Naval History and Heritage Command

National Museum of the U.S. Navy

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Scharnhorst: German Battleship

The lead battleship of her class, Scharnhorst was commissioned on January 7, 1939.  Faster than any British or French capital ship in 1939, She led an eventful career until located by British intelligence and sunk by the Royal Navy on December 26, 1943. On her first sortie. she sank an armed merchant cruiser. Later, in company with Gineisenau, she sank a British carrier and two destroyers. A second cruise by both ships netted 116,000 tons and severely disrupted the Atlantic convoy schedules. A bombing raid in July 1941 put Scharnhorst out of action until early 1942. Although based at Brest, France, and in a good position to attack the transatlantic convoys, she was ordered to Norway to resist Allied landings. During the run north Scharnhorst hit two mines and made port in northern Norway in March 1943. In September, she and Tirpitz made a futile attack on Spitzbergen, where Royal Navy mini-submarines seriously damaged the latter. In December 1943, she participated in the Battle of the North Cape, and was sunk by Royal Navy ships. In September 2000, Scharnhorst was located by a joint expedition of Norwegian and British media companies, along with the Royal Norwegian Navy.

Image: NH 101559: German battleship Scharnhorst, 1939. Shown after completion of her July-August 1939 refit.

A model of Scharnhorst is on display in the “In Harm’s Way: Atlantic” section in Building 76.