THE ROYAL NAVY AND THE BALANCE OF STORIES WITH REGARDS TO THE DESTRUCTION OF THE SCHARNHORST AT THE BATTLE OF NORTH CAPE

Reading at least three stories about the death throes of the German Kriegsmarine battlecruiser Scharnhorst leaves me a little bewildered as to what really happened from the victors point of view, for the German point is hardly credible including the stories of the survivors, although in between, there are not only credible stories but well researched and technical appraisals. I am going to use just two stories, both originating from the victor Admiral Sir Bruce FRASER the C-in-C Home Fleet in the battleship Duke of York, but passed onto to us via two different channels.

The first comes from a book called SIGNAL ISBN 1 85623 025 2 [2nd edition 2004] by Captain Barrie Kent R.N. Deceased published by Hyden House Limited.

In this two page only summary © Hyden House Limited, Commander Dicky COURAGE RN was the FSO [Fleet Signal Officer] and Commander Peter DAWNAY RN was the FWO [Fleet Wireless Officer with W/T duties and OIC of the Radar Department with an appointed Radar Officer Lt Henry BATES RN]. BURNETT was the rear admiral, Flag Officer of the 1st Cruiser Squadron in the Belfast.  The quoted RCO was the Remote Control Office, a small W/T office remote from the main W/T office but reasonably close to the bridge and plot [and the admiral] from which vital communication circuits were operated/controlled.

from SIGNAL - Scharnhorsts demise.pdf

Note the entries, albeit few, came from the pen of the two commanders with no input from the C-in-C.

Now we turn our attention to what the admiral wrote personally or dictated to his secretary for publishing or preparing his dispatches, again just a two page document. The second source comes from Naval Radar/Scientific records passed down the line eventually to ASWE [Admiralty Surface Warfare Establishment].

It has to be said that Captain Kent's account leads one to believe that the action was short and sharp resulting in the Scharnhorst being blown to smithereens, like the Hood, one minute it was there and the next minute nothing, one minute a radar blip and then nothing, absolutely nothing.

Before we start on the admirals account, remembering that the Scharnhorst was faster than the Duke of York but older, and that its gunnery was grossly inferior to the British battleship. Now consider what a broadside from the Duke of York was, always fired with the enemy on the beam. It was 10 x 14" shells, and in this engagement the Duke of York fired 80 broadsides which equals 800 14" shells. It is little wonder that the battlecruiser did not stand a chance especially with British accurate radar. There is a direct parallel here with the Bismarck, for you will remember that stringbacks, airplanes from the carrier Ark Royal, damaged the rudder gear of the ship and at some stage the British holed a fuel tank. These actions left Bismarck with little fuel and a jammed rudder making the vessel almost impossible to con as she made her way to Brest: given time she may have made it because her final sinking position was not that far off the French coast. Scharnhorst was also holed below the water line and was oozing diesel into the sea, this caused by a shell from the Duke of York. Her speed was drastically reduced in order to conserve fuel. The admiral states that he or one of his officers saw the Scharnhorst laying very low in the water have been badly damaged aft, surely meaning that many in the flagship would have also seen the doomed ship: according to the commanders on his staff nobody saw the crippled vessel.  This is what the admiral wrote.

Admiral Fraser's Account of Scharnhorst.pdf

That the ship was destroyed is all that really matters, but how it died is of interest remembering the brutal ways she had used to despatch many innocent and unarmed ships to the sea bed throughout the war, employed as a surface raider. If one lives by the sword would deserves to die by the sword. Admiral Fraser was kind enough to speak in glowing terms of the bravery and skill of the German captain, and although not stated, he must have felt awful that this inevitable execution started on Christmas Day.  I wonder if for one moment he spared a thought for the many hundreds of homes throughout the world celebrating Christmas without the men folk he or the ship slaughtered?