Tag Archives: german kriegsmarine

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+

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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+

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The Type VIIC U-Boat: The Workhorse of the German Navy

das_boot03

Das Boot 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The beginning of this week has been really busy with something unexpected at work that took up much of my day caring for some of my co-workers. Nobody died or anything like that, but it was pretty traumatic and I am not the person to write about it, though I expect that Thomas Ricks may do so soon. That being said, as always there is much to write about but after today I am kind of taking it easy, besides, Donald Trump’s antics are getting pretty boring as he continues to implode as a serious candidate for President, as are the machinations of the GOP House members, the gang who could’t shoot strait, who are trying once again to torpedo Hillary Clinton. Sorry, but after five years they remind me of Wile E. Coyote trying to get the Road Runner, simply boring. 

So tonight something not very controversial but interesting. Those that know me and have been following my writings from the beginning know that I am fascinated with warships. Today, and the next few days I am going to republish some very old articles about three important types of German U-Boats in the Second World War. Tonight, an article on the Type VII U-Boat, the workhorse of the German Navy during the Battle of the Atlantic, and a tribute to the brave sailors who served aboard them, most of who never returned home.

Have a great night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

type viic

The signature warship of the German Kreigsmarine of the Second World War has to be the U-Boat Type VIIC, the most numerous type of submarine ever produced by any Navy. 568 of these U-Boats would be commissioned beutween 1940 and 1945 as well as 91 of the Type VIIC/41. The Type VIIC was developed from the prewar Type I and Type VIIA and VIIB classes.

Compared to contemporary American submarines of the Gato class they were smaller, mounted fewer torpedo tubes and had a shorter range. However the American boats were designed for the vast expanse of the Pacific while the German boats for the most part were operated in the smaller confines of the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

u1023

U-1023

The boats displaced a mere 769 tons on the surface and 871 tons submerged and were 67.1 meters (220.14 feet) long. The boats had a single pressure hull and the VIIC could dive to a maximum depth of 230 meters (754 feet) and had a crush depth of 250-295 meters (820-967 feet). The VIIC/41 could dive to 250 meters or 820 feet and a crush depth of 275-325 meters (902-1066 feet). This was deeper than any allied submarines of the period and a testament to their sound construction.

St. Nazaire, Uboot U 94, Karl Dönitz

Admiral Dönitz greeting U-94 in 1941

The Type VIICs were armed with a C35 88 mm/L45 gun with 220 rounds for surface actions and various types and numbers of anti-aircraft guns. The standard configuration for torpedo tubes was 4 bow mounted tubes and 1 stern mounted tube although a small number only carried 2 forward and none aft. They carried a maximum of 14 torpedoes and could carry 26 TMA Mines which would be laid at approaches to various ports.

u966

U-966 under air attack

The Type VIIC was powered by two supercharged Germaniawerft, 6 cylinder, 4-stroke M6V 40/46 diesel engines on the surface producing between 2,800 to 3,200 horsepower which gave the boats a 17.7 knot maximum speed on surface. For submerged operations the boats were powered by one of a number of different electric motors whose batteries were charged by the diesels. The electric motors produced 750 horsepower (560 kW) and could drive the boats a maximum of 7.6 knots. In 1944 many of the surviving boats were equipped with the schnorkel apparatus which allowed them to use their diesel engines underwater at shallow depths. The had a range of 8190 miles at 10 knots surfaced which gave them a decent amount of operational flexibility for their Atlantic operations.

U995_2004_1

The last Type VII- U-995 (Type VIIC/41) German U-Boat Memorial Laboe Germany

During the war the German U-Boat force suffered grievous losses many of which were Type VIICs. The VIICs performed excellently in combat and many survived engagements that would have sunk less tough boats. The most famous of the Type VIICs of all variants is probably the U-96 which was featured in the epic submarine film Das Boot. A number had post war careers in several navies and the last active VIIC the U-573 which served in the Spanish Navy as the G-7 was decommissioned in 1970 and sold for scrap over the objections of those that wanted to purchase her as a memorial. The only surviving Type VIIC is the U-995 at Laboe Germany where she is a memorial to all the U-Boat Sailors of the Second World War. Two full sized mock ups one for exterior scenes and one for interior scenes were constructed for Das Boot and the exterior mock up was also used in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

7865_6_screenshot

The Enemy Below

 

During the war U-Boats of all types sank nearly 3000 Allied ships including 175 warships among which were the carriers HMS Glorious, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Eagle and the Battleships HMS Barham and HMS Royal Oak. The Germans lost nearly 800 U-Boats of all types and over 28,000 U-Boat Sailors, about 75% of the force.

The films Das Boot and The Enemy Below are excellent reminders of the courage of the men that operated these submarines during the war. Though the Nazi Regime was evil the men of the U-Boat Service often displayed courage and ingenuity in the face of overwhelming odds and they nearly won the war for the Germans.

 

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

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+

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Harbingers of the Future: The German Type XXI Electroboote U-Boats

Throughout history there have been ships that have changed the course of Naval strategy and made previous types of ships obsolete overnight, the USS Monitor, the HMS Dreadnought and USS Nautilus are three, but add to the list the German Type XXI U-Boats which forever changed the way that submarines were built around the world.

The Type XXI was designed in 1943 in order to regain the initiative and thereby reassert German naval power in the Atlantic in order to turn the tide against the Allies.  By 1943 the Allies had turned the tide against the Germans as the Type VII and Type IX U-Boats took heavy losses against naval units and convoys which now had air support at every stage of their trek across the North Atlantic. These boats had to surface for prolonged periods in order to recharge their batteries and had limited range, speed and endurance when submerged. The advent of the Escort Carrier, long range patrol bombers and hunter killer groups of Destroyers and the new Destroyer Escorts took a great toll on the U-Boat Force.

U-3008 in U.S. Navy Service

In order to meet the challenge the Germans opted for new technology based on the high speed hydrogen powered Walter turbines for underwater operations.  Since these turbines which could produce a high underwater speed had a short endurance the designers modified the design to use conventional diesels but equip the boats with batteries that had three times the capacity of previous boats. The boats were a radical change from all previous submarine designs which were basically surface ships with the ability to operate underwater for limited periods of time. The Type XXIs were really the first true submarines. They could operate at underwater speeds that were faster than many of their opponents, had a streamlined design which facilitated higher submerged speed of 18 knots and silent running making them very difficult to track.  They could remain underwater for 11 days while only needing 5 hours to recharge their batteries when using the schnorkel device.

The Wilhelm Bauer the former U-2540 in 1960

The Type XXI had a full streamlined hull and conning tower and even equipment which were externally mounted such as the radio antennae, hydrophones, DF Ring and forward planes were fully retractable. They had no deck guns and their twin 20mm flak guns mounted in a streamlined housing on the conning tower. The German designers eliminated the traditional open bridge in favor of three small openings for the watch officer and 2 lookouts. They had a superior silent running ability and at 15 knots were quieter than the US Navy Balao Class doing 8 knots.  They had a 1 inch thick steel aluminum alloy pressure hull with a designed crush depth of 280 meters (919 feet), a greater designed crush depth than any previous submarine.

They incorporated other innovations which would be incorporated into the post-war submarines of the victorious Allied powers. Among these innovations were semi-automatic hydraulic torpedo reload system which allowed three 6 torpedo salvos to be fired in less than 20 minutes where prior U-Boats had manual reloads and took over 10 minutes to reload a single torpedo. To make the fullest use of this capability the German equipped the boats with an advanced passive and active sonar system called the called Gruppenhorchgerät and Unterwasser-Ortungsgerät NIBELUNG mounted in the bow. The improved passive system enabled the boats to close to where they could emit short active sonar bursts to fix the target location. They could fire from a depth of 160 feet. The torpedoes themselves were an advanced design called the LUT or Lageunabhängiger Torpedo. The LUT was a guided torpedo that could be fired from the U-Boat regardless of the target’s bearing as it was programmed to steer an interception course programmed by the torpedo computer.

Submarines influenced by the Type XXI

USS Gudgeon a Tang Class submarine

Polish Submarine ORP Orzel a WHISKEY Type Submarine

USS Nautilus on trials

The Type XXI boats were unique in production as they had no prototype and went directly in production. They were assembled from prefabricated sections built from factories around Germany and transported to the major shipbuilding yards. This was efficient but caused problems that slowed final assembly as many of the factories had no experience building U-Boats and quality suffered because the exacting specifications required by the Kriegsmarine.  Likewise Allied air strikes on German factories and rail networks hampered production. Yet even in spite of these difficulties 119 Boats were completed although only four were rated as combat ready and only two were fully operational at war’s end. Of these only one embarked on a war patrol.  Most were destroyed in air attacks while in port or scuttled by the Germans to prevent their capture.  Eight Type XXIs were taken over by Allied navies at the end of the war where they were used to evaluate technology for use in future submarines. The U.S. Navy Tang Class boats were heavily influenced by the Type XXI as were the GUPPY upgrades to Balao and Tench class boats.  The first nuclear submarines of the U.S. Navy, the Nautilus, Seawolf and the Skate Classes all incorporated design features of the Type XXIs. The Soviet Union developed its 613 and 614 project submarines which became the type known by NATO as the WHISKEY class from the Type XXIs that they received following Germany’s surrender. In 1957 the Federal Republic of Germany raised the scuttled U-2540 and commissioned her as the research submarine Wilhelm Bauer. That boat was operated by both the Bundesmarine and civilian crews until her decommissioning in 1982. She is now a museum ship open to the public in Bremerhaven.

The Type XXIs were the first true submarines and influenced every submarine constructed since. Though introduced too late in the war to make a difference they were truly a wonder-weapon.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Predators of the High Seas: The Type IX U-Boats

U-123 returning from patrol

As the Kriegsmarine began its expansion in the mid-1930s the new U-Boat arm developed several types of submarines. The Type IX class was designed in 1935-36 as a long range attack boat and was larger had a greater range and were more heavily armed than the more numerous Type VII boats.  The Kreigsmarine designers envisioned a submarine capable of operating far from German bases for extended periods of time.  The design of these boats was derived from the two boat Type 1 class and incorporated lessons learned from that class.  283 boats of the type were constructed between 1937 and 1944 and the Kriegsmarine continuously sought to improve the type which resulted in five distinct models within the class.

Type IXA The first group referred to as the Type IXA or simply the Type IX was comprised of 8 boats built by AG Weser of Bremen.  Ordered in 1936 the group was part of the Kriegsmarine’s Plan Z rearmament plan which began when the Nazi Government announced that it would no longer abide by the Treaty of Versailles.  The initial 8 boats had a 1032 ton standard displacement were 251 feet long and were armed with six 21” torpedo tubes with 22 torpedoes.  They had a 105mm deck gun with 110 rounds as well as a 37mm and 20mm anti-aircraft gun.  They were the first German submarines equipped with a double hull which increased survivability and seaworthiness.  They were powered on the surface by two MAN M9V40/46 supercharged 9-cylinder diesel engines that produced 4,400 shp as well as two SSW GU345/34 double-acting electric motors for underwater operations. As in all diesel-electric boats the diesels were used to recharge the batteries for the electric motors while the boat was operating on the surface. They had a maximum speed of 18.2 knots on the surface and a range of 22,354 miles at 10 knots. Underwater they had a maximum speed of 7.7 knots and range of 166 miles at 4 knots.  The official maximum diving depth was 230 meters or 750 feet.  Of the 8 boats of this type 6 were sunk during combat operations and two scuttled at the end of the war by their crews to prevent their capture by the Allies. The most successful of the Type IXA boats was the U-37 was the most successful boat of the type sinking 53 merchant ships for a total of 200,124 tons as well as two warships, the Sloop HMS Penzance and French Submarine Q-182.

Crew members  of U-107 in Torpedo Room

Type IXB The next group was the IXB of which 14 boats were built by AG Weser Bremen. This was the most successful class of U-boats, or for that matter any class of submarines based on tonnage sunk per boat during the Second World War. Each of these ships sank over 100,000 tons of Allied shipping.  They were slightly larger than the IXA boats and had a significantly longer operational range of 24,600 miles on the surface at 10 knots. The U-107 of this class had the most successful war patrol of any U-Boat in the war sinking nearly 100,000 tons of Allied shipping off Freetown Sierra Leone while U-103 sank over 237,000 tons of Allied shipping during 11 war patrols over the course of 4 years. These boats were involved in Operation Drumbeat off the coast of the United States in early 1942.

U-123 Gun Crew

Type IXC The Type IXC was a further improvement of the type with additional fuel capacity and longer range. They displaced 1120 tons and 54 of the boats were commissioned of which 19 were equipped as minelayers with a capacity of 44 TMA or 66 TMB mines. The boats were built by AG Weser Bremen, Seebeckwerft Bremen and Deutsche Werft Hamburg.  The U-505 of this type is the only surviving Type IX and was captured by a boarding team from the Escort Carrier USS Guadalcanal on June 4th 1944. Her capture was kept secret from the Germans and her crew kept as POWs in a separate POW Camp. The story of the crew and their encounter with the game of baseball is recorded in Gary Moore’s book, Playing with the Enemy: A Baseball Prodigy, a World at War, and a Field of Broken Dreams. The book is being turned into a movie entitled Playing with the Enemy which is scheduled to be released in 2011. She is preserved at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

U-848 under attack by USN Aircraft

Type IXC/40 This was a further refinement of the IXC with slightly greater range and surface speed. It was the most numerous type of the class built with 87 being built by AG Weser Bremen, Seebeckwerft Bremen and Deutsche Werft Hamburg.  The remains of the U-534 of the class are displayed at Woodside Ferry Terminal in Birkenhead England after being raised from the North Sea in 1986.

Type IXD The final type in the Type IX Series was the Type IXD.  This was a significantly larger boat than the others in the class 287 feet long with a standard displacement of 1610 tons. They were unique in that they had two sets of diesel engines, one for cruising and the other for high speed runs and battery recharge. There were three variants within the type, the IXD1 which were all converted to transport use due to problems with their engines, the most numerous variant the IXD2 and the IXD42 which had greater horsepower.  Thirty Type IXs were commissioned with a further six Type IXD42s which were ordered with only one commissioned by the end of the war.

U-505 at the Museum of Science and Industry in 2005 (Jerry Atherton)

During the war surviving boats would receive increased anti-aircraft armament, the Schnorkel device which allowed them to operate on diesel power while submerged as well as better electronics and detection devices. Most of the boats which survived the war were scuttled by the Allies in Operation Deadlight.  The U-511 was sold to Japan in 1943 and U-862 taken over by the Japanese after the German Surrender in May 1945. Both survived the war and were scuttled by the Allies. U-1231 was taken over by the Soviet Navy and served as the B-26 after the war.

The sailors of these U-Boats like all submarine sailors endured many hardships and during the war approximately 75% of the 40,000 U-Boat sailors never returned from patrol, forever interred in the deep with their proud boats.

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The Graf Zeppelin and Aquila: Dreams of the Axis Carrier Air Enthusiasts

While the U.S. Navy, the Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy developed mature Fleet Air Arms and the French Navy experimented with the conversion of a Normandie class battleship hull into a carrier the Bearn the German Kriegsmarine and Italian Royal Navy the Regio Marina lagged behind. The Italian effort was hobbled by inter-service rivalries and doctrinal debates as well as political battles. As a result the Italians maintained a Seaplane Carrier until Mussolini decided in favor of a carrier. In Germany the effort was precluded by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1935 the Anglo-German Naval Treaty allowed the Germans to build carriers up to 35,000 tons displacement and the same year Hitler announced that Germany would build aircraft carriers. German Naval and Luftwaffe Officers travelled to Japan in 1935 to study the Japanese Carrier Akagi and the German Carrier Flugzugträger A later the Graf Zeppelin was laid down a year later.

The Italian Aircraft Carrier Aquila

Neither ship would ever become operational. The Italian ship named Aquila which was converted from the Ocean Liner Roma was begun in 1941 and by 1943 was nearing completion and already her static tests when Italy surrendered and she was commandeered by the Germans.  Damaged by an allied air attack in 19on 44 she was partially scuttled on 19 April 1945.  Aquila was salvaged and consideration was given to completing her after the war but she was scrapped in 1951.

Incomplete Aquila in German hands 1944

Reggiane Re.2001 Falco II

As a carrier Aquila displaced 28,000 tons full load and would have been capable of a maximum speed of 30 knots.  She was designed to carry an air group of 51 Reggianne Re.2001 OR Serie II figher-bomber/torpedo bombers able to carry a able to carry a 600 kg torpedo or bomb.  Had she been started in 1938 or 1939 instead of 1941 she might have been completed in time to be of assistance to the Italian Navy in its operations against the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean.

The Kriegsmarine Carrier Graf Zeppelin

The Germans faced their own challenges and despite the fact that Graf Zeppelin was launched on 8 December 1938 she was never completed and never achieved an operational status.  Part of the problem was the weakness of the Kreigsmarine in relation to the other services, especially Goering’s Luftwaffe which maintained control of all German aircraft design, construction and operation. The other major issue was the lack of experience the Germans had in carrier design or construction which resulted in a number of retrofits which lasted until 1943 when she was nearly complete. At that point in time Hitler now thoroughly disillusioned with the Kriegsmarine surface units suspended her construction.   She was scuttled in April 1945 before she could be captured by the Soviets. The Soviet Union would study her and use her in ordnance testing to see what kind of damage a carrier might absorb.  She sank following being hit by 24 bombs, projectiles and two torpedoes.

The incomplete Graf Zeppelin

As a carrier Graf Zeppelin was 33,550 tons and would have capable of 35 knots with a 9,000 mile cruising range at 19 knots. Her air group would have been comprised of 30 Bf 109T fighters and 12 Ju 87 dive bombers.

Bf 109 T

The completion of either of these ships by the Axis Powers would probably not altered the course of the war but would have been an interesting footnote to history had they become operational and participated in any action against Allied Carriers.

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