German Battleship Scharnhorst

I have written in greater depth about the German Battleship Scharnhorst.

The streak of bad omens for the Scharnhorst continued when her first commander went on prolonged sick leave after only a short tenure on the ship. Finally, in November 1939, Scharnhorst began her first operation along with her sister ship Gneisenau, with whom she operated throughout the majority of her career.

Scharnhorst‘s first operation was a sortie into the North Atlantic between Iceland and the Faroe Islands where she sank the British axillary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi. (You can read my account of this battle here.) This mission was intended to take British pressure off of the Admiral Graf Spee operating in the South Atlantic and was conducted prior to major training.

After her return to Wilhelmshaven for minor repairs from splinter damage resulting from her first mission, Scharnhorst spent the winter of 1939-40 in the Baltic Sea for gunnery training. This proved to be a longer training session than normal since heavy ice kept Scharnhorst trapped in the Baltic until February 1940. Collected below are photographs of the Scharnhorst during the winter of 1939/40.

Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) View of the ship’s forward 283mm (11″) triple gun turrets, showing ice accumulated overnight during operations in the winter of 1939-40. Probably taken in the Baltic Sea in January 1940. Copied from the contemporary German photo album Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst, page 8.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) Icy lifelines seen from the battleship’s main deck, during the winter of 1939-40, probably in the Baltic Sea in January 1940. Copied from the contemporary German photo album Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst, page 7.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) View looking down from battleship’s main deck, forward, as she steams through ice in the Baltic Sea during the winter of 1939-40, probably in January 1940. The western Baltic ice was very heavy into February 1940. The ship’s stem runs horizontally through the middle of the view, from left-center to the right edge. Copied from the contemporary German photo album Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst, page 7.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) Ice on the the ship’s foredeck, during the winter of 1939-40, probably in the Baltic Sea in January 1940. The view looks aft, toward the forward 11-inch gun turrets and superstructure. Copied from the contemporary German photo album Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst, page 9.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) Closeup view of the ice-covered port forward main anchor, taken during the winter of 1939-40, probably in the Baltic Sea in January 1940. Copied from the contemporary German photo album Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst, page 7.
German Naval Memorial, at Laboe, photographed from on board the battleship Scharnhorst during the winter of 1939-40. This memorial was built in 1927-36 to honor the memory of German sailors lost in the First World War, 1914-1918. Copied from the contemporary German photo album Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst, page 8.

[Images courtesy of the Department of the Navy – Naval History & Heritage Command.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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