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A Timeline of the Scharnhorst From Construction to Sinking

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The Scharnhorst was a battleship that first joined the German navy in 1930s. It was one of the more effective Kriegsmarine warships that fulfilled a number of its missions. The ship remained at sea until 1943, and only then did the Allies defeat this battleship.

June 1935 - October 1936

Construction of this ship commenced at the Kriegsmarinewerft shipyard. Here the keel of the battleship was first laid down in 1935. The ship was later launched in 1936.

January 1939

Not until 1939 that Scharnhorst joined the German navy. The ship needed further fitting out before it could really be added to the German naval fleets, and this was complete by 1939. Then the ship began sea trails in the Baltic Sea.

June to August 1939

During this period the battleship was further renovated. The sea trials had highlighted the ship could still leak water within the high seas. As such, it returned to Wilhelmshaven. When in dock, the Germans added an extra Atlantic bow to the ship and enlarged the hanger with a new catapult equipped.

November 1939

In November 1939, the Scharnhorst left port for its first mission. During its patrols, it made contact with the British cruiser Rawalpindi. During the engagement, the Scharnhorst sank the Rawalpindi.

Gneisenau class battlecruiser

April 1940

In April 1940, the Scharnhorst provided naval support for Operation Wesserübung in Norway. During this period, the battleship did intercept the British cruiser Renown, although was not able to defeat it in the ensuing naval skirmish.

June 1940

After briefly returning to port for repairs, Scharnhorst returned back to Norway in June. The Kriegsmarine sent it, along with an escorting fleet, to cut Allied naval supply lines in the region. In that same month they intercepted the British aircraft carrier Glorious. This was within range of the Scharnhorst, which bombarded the carrier. Despite the smoke screens established, German radar detection ensured that the Glorious remained within close proximity of the Reich's fleet. During this skirmish, the Glorious was lost at sea, along with two of its accompanying destroyers. The Scharnhorst was also torpedoed, but still remained afloat and arrived back at Trondheim.

January to March 1941

Scharnhorst set sail for Operation Berlin in January 1941. This was essentially a commerce raiding mission that was somewhat effective. It did sink a variety of merchant ships before returning to Brest.

February 1945

The Channel Dash involved the Scharnhorst and a handful of other German warships. In this month they effectively ran a British blockade in the Channel. Although intercepted by RAF aircraft, as well as the Fleet Air Arm, the battleship was able to maintain its course and reach German ports.

December 1943

Then in 1943, the Germans sent the ship to intercept an Allied Arctic supply convoy for the USSR. However, in 1943, the Royal Navy was more than ready to re-approach Scharnhorst with a fleet of cruisers, destroyers and a battleship.

The Russian-bound convoy was JW 55B. In late 1943, German aircraft spotted this convoy. But as the weather conditions deteriorated, Scharnhorst could not count on much further aerial reconnaissance and could not locate the Allied convoy.

The Royal Navy was aware the Scharnhorst was targeting its convoy. Code breakers had deciphered the German navy codes, which provided them with invaluable details of enemy naval operations. As such, the Admiralty signaled to British warships that the Scharnhorst was probably at sea.

Before the Royal Navy intercepted Scharnhorst, it abandoned its destroyer escorts. The Kriegsmarine diverted its destroyers away from the battleship to widen the Arctic convoy's search area. This left Scharnhorst unescorted when three British cruisers intercepted the ship and fired their first shells. This began the Battle of the North Cape[1], and the shells had enough impact to knock out the ship's radar.

As the battle continued, Scharnhorst re-approached the convoy once more. The HMS Norfolk took a pounding. However, despite this Scharnhorst began to make a withdrawal to Norway; and began to up its speed to out run the pursuing Royal Navy warships.

Scharnhorst was effectively outnumbered and surrounded by Royal Navy warships. They peppered the ship with further shells, some of which took out some of its boiler rooms. This had a notable impact in reducing the battleship's speed, which gradually dropped to more like 10 knots.

At 10 knots, ships such as the Duke of York were quickly able to move within range of the Scharnhorst. Shells crashed down on and around the Scharnhorst, and the Duke of York fired remaining torpedoes at it. The deluge increased when further British destroyers closed in to sink the battleship. The impact of these ensured that the ship turned over and sank on December 26, 1943.

The Battle of the North Cape was over. The loss of the Scharnhorst ensured that the targeted convoy proceeded to Murmansk to drop off supplies. The early loss of its radar had provided the Royal Navy with a big advantage, and this probably ensured their victory in the battle.



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  1. "The Battle of North Cape." WW2 Database. 11/03/2016 <Web >

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