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Article from the Daily Mail No. 14,868 of December 28, 1943. Page 2.

Cartoon titled: THE RIGHT TONIC

Eclipse of Hitler's hit-and-run navy


It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance to us of the sinking of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst. She was the last of Hitler's capital ships in active commission against us, and her elimination means that the Admiralty, with Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser's staff at Scapa Flow, can now review the disposition of British squadrons throughout the world. Units that were once vital to the watch on Hitler's Atlantic coast can now be got ready to reinforce Sir James Somerville's Eastern Fleet or assist the Americans in the Pacific.


With our sea, air, and land preparations for attacking Burma, the news of the Scharnhorst's end can hardly have come at a more timely moment, and nowhere will it be received with greater misgiving than in Tokio. Her unusual armament and speed gave her a hitting power and mobility out of all proportion to the number of ships necessary to keep her watched and blockaded. One is tempted to ask whether, with all his heavy units sunk or damaged, it is worth Hitler's while to hang on to North Norway. Its benefit to the German Naval Command was solely as a sallying point for engaging our Murmansk convoys or raiding Atlantic commerce. It is well known that the German Army have little use for these remote regions which require such expensive garrisons. Should evacuation of any part of Norway take place, it is a reasonable corollary that the future of the smaller ships left to the Germans would be in the Baltic, and, indeed, German Naval Headquarters might easily be moved from Kiel to Gdynia. Much has been done to this old Polish port to make it a reception and training base. All the German major units were ships that by their special design were aimed specifically to outclass anything comparative in the British Fleet. Thus in flagrant breach of the 1935 German Naval Treaty the Bismarck and the Tirpitz were laid down to be more than a match for any battleship of the 35,000-ton class which that treaty stipulated. Similarly, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, weighing 32,000 tons apiece in full fighting trim, carrying nine 11-in. guns in three turrets, and with a turn of speed in excess of 30 knots, were too swift for the battleships we had at the beginning of the war, and much too powerful for nay of our 8-in. cruisers which could match them in speed. Hitler's naval stuff, with a limited number of these vessels of various categories capable of dictating, by their speed, the terms on which they would fight, hoped to paralyse the mass of our older and slower Battle Fleet and play havoc unchecked with our merchantmen scattered over the seven seas. The first category of these ships was, of course, the famous pocket battleship. Three of them, Deutschland (now Lutzow), Von Scheer, and Graf Spee, were built under treaty obligations to 10,000 tons and were ready for commerce raiding the moment hostilities broke out. But neither her 11-in. guns nor her very useful speed in those days of 26 knots could save the Graf Spee when she met the speed of the Ajax, Achilles and Exeter with the combined hitting power of her 8-in. and 6-in. guns, off the River Plate on that December morning in 1939. Her miserable act of suicide, when she had no alternative but fighting, was proof enough that as a strategic gamble the pocket battleship was a failure. Though her sister ships Scheer and Lutzow are still afloat, they have been outmoded by our four years of war-time construction, and it will be surprising if we ever hear anything of them outside the Baltic. German naval designers hoped that with the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which did not suffer from the Versailles Treaty restrictions, they would have something making up all the deficiencies of the pocket battleship.

To outgun

They were not seeking to match our line of battle; they wanted something which would outgun any reasonable convoy protection and outdistance the fastest combination of capital ships. These two ships carry nine 11-in. guns against the six of the pocket battleships, and dispose a speed of about 32 knots. Until Sunday they had nothing more redoubtable to their credit that the convoy action in which one of them made the name of its victim -the Jervis Bay- imperishable. The next experience we had of Hitler's "best bet" was the Bismarck, which under his naval treaty with us should have been 35,000 tons, but was much nearer 52,000. She was to be an unsinkable ship, and she certainly floated under amazing punishment until so battered, she had no reply when the Dorsetshire closed to give her the coup de grāce with four torpedoes. That seemed to take most of the fight out of the German Navy, and, failing to lure them on to the seas, we were finally forced to send in our newly developed arm of midget submarines to seek the Tirpitz in her Arctic hide-out of Alten Fiord. The mere fact that the Tirpitz is still there and did not move even to support the Scharnhorst, is proof enough that those midget submarines did their work well. When this battle off Norway started, therefore, the Scharnhorst was the only capital ship capable of being a menace to any convoy of ours not covered by the guns of a battleship. Her sister ship, Gneisenau, has been described as "out of the war." The damage she received in Brest in 1941-1942, as well as during a subsequent air raid on Kiel, put her very much out of commission. The last public photographs of her showed her in Gdynia with her fore turrets dismantled and lying on the dock side.

Whittled away

Thus has the Fleet with which Hitler hoped to whittle away our sea power been itself whittled to insignificance. His heaviest units are the two 8-in. cruisers Hipper -now at Trondheim- and Prinz Eugen damaged at Kiel. A third, the Seydlitz, has never been completed. Our own cruisers can satisfactorily deal with any sorties these two can make. The day has dawned when Hitler, with as wide a choice of ports as any dictator in history ever had, finds himself literally without a single ship worthy of his magnificent strategic advantages

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