and Gluckstein Revisited
By Kristin Ann High
here for Part Two.
Commerce Raiding in the Atlantic
The next major sortie by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau was
one for which the big ships were ill-suited — commerce raiding
in the Atlantic. Unternehmen Berlin was,
as usual with German fleet movements, intended
to accomplish several objective in concert. Admiral
Hipper, experiencing more engineering
woes, needed to return to Germany for dock
work, while Admiral
Scheer needed to return
to Germany after a very successful cruise
against British shipping. The breakout and
raiding attempts were intended to sow confusion
as well as sink ships, allowing Admiral
Hipper and Admiral
Scheer to run for Germany.
had become Admiral Lütjens, replacing
Admiral Marschall as battle fleet commander
after the latter took the two battlecruisers
out to sea to attack and sink Glorious .
sortied on 22nd January 1941, and by the
23rd the Admiralty had been alerted to the
sailing. Admiral Sir John Cronyn Tovey, KCB,
DSO, RN, had replaced Forbes as C-in-C Home
Fleet, and he took the fleet to sea, patrolling
a line south of Iceland that he hoped would
permit him to intercept the German battlecruisers
as they were breaking out.
Lütjens' first attempt was foiled by
the Northern Patrol, though it would appear
that the two German ships sighted the British
cruisers first, and slipped away before the
British could return the favour. The German
ships retreated into the North Sea and refueled.
Lütjens' second attempt was more successful.
He went north about Iceland and passed through
the Denmark Straight undetected. He then
ran afoul of Tovey's dispositions, when the
two German ships were sighted by Naiad on
28th January, scouting for the Home Fleet
patrolling south of Iceland. The German ships
retreated and refueled.
A request for aerial reconnaissance to assist
the ships in breaking through the Home Fleet's
net was smothered by the BdU , but Hoffmann
and Fein  managed the breakout anyway,
doubling back and slipping through the Home
Fleet patrol between February 3rd and 5th.
Hipper raiding into the Atlantic from Brest, Admiral
Scheer raiding into the Indian Ocean and
South Atlantic, and Scharnhorst and Gneisenau at large in the North and Central Atlantic,
while the battles in the Mediterranean
continued unabated, the Royal Navy was
stretched exceedingly thin as from the
first week of February 1941. The German
battlecruisers therefore faced less concentrated
opposition than they might have, and consequently,
their unsuitability as surface raiders — like
that of Admiral
Hipper — was mitigated
by their power as surface warships.
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau struck
first at the North Atlantic convoy lanes,
hunting among the ships of dispersed outbound
convoys between Iceland and Newfoundland,
and sinking five ships, including one tanker
in ballast, though the German battlecruisers
were ordered away from HX.106 as it was covered
by the 'R'-class battleship Ramillies.
The formation of
the Support Force, Atlantic Fleet, by the
United States Navy on 1st March brought
the danger of American entanglements to
the western North Atlantic — to
add to the danger of Royal Navy battleship
covering forces and the Home Fleet itself — so
the German ships shifted south into the Central
Atlantic, to the practicable limit of their
operating radius, even with the excellent
at-sea replenishment and repair capabilities
of the German supply auxiliaries.
The German ships
next operated against the vital sea lanes
between Freetown, Sierra Leone, and Great
Britain — the 'SL'
series convoys. The 'Queen
battleship Malaya had been shifted from Gibraltar
to Sierra Leone, to extend the cover provided
between that concentration point and the
rendezvous  for cover from Force 'H'
at Gibraltar, mostly as a counter-measure
against the second war cruise of Admiral
Hipper out from Brest.
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sighted SL.67 (54 ships) on the morning
of 7th March, when it was then some 300
nm Northeast of the Cape Verdes. Lütjens seems to have intended
an attack, but when Malaya was sighted he
ordered his ships to break off and retire
at speed. Malaya, whose floatplane had made
the initial sighting and shadowed the raiders
for some time, sent a steady stream of contact
reports to Gibraltar. Consequently, Force
'H', under the command of Vice Admiral Sir
James Fownes Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN, sortied
with Renown, Ark
Royal, Arethusa, Velox, and Wrestler, to hunt the German battlecruisers.
So thin had the Royal Navy's operating margins
become that irreplaceable capital ships went
to sea with two Great War-era destroyers
as escort, in waters where German U-Boats
were not only operating, but sinking ships
(U.105 and U.124 sank three ships from SL.67
on the night of 7th–8th March, before
being held down by the convoy escorts).
By way of contrast,
had the ships of Force 'H' been operating
towards the oft-maligned Regia Marina Italiana,
as many as ten, and certainly not less
than five, modern fleet destroyers would
have screened the ships
. Malaya's floatplane was eventually
forced to break off, and as the British battleship
could probably make between 21 and 23 knots
flank speed clean, as against the German
ships 32 knots clean — and neither
the British ships nor the German were clean
in January 1941 — there was no hope
of forcing an action. Force 'H' eventually
rendezvoused with SL.67 on 10th March, covering
the convoy until 18th March.
March Scharnhorst and Gneisenau refueled
from the supply vessel Uckermark. On the
15th, the German ships were alerted by Uckermark to the presence of Allied ships. Gneisenau sank the British Simnia and took
the Norwegian tanker Bianca and the British San Casimiro and Polycarp as prizes, though
only Polycarp was to reach Bordeaux, on
Between the 15th
and 16th the German battlecruisers hunted
merchant ships from dispersed convoys in
the central North Atlantic, sinking several
ships each. On the 16th, while the German
ships were either sinking vessels, or rescuing
survivors — again, British and German
accounts disagree — the battleship Rodney,
detached from HX.115 to close the raiders,
surprised Lütjens' force. According
to German sources, the German ships employed "clever
deception"  to
escape the slower, but more powerful Rodney.
deception" may very well have included
a manœuver the German ships had practiced
against the similarly slower and more powerful Malaya, turning away and steaming at full
speed out of the area.
Lütjens now turned his thoughts to
returning to port. Both Admiral
Scheer and Admiral
Hipper had eluded the British patrol
lines and reached Norway and thence Germany.
The British, for their part, realized Lütjens'
squadron must either make for Brest or follow
the two cruisers into Germany. The Home Fleet
therefore patrolled south of Iceland again,
with battleship Nelson, the 'Colony'-class
6-inch cruiser Nigeria, and two destroyers,
between 17th March and 20th March. Force
'H' was deployed to intercept the ships in
the Bay of Biscay if they chose to make for
Brest, with the battlecruiser Renown, aircraft
Royal, and the 'Town'-class 6-inch
cruiser Sheffield, and two destroyers 
searching the Bay.
A reconnaissance Fulmar from Ark
Royal sighted Scharnhorst and Gneisenau on the afternoon
of 20th March, but its contact report appears
to have gone amiss for some time. Nevertheless, Ark Royal launched a torpedo strike with
Swordfish towards dark, but the planes failed
to locate the enemy, although the German
ships were not more than 110 nm distant when
Despite desperate attempts to divert submarines
and overtake the German ships, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau completed their last wartime
cruise together on 22nd March 1941. German
sources credit them with twenty-two ships
totaling 115,622 GRT in two months of cruising,
while Allied sources usually credit them
with 21 ships for 105,784 GRT.
As commerce raiders, the German battlecruisers'
main battery was eminently suitable for the
destruction of merchant shipping, for fending
off or eliminating light escorts, and for
dealing with Allied cruiser squadrons like
that which defeated Kpt. z. See Langsdorff
off The Plate. Compared to the Panzerschiffe,
the battlecruisers had more rifles, better
main battery arrangement, and superior fire
Operating together, the German battlecruisers
would be formidable foes for an 8-inch cruiser
and two 6-inch cruisers, the Royal Navy's
most common form of trade protection squadron.
Against Royal Navy battlecruisers like Renown, Repulse, or Hood, however, the 11-inch C.34
rifle lacked the power to inflict crippling
damage early, when German gunnery was generally
excellent and chances for a decisive impact
were best. By contrast, the British 15-inch
Mk.I, although a Great War-era design ,
had ample power for defeating the German
The effect on these raiding
operations of the more powerful 15-inch C.34
rifles is problematic. Certainly the heavier
main battery would make the ships a match
for British battlecruisers. Against Royal
Navy battleships, the situation is much less
clear. The German and British main batteries
were roughly similar, although the British
battleships mounted more rifles, with eight
for the 'Queen
Elizabeth' and 'R' classes, nine for Nelson and Rodney ,
or ten for the 'King
George V' class,
as against six for an upgraded Scharnhorst or Gneisenau.
But with the German ships operating together
against single British ships disposed as
cover for convoys, the German ships enjoyed
the advantage of both more numerous rifles,
and the ability to flank the British ship,
forcing it to either divide its fire, or
allow one of the German ships virtual practice
The tactics Hoffmann
and Fein originally intended, with one
ship drawing off the escort while the other
moved in to attack the convoy, might have
just been feasible against British battleships,
had the German ships mounted the heavier
main battery, especially as the German
ships would still have retained a significant
speed advantage over the slower British
ships. The tactics were sound, as Admiral
Hipper and Lützow proved at
Barents Sea .
Admiral Lütjens seems
to have squelched these tactics, or indeed
any attempt to attack escorted convoys, and
heavier main battery rifles would not likely
have transformed the pensive Lütjens
into a more combative battle fleet commander.
The risks to the German
ships were not insignificant. Although Duke
of York had a difficult time with Scharnhorst at North Cape, the older British battleships
were fitted with much more reliable main
battery turrets, and both the 16-inch and
the 15-inch rifles could defeat the Germans'
armour protection. With the heavier main
battery, the battlecruisers would not have
the same flank speed, and any loss of speed
to battle damage materially increased the
odds that Force 'H' might catch them up — or at least reach a flying-off
position for Ark
Royal, with all the possibilities
On balance, it seems
unlikely that the heavier main battery
would have persuaded Lütjens
to risk drawing off Malaya or Rodney, and
it is hardly likely that he would have forced
a surface gun action with a British battleship,
regardless of the power of his main battery.
Throughout his tenure as battle fleet commander,
Lütjens seems to have interpreted his
orders far more conservatively than even
the cautious Marschall had, and more powerful
ships would not have altered this zeal for
The two ships were
poorly suited for commerce raiding in any
event, and the fitting of a true battlecruiser
main battery would have increased their
problems rather than diminished them; they
would give up 2 or 3 knots of speed, and
burned even more fuel — thus
further reducing their already limited radius
of action — in return for a main battery
far more powerful than that needed to sink
merchant ships or deal with the usual convoy
Scharnhorst and Admiral
Hipper at a Norwegian port, 1940.
 Raeder appears
to have been unhappy with Marschall almost
from the outset, and his removal was probably
more about the ObdK's disfavour than merit.
der Unterseeboote, or commander of submarines.
This was the famous Vizeadmiral Karl Dönitz.
Like all air forces, the Luftwaffe resented
diversion of resources for naval missions.
Hitler had ordered the creation of a long-range
Kampfgruppe (level bomber wing), the famed
KG.40, specifically to support naval operations,
but there appears to have been an internal
division within the Kriegsmarine over operational
control. The ObdK and OKM seem to have
felt the planes to be under their control,
while the BdU was of a different opinion;
the BdU won in this instance, and the matter
had to be referred to Hitler for a more
lasting settlement. Hitler ruled in favour
of the BdU, a move which made surface ship
operations extremely difficult in the face
of increasing British RDF at sea and in
 Kapitän-zur-See Kurt Caesar Hoffmann,
Kommandant Scharnhorst, and Kapitän-zur-See
Otto Fein, Kommandant Gneisenau. Kommandant
was the OC (or CO) of a ship; station or
troop OCs were called Kommandeur, or commander,
while type, division, or flotilla SOCs were
called Chef, or chief. A great deal of confusion
surrounds the comparison of German and French
naval ranks to those of the RN or USN, enough
to form a Daily Content article of its own.
 These points
are usually denoted as 'MOMPs', for "Mid-Ocean Meeting Point",
though a MOMP actually described an area
of sea in which a particular convoy would
have its particular rendezvous.
 To be fair,
two fleet destroyers were sailing with Malaya, Faulknor (H.62, SWWAS DD-53) and Forester (H.74, SWWAS DD-54). On the other
hand, Malaya was hit by a torpedo fired
from U.106 in roughly the same area — approximately
250 nm West-Northwest of the Cape Verde Islands — less
than a fortnight later. Malaya took the hit
in her anti-torpedo bulges aft, and was able
to steam to Trinidad for temporary repairs.
The hit caused no casualties, but Malaya was sent to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New
York for permanent repairs — she also
received updates to her Ack-Ack fit, and
she was prepared for the fit of advanced
surface and air search RDF, as well as fire-control
RDF. She left New York in August of 1941,
nearly four months later.
des Seekrieges 1939-1945, by Jürgen Rohwer with Gerhard Hümmelchen,
Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart,
2007. Apparently taken from Lütjens'
report to Raeder.
 These were likely two 'F'-class ships
of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla, based on Gibraltar.
 The first shipboard
firing of a 15"/42-Calibre
Mk.I rifle took place in 1915, the last in
1954, a span of 39 years.
 The 'Admiral'-class
battleships Nelson and Rodney mounted
Mk.I rifle originally intended for the 'G3'
battlecruisers (the G3s were cancelled by
the Washington Naval Treaty). Complicated
weapons with very fine tolerances, they were
not considered reliable until 1939, on the
eve of war. As guns were refitted with different
barrels, the problem of dispersion increased,
and the rifles were never really superior
to the 15" Mk.I, and markedly inferior
to the 14" Mk.VII rifles (the problems
with the KGVs were in the Mk.III quadruple
turrets and the associated rifle mounts,
rather than in the rifles themselves).
 At Barents Sea,
the German FOC, Vizeadmiral Oskar Kummetz,
employed the same tactics for Unternehmen
Regenborgen, an attack on a GB-USSR convoy
by the heavy cruiser Admiral
the armoured cruiser (Panzerschiff) Lützow. Convoy JW.51B was the chosen
victim, and Kummetz could not have chosen
a better victim. The convoy itself was scattered
and storm battered, already down from seven
to six fleet destroyers; the ship with best
RDF fit had been sent to round up missing
ships — the destroyer Oribi among them — and
was never seen again. The battleship covering
force from the Home Fleet — whose C-in-C
was still the timid Admiral Tovey — had
turned back long before contact with German
ships was likely, according to plan. Because
Tovey signaled the wrong position for JW.51B,
the cruiser covering force, Force 'R', was
in position, but as a consequence of the
weather, the convoy was not. Kummetz's interception
went perfectly, and Admiral
in and out of snow squalls to hit at the
convoy and draw its escorts away, exactly
as planned. Lützow's OC, Kpt. z. S.
Rudolf Stange, mishandled his ship, making
only half-hearted attempts to close the convoy,
despite being repeatedly ordered to attack
by Kummetz. In the end, the two heavy ships
were driven off, sealing the fate of Raeder
and his surface navy, as well as playing
a part in the fateful decision that sent Scharnhorst to her death a year later at
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Continued in Part Four.
here to order Arctic
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in
here to order Bismarck and
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in