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 crew and ship during the winter of 1939/40.

Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) Ice on the the ship’s main deck, during the winter of 1939-40, probably in the Baltic Sea in January 1940. The view looks forward up the port side from amidships, with the rear of the port forward 15cm gun turret in the right foreground.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) View of the ship’s icy foredeck, 11-inch gun turrets and superstructure, taken during the winter of 1939-40, probably in the Baltic Sea in January 1940.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) Closeup view of the starboard main bow anchor, ice-covered during the winter of 1939-40, probably in January 1940 in the Baltic Sea. Ice also coats the ship’s foredeck, lifelines and 11-inch gun turrets.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) Sailor on deck by one of the ship’s gun turrets, dressed for cold weather during the winter of 1939-40.
Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939) A crewman poses on the battleship’s deck under ice-coated 11-inch gun barrels during the winter of 1939-40, probably in January 1940 in the Baltic Sea. The original caption translates “Menacing Cold”.

[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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