It's rare that a ship can be considered truly unique, but Scharnhorst -- which blurred the lines between heavy cruiser, battlecruiser and battleship -- was exactly that. The Germans cancelled the last of their "pocket battleships," and designed Scharnhorst to sow terror on the seas. Her performance in battle provoked the Allied air forces that would eventually send her to the bottom of the Barents Sea.
Scharnhorst was laid down in 1935, launched in 1936 and commissioned in early 1939. She was 754 feet long with a displacement of 38,092 tons fully loaded, and her steam turbine engines making 160,000 shaft horsepower were able to propel her to 31.6 knots.
Her displacement elicited debate over her exact class and German command was delayed in deciding what size of guns to equip her with. Eventually, she was given 11-inch guns and a planned upgrade to 15" guns. Had the upgrade happened, it’s likely she would have been reclassified as a "full" battleship. Regardless, her dimensions made her more of a battlecruiser.
Scharnhorst in Kiel harbor
Scharnhost and her sister ship Gneisenau first gained notoriety for raiding British merchant ships and ships of war. Scharnhost would remain in the north for most of the war, participating in actions in the Atlantic, Baltic and North Seas, English Channel, and the Arctic. Most notably, she supported the invasion of Denmark and Norway.
She incurred her first significant damage when the British carrier Glorious and escorts appeared on June 8, 1940. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau both engaged Glorious, and despite sinking all three British ships, Scharnhorst was badly damaged by a torpedo. After extended repairs, she participated in further commerce raiding before seeking shelter in Brest, France, weathering continued Allied air raids. As a result, German command decided to launch Operation Cerberus.
During the bombing raids while the ships were in port in Brest, the Royal Air Force flew 3,599 bombing sorties to the French port, dropping a total of 4,118 tons of bombs.
Operation Cerberus was to return three major warships to German waters by way of a "channel dash" through the narrow English Channel. Despite the inherent dangers, Scharnhorst along with Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen successfully returned to Germany.
During Operation Cerberus, after breaking out of port, the Royal Air flew over 400 bomber sorties to attack the Scharnhorst, but most never spotted her.
In February 1942, Gneisenau was decommissioned by British air raids, but Scharnhorst continued raiding Allied convoys in the Arctic. In December 1943, Allied forces engaged Scharnhorst and escorts in the two-day Battle of the North Cape. Cornered and outgunned, Scharnhorst was crippled and sent to the bottom by gunfire and multiple torpedo hits.
Scharnhorst currently lies upside down on the floor of the Barents Sea, but she sails again in World of Warships as a tier VII Premium battleship. Her unique armament, design and speed are at your command.
Kansas native Tim St. Arnold studied History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with minors in Anthropology and Political Science. At Wargaming, he's able to put his passions for military history and gaming to work as a researcher. Look for him on the seas of World of Warships as WG_Admiralty!