This week in the War, 20–26 December 1943: Sinking of the Scharnhorst

The Scharnhorst [Bundesarchiv, DVM 10 Bild-23-63-07/ CC-BY-SA 3.0]

The Scharnhorst [Bundesarchiv, DVM 10 Bild-23-63-07/ CC-BY-SA 3.0]

This week in the war, on 26 December 1943, the famous German battlecruiser Scharnhorst attempted to intercept an Allied convey heading through the Arctic Ocean towards Russia.

Having decoded German naval signals, the British were able to locate the Scharnhorst and she was attacked by the cruiser HMS Norfolk and followed by cruisers and destroyers throughout the afternoon. The Royal Navy’s superior radar and radar-controlled gunnery gave the British an advantage in the arctic darkness.

The British battleship HMS Duke of York arrived and scored a direct hit on the German ship which, nonetheless, escaped and headed east and directly north of North Cape.

The pursuing destroyers scored hits with torpedoes that slowed the Scharnhorst and enabled the Duke of York to catch her. The Scharnhorst’s nine 11inch guns were no match for the Duke of York’s ten 14inch guns. The cruisers HMS Jamaica and HMS Belfast finished off the Scharnhorst with torpedoes. She sank at 19:45.

Of her complement of almost 2,000 sailors, only 36 survived.

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