Scharnhorst (1936)

Broadside view of Scharnhorst with her modified bow, c.late 1939. Photo in the collection of the German Federal Archives.

Ship Class
Ship Type
Laid Down

The battlecruiser Scharnhorst, laid down 15 June, 1935, was the first capital ship built as part of the German rearmament Plan Z. Commissioning 7 January, 1939, she displaced 38,700 tons at full load, and was armed with a battery of nine 28cm (11") guns in triple turrets. However, her original bow caused her to take on water in heavy seas, and she was sent back to the builders. Completed in November, Scharnhorst was soon deployed near Iceland, and fought a one-sided duel with the armed merchant cruiser Rawalpindi on the 23rd. While retiring, she again suffered damage from rough weather. After gunnery training, Scharnhorst was deployed off Norway, where she and her sister Gneisenau fought a duel with the battlecruiser HMS Renown on 9 April, 1940. Renown forced the Germans to break off, and they again suffered damage from taking on water at high speed, requiring more repairs. She was back off Norway in June, and sank the carrier HMS Glorious on the 8th, scoring one of the longest-ranged hits on a moving target in history. In January, 1941, Scharnhorst, along with Gneisenau, participated in Operation Berlin, where they broke out into the Atlantic to attack convoys. Between the two, they destroyed twenty-two ships, before returning to Brest, France, in March. They remained there until January, 1942, when the two ships, along with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, raced through the English Channel, evading the British, though Scharnhorst suffered heavy damage from mines. Returning to service in July, 1942, she was sent back to Norway in March, 1943, but saw little action until December, when she deployed to attack convoys JW-55A and JW-55B. She was sunk by Royal Navy surface units, including the battleship HMS Duke of York, on 26 December. Out of nearly 2000 men, only 36 survived. Scharnhorst's wreck was located on 10 September, 2000, in only 950 feet of water.

Bonus Information

Fun Fact: There is considerable debate on classifying Scharnhorst and Gneisenau as battlecruisers or battleships. I favor the battlecruisers classification due to their high speed (31 knots) and not being designed for a stand-up fleet engagement with enemy battleships.