11 March 2022
Eighty years ago, the German battleships and heavy cruisers Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen made an audacious dash through the English Channel from Brest in February 1942.
At the behest of Hitler, the vessels were commanded home to German North Sea ports to counter a possible Allied invasion of Norway and rather than risk a long passage around the west of England and Ireland, and across to top of Scotland, German high command opted for a still risky ‘dash’ through the English Channel. This way, at least, the prize German ships could be provided with comprehensive Luftwaffe air cover for the entire length of the journey.
Aware that the ships were likely to make a break-out from Brest, a high level of watchfulness was maintained by the Royal Navy and RAF. However, on the day of the break-out, a series of blunders, missed opportunities and sheer bad luck saw the flotilla a long way along the English Channel before it was detected by the British.
Frantic last-minute efforts were put into play to intercept the ships but met with little success. Again, bad luck and missed chances dogged efforts to tackle the vessels and this included torpedo attacks and rapid minelaying operations on the expected path of the ships. On the German side, the Luftwaffe cover might perhaps be regarded as one of its notable achievements of the war.
In issue #12 of Iron Cross magazine, contributor Chris Goss covers the whole story in detail from both the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe perspective, as well as the efforts of the Royal Navy and RAF to intercept or sink the ships. Unique photographs and a detailed map help tell this fascinating tale.