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GERMAN SURFACE NAVY AT WAR - Capital Ships, Cruisers, Destroyers, Torpedo Boats & Commerce Raiders


German destroyer Georg Thiele (Maritime Quest, click to enlarge)

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Each Summary is complete in its own right. The same information may therefore be found in a number of related summaries

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1933 - German pocket battleship "Deutschland" completed

1934 - German pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" completed

1935 - Under the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, Germany was allowed to build a surface fleet up to 35% of British total tonnage.

1936 - German pocket battleship "Admiral Graf Spee" completed

1938 - Germany draws up the major naval rearmament programme, the 'Z' plan, to bring the Navy closer to equality to Britain by the mid-1940s. Battlecruiser "Gneisenau" completed; carrier "Graf Zeppelin" was launched but never completed.

1939 - Germany abrogates the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agreement in April. Battlecruiser "Scharnhorst" completed; battleships "Bismarck" and "Tirpitz" launched before September 1939. German U-boats and two pocket battleships sail for their war stations in the Atlantic late August.




Germany - Aircraft of RAF Bomber Command made their first attacks on German warships in Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbuttel on the 4th. Cruiser "Emden" was slightly damaged by a crashing aircraft.

Atlantic - Pocket battleship "Admiral Graf Spee" sank her first ship in the Atlantic off Brazil on the 30th September.


Atlantic and Indian Oceans - Pocket battleship "Graf Spee" claimed four more merchant ships in the South Atlantic before heading into the southern Indian Ocean. Seven Allied hunting groups were formed in the Atlantic and one in the Indian Ocean to search for her. In total the Royal and French Navies deployed three capital ships, four aircraft carriers and 16 cruisers. Meanwhile sister ship "Deutschland", after accounting for two ships in the North Atlantic was ordered home. She reached Germany in November and was renamed "Lutzow".

Europe - Battlecruiser "Gneisenau" and other ships of the German Navy sortied on the 8th off Norway to draw the Home Fleet within U-boat and aircraft range. Capital ships "Hood", "Nelson", "Repulse", "Rodney" and "Royal Oak" together with carrier "Furious", cruisers and destroyers sailed for various positions, but no contact was made.



Indian Ocean - Pocket battleship "Graf Spee" sank a small tanker southwest of Madagascar and headed back for the South Atlantic. More Allied hunting groups were formed.

Atlantic - Armed merchant cruiser "RAWALPINDI" on Northern Patrol was sunk on the 23rd by the 11in battlecruiser "Scharnhorst" as she and sister ship "Gneisenau" tried to break out into the Atlantic. After the action to the southwest of Iceland, they turned back and returned to Germany after avoiding searching ships of the British Home Fleet.


North Sea - British submarine "Salmon" torpedoed and damaged German cruisers "Leipzig" and "Nurnberg" in the North Sea on the 13th as they covered a destroyer minelaying operation off the Tyne Estuary, NE England.

13th - Battle of River Plate - Now back in the South Atlantic, “Graf Spee” (below - Courtesy Maritime Quest) claimed three more victims to bring the total to nine ships of 50,000 tons, before heading for the South American shipping lanes off the River Plate. Cdre Harwood with Hunting Group G - 8in-gunned cruisers “Exeter” and “Cumberland” and 6in light cruisers “Ajax” and New Zealand “Achilles” - correctly anticipated her destination. Unfortunately “Cumberland” was by now in the Falklands.

At 06.14 on the 13th, 150 miles east of the Plate Estuary, “Graf Spee” (Capt Langsdorff) was reported to the northwest of the three cruisers. Faced with “Graf Spee's" heavier armament, Cdre Harwood decided to split his force in two and try to divide her main guns. “Exeter” closed to the south while the two light cruisers worked around to the north, all firing as they manoeuvred. “Graf Spee” concentrated her two 11in turrets on “Exeter” which was badly hit. By 06.50 all ships were heading west, “Exeter” with only one turret in action and on fire. She had to break off and head south for the Falklands.


“Ajax” and “Achilles” continued to harry the pocket battleship from the north, but at 07.25 "Ajax" lost her two after turrets to an 11in hit. “Achilles” already had splinter damage, but still the German ship failed to press home its advantage. By 08.00, still with only superficial damage, she headed for the neutral Uruguayan port of Montevideo, the cruisers shadowing. “GRAF SPEE” (below) entered port at midnight. As other Allied hunting groups headed for the area, much diplomatic manoeuvring took place to hold her there. Finally, on the 17th, Capt Langsdorff edged his ship out into the estuary where she was scuttled and blown up. Only “Cumberland” had arrived by this time. Langsdorff then committed suicide.




North Sea - German destroyers were attacked in error by their own aircraft in the North Sea on the 22nd and ran into a minefield laid by Royal Navy destroyers. “LEBERECHT MAASS” and “MAX SCHULTZ” were lost northwest of the German Frisian Islands.

MARCH 1940

German Raiders - Converted from a merchantman and heavily armed, auxiliary cruiser “Atlantis” sailed for the Indian Ocean round the Cape of Good Hope. In 1941 she moved into the South Atlantic, and operations lasted for a total of 20 months until her loss in November 1941. She was the first of nine active raiders, seven of which went out in 1940. Only one ever broke out for a second cruise. Their success was not so much due to their sinkings and captures - a creditable average of 15 ships of 90,000 tons for each raider, but the disruption they caused in every ocean. At a time when the Royal Navy was short of ships, convoys had to be organised and patrols instituted in many areas. In 1940 raiders accounted for 54 ships of 370,000 tons. The first German raider was not caught until May 1941 - 14 months from now.

APRIL 1940

German Raiders - “Orion” sailed for the Pacific and Indian Oceans around South America's Cape Horn. She was out for 16 months before returning to France.

Norwegian Campaign

8th - Royal Navy destroyers laid minefields, real and simluated off the Norwegian coast, including near Bodo. Battlecruiser “Renown” and other destroyers provided cover. One of the screen, “GLOWWORM” was detached to search for a man overboard just as 8in-gunned cruiser “Admiral Hipper” headed into Trondheim. They met to the northwest of the port and the destroyer was soon sunk, but not before she rammed and damaged “Hipper”.

9th - Germany invaded Denmark and Norway: German Navy forces included a pocket battleship, six cruisers, 14 destroyers, torpedo boats and minesweepers for the landings at the six Norwegian ports, with battlecruisers “Scharnhorst” and “Gneisenau” covering the two most northerly landings. Early in the morning of the 9th, battlecruiser “Renown” was in action with the two German battlecruisers to the west of Vestfiord. “Gneisenau” was damaged and “Renown” slightly. The Germans withdrew. As “Renown” was in action, German occupation forces heading for Oslo came under heavy fire from Norwegian coastal defences. Shore-sited guns and torpedoes in Oslo Fiord sank heavy cruiser “BLUCHER”. That evening, German cruiser “KARLSRUHE” left Kristiansand and was torpedoed by submarine “Truant”. She was scuttled next day.


10th - First Battle of Narvik - The 2nd Destroyer Flotilla (Capt. Warburton-Lee) with “Hardy”, “Havock”, “Hostile”, “Hotspur” and “Hunter”, entered Ofotfiord to attack the German ships assigned to the occupation of Narvik. These included 10 large destroyers. Several transports were sunk together with destroyers “ANTON SCHMITT” (AS) and “WILHELM HEIDKAMP” (WM) in Narvik Bay. Other German destroyers were damaged, but as the British 2nd Flotilla retired, “HARDY” was beached, “HUNTER” sunk and “Hotspur” badly damaged by the remaining German ships.

Fleet Air Arm Skua dive-bomber’s of 800 and 803 Squadrons flying from the Orkney Islands sank German cruiser "KOENIGSBERG" at her moorings in Bergen. She was damaged earlier by shore batteries in the landings. This was the first major warship sunk by air attack.

11th - Returning from the Oslo landings, German pocket battleship “Lutzow” was torpedoed and badly damaged by submarine “Spearfish” in the Skagerrak.

13th - Second Battle of Narvik - Battleship “Warspite” and nine destroyers were sent into the Narvik fiords to finish off the remaining German ships. The eight surviving German destroyers – “BERND VON ARNIM” (BA), “DIETHER VON ROEDER” (DR), “ERICH GIESE” (EG), “ERICH KOELNNER” (EK), “GEORG THIELE” (GT), “HANS LUDEMANN” (HL), “HERMANN KUNNE” (HK) and “WOLFGANG ZENKER” (WZ) were all destroyed or scuttled. The British “Eskimo” and “Cossack” were damaged.

MAY 1940

German Raiders - “Widder” headed for central Atlantic operations before returning to France six months later. On her way into the Indian Ocean, “Atlantis” laid mines off South Africa.

JUNE 1940

Italy declares War

German Raiders - Two more set sail. “Thor” made for the South Atlantic and returned to Germany eleven months later. “Pinguin” left for the Indian Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope, later operated in the Antarctic and was finally lost in May 1941. Meanwhile “Orion” which set out in April 1940 was laying mines off New Zealand that accounted for the gold-bullion carrying liner “Niagara”.

Norwegian Campaign - Conclusion and Aftermath......

On the 8th, at the end of the evacuation, British fleet carrier “GLORIOUS” with escorting destroyers “ACASTA” and “ARDENT” sailed for Britain independently of the other withdrawing forces. West of Lofoten Islands they met 11in gun battlecruisers “Scharnhorst” and “Gneisenau” sailing to attacked suspected Allied shipping off Harstad. The British ships were soon overwhelmed and sunk, but not before “Acasta” hit “Scharnhorst” with a torpedo. Naval losses on both sides were heavy, and in the case of the Germans included damage to battlecruiser "Scharnhorst" (followed shortly by "Gneisenau") and pocket battleship "Lutzow".

13th - Five days after the sinking of “Glorious”, aircraft from “Ark Royal” attacked the damaged “Scharnhorst” in Trondheim but to little effect.

20th - As the damaged battlecruiser “Scharnhorst” headed for Germany, “Gneisenau” feinted towards Iceland. West of Trondheim she was torpedoed and damaged by British submarine “Clyde”. Both battlecruisers were out of action during the critical phases of the Battle for Britain until the end of the year. German Warships - By now, of the 23 surface ships of destroyer size and above that took part in the invasion of Norway, 17 had been sunk or damaged.

Europe - FRANCE capitulated and the Franco-German surrender document was signed on the 22nd. Its provisions included German occupation of the Channel and Biscay coasts including the major base of Brest.

JULY 1940

Europe - As the damaged "Gneisenau" made for Germany from Norway on the 26th, submarine "Swordfish" carried out an attack and sank escorting torpedo boat "LUCHS".

German Raiders - Only 11 months before German attacked Russia, “Komet” sailed for the Pacific through the North East Passage across the top of Siberia with the aid of Russian icebreakers. She operated in the Pacific and Indian Oceans until returning to Germany in November 1941, the last of the first wave of surface raiders to leave Germany.

Atlantic - Off the coast of Brazil on the 28th, German raider “Thor” badly damaged armed merchant cruiser “Alcantara” in a gun duel.


German Surface Warships & Raiders - Pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" sailed from Germany for the Atlantic and later Indian Oceans. She got back home in March 1941. Meanwhile German raider "Widder" arrived in France after six month's operations in the central Atlantic where she sank or captured 10 ships of 59,000 tons.


North Sea - A planned attacked on the 7th by German torpedo boats (small destroyers) off the coast of Scotland ended when "T-6" was mined on the British East Coast barrage and went down.

Loss of the "Jervis Bay" - Halifax/UK convoy HX84 with 37 ships and its solitary escort, armed merchant cruiser "Jervis Bay" was attacked on the 5th by the 11in-gunned pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" in mid-Atlantic. The convoy was ordered to scatter as "JERVIS BAY" headed for the "Scheer", guns firing. The end was in no doubt and she went down, but her sacrifice saved all but five of the merchant ships. "Admiral Scheer" headed for the Central and later the South Atlantic.


German Raiders - "Kormoran" was the first of the second wave of raiders to leave for operations. She started in the central Atlantic and later moved to the Indian Ocean, where she was lost in November 1941. Much further afield in the South West Pacific, "Komet" and "Orion" shared in the sinking of five ships near the phosphate island of Nauru. Later in the month "Komet" shelled the installations on Nauru.

Atlantic - Armed merchant cruiser "Carnarvon Castle" was badly damaged on the 1st in action with raider "Thor" off Brazil, the German ship's second and equally successful fight with an AMC.

German Heavy Warships - Earlier in the month the 8in heavy cruiser "Admiral Hipper" left Germany and passed into the Atlantic through the Denmark Strait. On Christmas Day the 25th December, 700 miles to the west of Cape Finisterre, northwest Spain she encountered Middle East troop convoy WS5A, one of 'Winston's Specials', escorted by cruisers. They were accompanied by carrier "Furious" ferrying aircraft to Takoradi in West Africa. In an exchange of gunfire the heavy cruiser "Berwick" and two merchantmen were slightly damaged. "Hipper" retired and soon entered Brest. She was the first of the Gerrnan big ships to reach the French Biscay ports. From there she and her companions poses a major threat to the Atlantic convoy routes right up until the big-ship "Channel Dash" of February 1942.




German Heavy Warships & Raiders - Pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" was hunting in the South Atlantic, while battlecruisers "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" in Germany and heavy cruiser "Hipper" in Brest, France prepared to sail. At the end of the month the two battlecruisers headed out into the Atlantic for two months operations before returning to Brest. Six of the original seven raiders were still at sea - "Orion" and "Komet" in the Pacific, "Atlantis" at the desolate island of Kerguelen in the southern Indian Ocean, "Kormoran" in the central and "Thor" in the South Atlantic. Finally "Pinguin" was in the Antarctic. All six moved to different areas over the next few months. Until June 1941, German warships sank 37 ships of 188,000 tons and raiders 38 ships of 191,000 tons. Thereafter neither type inflicted many losses as worldwide convoys were organised and the raiders' supply ships sunk.


German Heavy Warships - At the beginning of the month, heavy cruiser "Admiral Hipper" sailed from Brest. On the 12th, far to the west of Gibraltar, she sank seven ships from slow unescorted convoy SLS64 bound for Britain from Sierra Leone. Returning to Brest, in March she heads back to Germany via the Denmark Strait and took no further part in independent commerce raiding. On the 8th, battlecruisers "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" sighted convoy HX106 escorted by the lone battleship "Ramillies" south of Greenland, but declined to attack in case of possible damage. Two weeks later, five unescorted ships were sunk east of Newfoundland, before they headed for the Sierra Leone routes. Meanwhile pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" in the Indian Ocean operated successfully off Madagascar before preparing to return to Germany.

MARCH 1941

German Heavy Ships - Battlecruisers "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" were sighted by aircraft of battleship "Malaya" escorting convoy SL67 off the Cape Verde Islands. The German ships returned to the Newfoundland area and on the 15th and 16th sank or captured 16 unescorted ships. They returned to Brest on the 22nd, having accounted for 22 ships of 116,000 tons, but never again took part successfully in commerce raiding.

APRIL 1941

Atlantic - On the 4th, armed merchant cruiser "VOLTAIRE" was sunk in a gun duel with German raider "Thor" west of the Cape Verde Islands.

German Raiders - "Thor" now returned to Germany after an absence of 11 months, having accounted for 11 ships of 83,000 tons plus the "Voltaire". Pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" also got back to Germany after five months in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans credited with 16 ships of 99,000 tons and the "Jervis Bay".

German Heavy Ships - The arrival of battlecruisers "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" in Brest led to a long series of heavy RAF bomber raids. These did not end until the Channel Dash in February 1942. During this time both ships sustained varying amounts of damage. On the 6th "Gneisenau" was torpedoed and badly damaged by an RAF Beaufort of No 22 Squadron, Coastal Command.

MAY 1941

Indian Ocean - On patrol north of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, heavy cruiser "Cornwall" found and sank German raider "PINGUIN" on the 8th. This was the first raider to be hunted down, having accounted for 28 ships of 136,000 tons.

18th-28th - Hunt for the "Bismarck", Phase 1 - On the 18th, new German 15in battleship "Bismarck" and heavy cruiser "Prinz Eugen" sailed from Gdynia in the Baltic for the Atlantic via Norway. A simultaneous sortie by the battlecruisers "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" from Brest was fortunately prevented by the damage inflicted by the RAF. On the 20th, they were sighted in the Kattegat by a Swedish warship. 21st - In the evening the German ships were sighted in a fiord south of Bergen, Norway. Two of the Home Fleet's capital ships, "Hood" and "Prince of Wales" (the latter not fully completed and still working up), sailed from Scapa Flow towards Iceland to support the cruisers on Northern Patrol.

22nd - "Bismarck" was reported at sea and the main body of the Home Fleet under Adm Tovey left Scapa Flow and headed west. Battleship "King George V", fleet carrier "Victorious", cruisers and destroyers were later joined by battlecruiser "Repulse". "Victorious" was also a recent addition to the Fleet and still working up. 23rd - In the early evening, heavy cruisers "Suffolk" and shortly "Norfolk" sighted the German ships north west of Iceland and shadowed them southwestwards through the Denmark Strait separating Iceland from Greenland to the west. "Hood" and "Prince of Wales" pressed on to intercept west of Iceland. 24th - That morning the big ships met and opened fire. Around 06.00, after firing two or three salvos, "Bismarck" hit "HOOD" which blew up with only three survivors. Now it was "Prince of Wales" turn to be the target. After being hit several times, she turned away but not before damaging "Bismarck" and causing her to lose fuel oil to the sea.

Phase 2 - German Adm Lutjens decided to make for St Nazaire in France, with its large dry-dock, and headed southwest and later south out of the Denmark Strait. The two Royal Navy cruisers, and for a while the damaged "Prince of Wales", continued to shadow. Adm Tovey hurried west with the rest of Home Fleet. With "Hood's" loss, Force H (Adm Somerville) with battlecruiser "Renown", carrier "Ark Royal" and cruiser "Sheffield" sailed north from Gibraltar. Battleship "Ramillies", released from convoy escort duties, and "Rodney", then to the west of Ireland, headed towards "Bismarck's" expected track. "Ramillies" played no part in later operations. At 18.00, still an the 24th, "Bismarck" feinted north towards her shadowers long enough to allow "Prinz Eugen" to get away. (The cruiser went south, later refuelled from a tanker and cruised for three days before reaching Brest on 1 June. There she joined the two battlecruisers under heavy RAF attacked until the Channel Dash of February 1942.) Around midnight, southeast of Greenland's Cape Farewell, Swordfish from Adm Tovey's "Victorious" got one hit on "Bismarck" after she had resumed her southerly course. The damage was negligible. Shortly after in the early hours of the 25th, she altered course to the southeast for France and the cruisers lost contact. At this point Adm Tovey's heavy ships were only 100 miles away.

25th - "Bismarck" held her southeasterly course, but broke radio silence. Unfortunately the British direction-finding service put her on a northeasterly heading. Adm Tovey sailed in that direction for a while before turning to the southeast in pursuit. Now he was well astern of his quarry. Only by slowing her down could destruction become possible. In the meantime, Force H continued to sail north to took up a blocking position between "Bismarck" and her new goal of Brest. 26th - After a 30-hour interval, "Bismarck" was once more sighted, this time by a RAF Catalina of No 209 Squadron, and only 30hr from home. In the afternoon a Swordfish strike from Force H's "Ark Royal" attacked cruiser "Sheffield" in error. They missed. A second strike took place in the evening by 810, 818 and 820 Squadrons with 15 Swordfish led by Lt-Cdr Coode. They torpedoed "Bismarck" twice and one hit damaged her propellers and jammed the rudder. As "Bismarck" circled, destroyers of the 4th Flotilla (Capt Vian) came up around midnight, and made a series of torpedo and gun attacks but with uncertain results. Capt Vian's "Cossack", "Maori", "Sikh", "Zulu" and Polish "Piorun" had been detached from troop convoy ("Winston's Special") WS8B, an indication of the seriousness of the "Bismarck's" threat. By this time Adm Tovey's force of heavy ships had lost "Repulse" to refuel, but been joined by "Rodney". They now came up from the west but did not attack just yet. 27th - "King George V", "Rodney" and the still circling "Bismarck" all opened fire around 08.45. Only the German ship was hit and by 10.15 she was a blazing wreck. Heavy cruiser "Dorsetshire", having left convoy SL74 the previous day, fired torpedoes to finish her off. "BISMARCK" sank at 10.36 to the southwest of Ireland. Shadowing cruiser "Norfolk" was there at the end.

 JUNE 1941

Germany Invades Russia

Atlantic - Pocket battleship "Lutzow" attempted to break out. Attacked on the 13th off the Norwegian coast by an RAF Beaufort, she was hit by one torpedo and only just made it back to Germany.

Battle of the Atlantic - Following the capture of the German “U-100” Enigma code material, the Royal Navy tracked down the supply ships already in position to support the "Bismarck" as well as other raiders and U-boats. In 20 days, six tankers and three other ships were sunk or captured in the North and South Atlantic.

JULY 1941

German Heavy Ships - RAF Bomber Command badly damaged battlecruiser "Scharnhorst" at La Pallice, France on the 24th. Heavy cruiser "Prinz Eugen" was also damaged in July. With "Gneisenau" in Brest and "Lutzow" back in Germany, both undergoing repairs, the main big ship threat was from the new battleship "Tirpitz".  


German Raiders - "Orion" returned to France from the Indian Ocean via the Cape of Good Hope. In 16 months she had accounted for 9 1/2 ships of 60,000 tons, some in co-operation with "Komet".


German Raiders - Indian & Atlantic Oceans - Far across the Indian Ocean off Western Australia, the Australian cruiser "Sydney" came across German raider "Kormoran" on the 19th. Apparently caught unawares, "SYDNEY" was mortally damaged and lost without trace. "KORMORAN" also went down. In a cruise lasting 12 months she had sunk or captured 11 other ships of 68,000 tons. While replenishing "U-126" north of Ascension Island on the 22nd, raider "ATLANTIS" was surprised and sunk by heavy cruiser "Devonshire". The raider's operations in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans had cost the Allies 22 merchantmen of 146,000 tons. "Komet" returned to Germany through the Atlantic having reached the Pacific across the top of Siberia some 17 months earlier. Her score was just 6 1/2 ships, some in operations with "Orion".

German Heavy Warships - As the completed "Tirpitz", sister-ship to "Bismarck" prepared for operations, units of the British Home Fleet sailed for Iceland waters to cover any possible breakout. Still short of war, the US Navy supported then with a battle squadron


Japan declares War




German Surface Warships - The German big ships gave the Admiralty much cause for concern. "Scharnhorst", "Gneisenau" and "Prinz Eugen" all now repaired, were ready for a possible break-out from Brest into the Atlantic. At the same time the new battleship "Tirpitz" moved to Trondheim in the middle of the month from where she could prey on the Russian convoys. In fact Hitler had ordered the Brest squadron back to Germany. By early February the Admiralty had got wind of the proposed "Channel Dash" and prepared accordingly.

German Raiders - Raider "Thor" sailed from France for her second cruise. She was the only raider to do so successfully. Operations in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean continued until her loss in November 1942. No German raiders had been at sea since the previous November, and "Thor" was the first of three to break out in 1942. In the first six months of the year they sank or captured 17 ships of 107,000 tons.

Air War - RAF Bomber Command carried on its offensive against Germany and occupied Europe. Attacks were made in January on Bremen, Emden and Hamburg and the big warships in Brest.


11th-13th - The Channel Dash - The Brest Squadron (Vice-Adm Ciliax) with "Scharnhorst", "Gneisenau" and "Prinz Eugen", heavily escorted by air and other naval forces, left late on the 11th for Germany in Operation 'Cerberus'. The aim was to pass through the Strait of Dover around noon the next day. A number of problems conspired to prevent the RAF standing patrols detecting their departure. The first intimation of the breakout came with a RAF report around 10.45 on the 12th as the German force steamed towards Boulogne. This left little time for attacks to be mounted. Soon after midday the first was made by five motor torpedo boats from Dover and six Swordfish torpedo-bombers of 825 Squadron (Lt-Cdr Esmonde), but no hits were made. All Swordfish were shot down.

From then on, events moved swiftly. At 14.30 off the Scheldt, "Scharnhorst" was slightly damaged by a mine. An hour later, torpedo attacks by six destroyers from Harwich were unsuccessful. Twenty minutes later a heavy attack by the RAF fails. The German ships carried on and in the early evening off the Dutch Frisian Islands, first "Gneisenau" and then "Scharnhorst" (for the second time) hit mines. Both were damaged, but together with "Prinz Eugen" reached German ports in the early hours of the 13th. The escape was an embarrassment for the British Government, but a tactical victory for the German Navy was also a strategic gain for the Royal Navy. The Brest Squadron no longer directly threatened the Atlantic convoy routes, both battlecruisers were damaged and ten days later "Prinz Eugen" was badly damaged. Two weeks later "Gneisenau" was further damaged in a RAF raid on Kiel and never went to sea again. A start was made on her repair but in early 1943 she was laid up.

German Surface Warships - Following the "Channel Dash", heavy cruiser "Prinz Eugen" sailed with pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" to join "Tirpitz" in Norway. Off Trondheim, submarine "Trident" torpedoed and heavily damaged her on the 23rd.

MARCH 1942

German Raiders - Raider "Michel" sailed for the South Atlantic and later Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Russian Convoy PQ12 and Return QP8 - By now German battleship "Tirpitz", the ship that dictated Royal Navy policies in northern waters for so long, had been joined in Norway by pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer". The next Russia-bound and return convoys therefore set out on the same day, the 1st, so they could be covered by the Home Fleet with battleships "Duke of York", "Renown", "King George V" and carrier "Victorious". Convoys PQ12 and QP8 passed to the southwest of Bear Island and with "Tirpitz" reported at sea, the Home Fleet tried to place itself between her and the convoys. There was no contact between the surface ships, but on the 9th, aircraft from "Victorious" attacked but failed to hit "Tirpitz" off the Lofoten Islands. Of the 31 merchantmen in two convoys, only one straggler from QP8 was lost to the German force.

Russian Convoy PQ13 - PQ13 and its escort, including cruiser "Trinidad" and destroyers "Eclipse" and "Fury", were scattered by severe gales and heavily attacked. On the 29th three German destroyers encountered the escort north of Murmansk. "Z-26" was sunk, but in the action "Trinidad" was hit and disabled by one of her own torpedoes. As the cruiser limped towards Kola Inlet an attack by "U-585" failed and she was sunk by "Fury". Five of the 19 ships with PQ13 were lost - two to submarines, two to aircraft, and one by the destroyers. "Trinidad" reached Russia.

Raid on St Nazaire - Concerned about the possibility of battleship "Tirpitz" breaking out into the Atlantic, the decision was made to put out of action the only dry-dock in France capable of taking her - the 'Normandie' at St Nazaire. Ex-US destroyer "Campbeltown" was to be loaded with high explosives and rammed into the lock gates while British commandos, carried over in Royal Navy ML's or motor launches were to land and destroy the dry-docks installations. The force sailed from southwest England on the 26th, and by a number of ruse penetrated the heavily defended port early on the 28th. In the face of intense fire, "Campbeltown" was placed exactly in position and many of the commandos got ashore to carry out their mission. Losses in men and coastal forces' craft were heavy, but when "CAMPBELTOWN" did blow up, the lock gates were put out of commission for the rest of the war.

MAY 1942

Russian Return Convoy QP11 - QP11 departed Russia on the 28th April and on the 30th cruiser "Edinburgh" was torpedoed twice by U-boat. As she limped back to Russia, three German destroyers attacked QP11, but only manage to sank a straggler. They found the cruiser on the 2nd. In a series of confused fought amidst snow showers and smokescreens, "Edinburgh" disabled the "Hermann Schoemann" by gunfire, but was then torpedoed for a third time by either "Z-24" or "Z-25". Escorting destroyers "Forester" and "Foresight" were also damaged. Both "EDINBURGH" and "HERMANN SCHOEMANN" were scuttled on the 2nd.

German Surface Warships - In addition to aircraft and U-boats, the Germans now had "Tirpitz", "Admiral Scheer", "Lutzow", "Hipper" and nearly a dozen big destroyers at Narvik and Trondheim. With by-now continuous daylight throughout the journey, the Admiralty pressed for the convoys to be discontinued, but they continued for political reasons.

German Raiders - German raider “Stier” left Rotterdam for the Channel and operations in the South Atlantic. Off Boulogne on the 13th, she was attacked by RN coastal forces. One MTB was lost, but escorting German torpedo boats “ILTIS” and “SEEADLER” were torpedoed and sunk. “Stier” was free for four months until her eventual sinking.

JULY 1942

Destruction of Russian Convoy PQ17 - PQ17 left Reykjavik, Iceland on the 27th June with 36 ships, of which two returned. The close escort under Cdr J. E. Broome included six destroyers and four corvettes. Two British and two US cruisers with destroyers were in support (Rear-Adm L. H. K. Hamilton), and distant cover was given by the Home Fleet (Adm Tovey) with battleships "Duke of York" and the US "Washington", carrier "Victorious", cruisers and destroyers. The British Admiralty believed the Germans were concentrating their heavy ships in northern Norway. In fact pocket battleship "Lutzow" had run aground off Narvik, but this still left battleship "Tirpitz", pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" and heavy cruiser "Admiral Hipper" - all formidable adversaries, which reached Altenfiord on the 3rd. At this time PQ17 had just passed to the north of Bear Island, after which German aircraft sank three merchantmen. Fear of attack by the German ships led the First Sea Lord, Adm Pound, far away in London, to decide the fate of the convoy. In the evening of the 4th the support cruisers were ordered to withdraw and the convoy to scatter. Unfortunately Adm Hamilton took the six escorting destroyers with him. The merchantmen were now to the north of North Cape. Thirty-one tried to make for the isolated islands of Novaya Zemlya before heading south for Russian ports. Between the 5th and 10th July, 20 of them were lost, half each to the aircraft and U-boats sent to hunt them down. Some sheltered for days off the bleak shores of Novaya Zemlya. Eventually 11 survivors and two rescue ships reached Archangel and nearby ports between the 9th and 28th. In fact "Tirpitz" and the other ships did not leave Altenfiord until the morning of the 5th, after the 'convoy was to disperse' order. They abandoned the sortie that same day. No more Russian convoys ran until September.


German Raiders - After sinking just three ships, German raider "STIER" encountered American freighter "Stephen Hopkins" in the South Atlantic on the 27th. The "Hopkins" was sunk, but not before her single 4in gun damaged the raider so severely she had to be abandoned.


German Raiders - German raider "KOMET" attempted to pass down the English Channel on the 14th on the way out for a second cruise. A force of British escort destroyers and MTBs attacked off Cherbourg, and in spite of a strong escort, she was torpedoed and sunk by MTB.236.

Human Torpedo attack on "Tirpitz" - Battleship "Tirpitz" posed such a threat to Russian convoys and held down so much of Home Fleet's strength that almost any measures to immobilise her were justified. A gallant attempt was made in October when a small Norwegian fishing vessel "Arthur", penetrated to within a few miles of the battleship in Trondheimfiord carrying Royal Navy personnel with their Chariot human torpedoed slung underneath. Just short of the target they broke away and all the efforts were in vain.


German Raiders - On the 30th, German raider "THOR" was destroyed in Yokohama, Japan when a supply ship laying alongside caught fire and blew up. Since leaving France in January she had sunk or captured 10 ships of 56,000 tons.


Battle of the Barents Sea & Russian Convoys JW51A and JW51B - After a three-month gap the first of the JW convoys set out. JW51 sailed in two sections. Part A left Loch Ewe, Scotland on the 15th with 16 ships bound for Kola Inlet. All arrived safely on Christmas Day, the 25th accompanied by supporting cruisers "Jamaica" and "Sheffield". JW51B (14 ships) left on the 22nd escorted by six destroyers, a minesweeper and four smaller vessels under the command of Capt St. V. Sherbrooke in "Onslow". Adm Burnett with "Jamaica" and "Sheffield" joined the convoy south west of Bear Island on the 29th to provide close cover through the Barents Sea. By now "Tirpitz", pocket battleship "Lutzow", heavy cruiser "Admiral Hipper", light cruisers "Koln" and "Nurnberg" and a number of 5in and 5.9in gun destroyers were in Norwegian waters. The Admiralty assumed they were for attacks on Russian convoys. In fact, they were in Norway because Hitler feared invasion. Convoy JW51B was reported an the 30th and 8in "Hipper" (Adm Kummetz), 11in "Lutzow" and six destroyers put to sea from Altenfiord to intercept north of North Cape. Early on the 31st, New Year's Eve, the British ships were in four groups (1-4). The main convoy (1) with five remaining 4in or 4.7in destroyers "Achates", "Onslow", "Obdurate", "Obedient" and "Orwell" headed due east. (Some of the escort and merchantmen had been scattered by gales and never regained the convoy). Northeast of the convoy, detached minesweeper "Bramble" (2) was searching for missing ships. Adm Burnett's two 6in cruisers (3) covered to the north. Further north still a straggling merchant ship and escorting trawler (4) tried to reach the convoy. Capt Sherbrooke planned to use the same tactics as Adm Vian in the Second Battle of Sirte and head for the enemy while the convoy turned away under smoke. Unfortunately for the British, Adm Kummetz divided his force in two [1-2] and planned to attack from astern on both sides - "Hipper" [1] and three destroyers in the north and "Lutzow" [2] with the other three in the south.

On the 31st around 09.30, the action started with "Hipper's" three destroyers [1] heading north across the rear of the convoy (1), and opening fire on "Obdurate". The convoy later turned as planned, but south towards "Lutzow" [2]. Then "Onslow", Orwell" and Obedient" sighted Hipper" [1] and held her off until, at 10.20, "Onslow" was hit and Capt Sherbrooke badly wounded (Capt Rupert St. V. Sherbrooke RN was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry). Meanwhile, Adm Burnett's cruisers (3), following a radar contact, had diverted north towards the straggler and escort (4). They only headed towards the action around 10.00. Still to the north of the convoy, "Hipper" [1] and her destroyers came across the hapless "BRAMBLE" (2) and sent her to the bottom around 10.40. They headed south, and 40min later the 8in cruiser [1] approached JW51B (1), opened fire and hit "ACHATES" which sank after the battle was over. Lutzow [2] had already come up on the convoy from the south but did not join battle until 11.45. She was driven off by the remaining destroyers. By now "Jamaica" and "Sheffield" (3) had arrived on the scene. They quickly hit "Hipper" [1] and sank destroyer "FRIEDRICH ECKOLDT". "Hipper" tried to get back to the convoy but again the destroyers skillfully kept her at bay. By midday the German ships were withdrawing with the two cruisers in pursuit. Contact was shortly lost. None of the merchantmen were more than lightly damaged and all 14 reached Kola on the 3rd January. Return convoy RA51 left Kola on the 30th December. After being supported part of the way by "Jamaica" and "Sheffield", the 14 merchant ships were safely delivered to Loch Ewe on the 11th January. When Hitler learnt that his big ships had been driven off by light cruisers and destroyers he flew into a rage and ordered them all paid off. Grand-Adm Raeder resigned in protest and was succeeded as C-in-C, German Navy, in January by Adm Doenitz. The paying-off order was revoked.




Midget Submarine attack on "Tirpitz" - Nearly a year earlier an unsuccessful attack had been made on battleship "Tirpitz" using Chariot human torpedoes. Now it was the turn of midget submarines - the X-craft each with two 2-ton saddle charges. Six left for northern Norway towed by 'S' or 'T' class submarines. Two were lost on passage, but on the 20th off Altenfiord, "X-5", "X-6" and "X-7" set out to attack "Tirpitz" and "X-10" for the "Scharnhorst". "X-5" was lost and "X-10" was unable to attack, but "X-6" (Lt Cameron) and "X-7" (Lt Place) penetrated all the defences to reach "Tirpitz" laying in Kaafiord at the far end of Altenfiord on the 22nd. Both dropped their charges under or near the battleship before they sank and some of their crews escaped. "Tirpitz" managed to shift her position slightly, but not enough to avoid damage when the charges went up. She was out of action for six months.


English Channel Actions - Cruiser "Charybdis", accompanied by two fleet and four 'Hunt' class destroyers, sailed from Plymouth to intercept a German blockade runner off the coast of Brittany in Operation 'Tunnel'. Early in the morning of the 23rd, the force was surprised by a group of torpedo boats. "CHARYBDIS" was hit twice by torpedoes fired by "T-23" and "T-27" sinking with heavy loss of life. 'Hunt' class escort destroyer "LIMBOURNE" followed her down after a hit by "T-22".


Battle in the Bay of Biscay - Eleven German destroyers and torpedo boats sortied into the Bay of Biscay to bring in the blockade-runner "Alsterufer". She was sunk by a Czech Liberator of RAF Coastal Command on the 27th, and next day, the 28th, as the German warships returned to base they were intercepted by 6in cruisers "Glasgow" and "Enterprise". Although outnumbered and out-gunned they sank 5.9in-gunned destroyer "Z-27" and torpedo boats "T-25" and "T-26".

Battle of North Cape and Russian Convoy JW55B - Russian convoys were still sailing in two sections. JW55A left Loch Ewe, Scotland on the 12th and arrived safely with all 19 merchant ships on the 20th. Adm Fraser with "Duke of York" went right through to Russia for the first time before returning to Iceland.

Convoy JW55B, also with 19 ships, sailed for Russia on the 20th. >>>

<<< Three days later return convoy RA55A (22 ships) set out.



Cover for both convoys through the Barents Sea was to be provided by Vice-Adm R. L. Burnett with cruisers "Belfast", "Norfolk" and "Sheffield" (1) which left Kola Inlet on the same day as RA55A - the 23rd. The Admiralty expected the 11in battlecruiser "Scharnhorst" (below - Maritime Quest) to attack the convoys and Adm Fraser with "Duke of York" and cruiser "Jamaica" (2) left Iceland and headed for the Bear Island area. "Scharnhorst" (Rear-Adm Bey) and five destroyers [1] sailed from Altenfiord late on the 25th, Christmas Day. Early next morning JW55B was 50 miles south of Bear Island, the weather stormy, as the Germans headed north to intercept. Meanwhile Adm Fraser (2) was 200 miles away to the southwest and Adm Burnett's cruisers (1) were approaching the convoy from the east.


At 07.30 on the 26th the German destroyers were detached to search for the convoy, failed to make contact and were later ordered home. They played no part in the battle. First contact (by group 1) was just before 09.00 on the 26th when "Belfast" detected "Scharnhorst" by radar as she was heading south and only 30 miles east of the convoy. "Norfolk" engaged and hit the battlecruiser which turned north and away to try to get around to JW55B. Adm Burnett anticipated this move and instead of shadowing, carried on towards the convoy. "Belfast" regained contact at noon and all three cruisers (1) opened fire. In the next 20min "Scharnhorst" was hit and "Norfolk" badly damaged by 11in shells. The German ship now headed south away from the convoy as Adm Burnett shadowed by radar. At this time, Adm Fraser (2) was now to the south-southwest and in a position to cut off her retreat. He made radar contact soon after 16.00 at a range of 22 miles and closed in. Fifty minutes later at 1650, "Belfast" (1) illuminated "Scharnhorst" with starshell and Adm Burnett's cruisers (1) engaged from one side and "Duke of York" and "Jamaica" (2) from the other. Hard hit, especially by the battleship's 14in shells, the German ship's main armament was eventually silenced. Finally the cruisers and accompanying destroyers fired torpedoes, 10 or 11 of which struck home, and soon after 19.30 "SCHARNHORST" went down. Only 36 men could be rescued. Now only "Tirpitz" remained as a potential big-ship threat to the Russian convoys. On the 29th JW55B reached Kola safely. Return convoy RA55A was well clear of Bear Island by the time the battle had started and made Loch Ewe on 1st January. The second return half - RA55B of eight ships - left Russia on the last day of the year and got in on 8th January.



APRIL 1944

Fleet Air Arm attack on "Tirpitz" - The damage inflicted by midget submarines on "Tirpitz" in September 1943 was nearly repaired and the Admiralty decided to launch a Fleet Air Arm attack. On the 30th March, Adm Fraser left Scapa Flow with battleships "Duke of York" and "Anson", fleet carriers "Victorious" and the old "Furious", escort carriers "Emperor", "Fencer", "Pursuer" and "Searcher", cruisers and destroyers, split into two forces, and headed north, partly to cover JW58. By the 2nd the two forces had joined up 120 miles off Altenfiord and early next morning on the 3rd, two waves each of 20 Barracuda bombers with fighter cover surprised "Tirpitz" at anchor. A total of 14 hits were made, but the damage was not serious. However, the battleship was out of action for another three months. Home Fleet was back in Scapa on the 6th. A similar operation was attempted later in the month, but bad weather prevented any attacks. Instead a German convoy was found in the area and three ships sunk. The weather again saved Tirpitz from two sorties in May 1944, but the fleet and escort carrier aircraft did manage to sink several more merchant ships at these and other times during the month.

English Channel Actions - Two surface actions took place in the English Channel off the coast of Brittany, both involving Canadian destroyers. On the 26th, cruiser "Black Prince" with four destroyers - three from the Royal Canadian Navy - was on Western Channel patrol out of Plymouth. Early that morning they ran into German torpedo boats "T-24", "T-27" and "T-29" on a minelaying mission. "T-27" was damaged and "T-29" sunk by the Canadian 'Tribal' class "Haida". Then on the 29th, "Haida" and sister ship "Athabaskan" were covering Allied minelaying, when they were surprised by the surviving "T-24" and repaired "T-27". "ATHABASKAN" was hit by a torpedo from "T-24" and blew up, but "Haida" managed to drive "T-27" ashore where she was later destroyed. The surviving "T-24" hit a mine but got into port.

JUNE 1944

Normandy Invasion - Attempts by German light forces to interfere with invasion shipping had little effect and they suffered heavy losses. However, on D-day, torpedo boats sank the Norwegian destroyer "SVENNER". Then on the night of the 8th/9th another force of destroyers and torpedo boats tried to break through from Brest but was intercepted by the 10th Destroyer Flotilla of 'Tribals' off Ushant. Destroyer "ZH-1" (ex-Dutch) was damaged by "Tartar", then torpedoed and sunk by "Ashanti", and "Z-32" driven ashore by the Canadian "Haida" and "Huron" and later blown up.

JULY 1944

FAA attack on "Tirpitz" - Barracuda torpedo bombers from Home Fleet carriers "Formidable", "Indefatigable" and "Furious" attempted to hit "Tirpitz" in Altenfiord on the 17th, but failed, partly because of defensive smokescreens.


FAA attack on "Tirpitz" - Russian convoy JW59 (33 ships) left Loch Ewe on the 15th with a heavy escort including escort carriers "Striker" and "Vindex" and the 20th and 22nd Escort Groups. Home Fleet, under the command of Adm Moore, sailed in two groups, partly to cover the convoy but mainly to launch further FAA attacks on "Tirpitz" in Altenfiord. One group included "Formidable", "Indefatigable" and "Furious" and battleship "Duke of York"; the second one escort carriers "Trumpeter" and the Canadian-manned "Nabob" together with the 5th EG (Cdr Macintyre). Between the 22nd and 29th, three strikes were made, but in two of them the German ship was obscured by smoke; and although a hit was obtained on the 24th, the bomb failed to explode.


RAF attack on "Tirpitz" - Now it was RAF Bomber Command's turn to hit at battleship "Tirpitz" (above - Maritime Quest) in Altenfiord in the far north of Norway. Flying in difficult conditions from Russian bases near Archangel on the 15th, the Lancasters managed to get one hit in spite of the usual smokescreens. Partly because of the damage, the battleship was moved south to Tromso.


RAF Destruction of "Tirpitz" - The damaged "TIRPITZ" was finally destroyed on the 12th as she lay at anchor off Tromso, Norway. Lancasters of Nos 9 and 617 (Dambuster) Squadrons, RAF Bomber Command using 12,000lb bombs put paid to the ship that had tied down the Home Fleet for so long. After several hits and near misses by bombs weighing over 5 tons, she turned turtle trapping nearly 1,000 men inside.



MARCH 1945

German Heavy Warships - The end of the remaining German big ships was in sight. Battlecruiser "GNEISENAU", out of service since 1942 and now hulked, was sunk as a blockship in Gdynia (Gotenhafen) on the 27th. Light cruiser "KOLN" was sunk at Wilhelmshaven by Allied bombing. Only two pocket battleships, two heavy and three light cruisers remained, and most of these would survive only a few more weeks.

APRIL 1945

Last Month of the German Surface Fleet - In RAF raids on Kiel early in the month, pocket battleship "ADMIRAL SCHEER" capsized and heavy cruiser "Admiral Hipper" and light cruiser "Emden" were badly damaged. A few days later pocket battleship "Lutzow" was also put out of action at Swinemunde.

MAY 1945

Last Week - Pocket battleship "LUTZOW" at Swinemunde and heavy cruiser "ADMIRAL HIPPER" and light cruiser "EMDEN" at Kiel, all badly damaged in April bombing raids, were scuttled in the first week of May. When Germany surrendered, just three cruisers survived. "Prinz Eugen" was used in A-bomb trials in the Pacific; "Leipzig" scuttled in the North Sea in 1946 loaded with poison gas munitions; and "Nurnberg" ceded to Russia. A dozen or so big destroyers also remained afloat.

8th Surrender of Germany



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