Operation Cerberus and it took place from 11-13 February 1942. The ships made a dash up the English Channel which was unsuccessfully contested by the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. However, both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were damaged by mines and needed subsequent repairs.  While undergoing repairs in Kiel Gneisenau was further damaged by the Royal Air Force requiring repairs in or to steam to the port of Gotenhafen for repair and conversion.  Although some work was completed she was decommissioned and sunk as a blockship on 23 March 1945.  Following the war she was raised by the Poles and scrapped.

Scharnhorst was repaired following Operation Cerberes and in March 1943 was transferred to Norway where along with Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer, Lutzow (the former Deutschland), Admiral Hipper and Prinz Eugen she became part of a “fleet in being” poised to strike the Allied convoys bound for Russia.

Admiral_Bruce_Fraser_1943_IWM_A_16489

Admiral Bruce Fraser

The German surface ships were a potent force that if the circumstances allowed could devastate the Russia bound convoys and the Commander of the British Home Fleet, Admiral Bruce Fraser was determined to entrap and destroy any of these ships that threatened any convoy. As such in December 1943 Fraser formed a task group built around the HMS Duke of York to be ready to pounce on any German raider that threatened the convoys. His intent was to catch any of these ships, especially Scharnhorst and trap them between the convoys and their base, in conduction with a second task group centered around the cruisers HMS Belfast, HMS Norfolk, and HMS Sheffield, Known as Force One, and destroy the German battleship.

The key to British the British operation was Enigma the German code machine and cipher system which they had acquired from captured U-Boats, and which British code-breakers had mastered. The Germans decided to send Scharnhorst and five destroyers to locate and destroy convoy JW-55B which had been spotted by Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft. Because of Enigma Fraser knew that Scharnhorst would attempt to intercept the convoy and put his plan in motion.

Battle_of_North_Cape_26_December_1943_map

 

Scharnhorst and her escorts set sail on Christmas Day 1943 under the command of Rear Admiral Erich Bey to conduct Operation Ostfront. Since Fraser knew that the Germans were coming he had the convoy to temporarily reverse course which caused the Germans to miss the convoy. When he did not find the convoy in the expected location Bey detached his destroyers to expand the search area, leaving Scharnhorst alone to face the enemy.

scharnhort_operation_ostfront_5

Rear Admiral Erich Bey

At about 0900 on December 26th 1943 the cruisers of Force One discovered Scharnhorst and the  Battle of North Cape was on. Though little damage was suffered in the first engagement, the radar of Scharnhorst was knocked out, leaving her not only without air support or escort, but blind.

6050465664_e1f42ac7f8_o

HMS Duke of York firing at Scharnhorst

Scharnhorst attempted to flee but Fraser’s Duke of York  and her four escorting destroyers destroyers intercepted her. Without radar in the blinding snow squalls Scharnhorst was surprised. Duke of York’s first radar direct salvos knocked out her forward main battery but the German ship appeared to be making a getaway when a shell from Duke of York hit her number one boiler room and reduced her speed to barely ten knots. Although the German engineers and damage control teams made some repairs and were able to bring her speed back up to 22 knots, the British ships rapidly made up the distance enabling the British destroyers to launch torpedo attacks.

Knowing the ship was doomed Admiral Bey dispatched a message to the high command of the Kriegsmarine: “We will fight on until the last shell is fired.”

While she still attempted to fight off her attackers and escape she was struck by torpedoes from several destroyers as well as was pummeled by the at at distance of under 10,000 yards by Duke of York’s 14″ shells, as well as the 6″ shells of HMS Belfast and HMS Jamaica. Savaged by hits and incapable of further resistance the German ship capsized and sank at 1945 hours with the loss of all but 36 of her 1968 man crew.  Her wreck was discovered 3 October 2000 some 70 miles north of North Cape Norway.

Scharnhorst_survivors_A_021202

Survivors of Scharnhorst 

Admiral Fraser praised the gallantry of the German ship to his officers later that night saying: “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”

After the battle Grand Admiral Erich Raeder who had authorized the sortie was relieved as commander in chief of the navy and was replaced by Grand Admiral Karl Donitz who commanded the U-Boat forces. Hitler was furious and ended most surface naval operations.

800px-Scharnhorst-WHV-April-2011

Memorial to Scharnhorst and her crew at Kiel

I have written many times about the tragedy of war, on land and at sea. Having served in combat zones on land and having been shot at by the enemy, as well as having served at sea on a cruiser I have a sense of what these men must have gone through on that final day of their lives. Though I am a realist and know that such tragedies will likely occur again, I do pray for the day that war will be no more and that those who serve in harm’s way will never have to again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, nazi germany, world war two in europe