- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Edward Ernest Reeds
- Location of story:
- North Cape, Norway
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 07 June 2004
My father's (an AB aboard HMS Belfast)account of the chase and sinking of the Scharnhorst
[All spellings are as in the original version]
As far as I can give it, this is the account of the battle between the battle-cruiser “Sharnhost” (26,000 tons) and ships of the Home Fleet consisting of “Duke of York” battleship, “Jamaica”, “Belfast”, “Norfolk”, and “Sheffield” cruisers and 5 destroyers.
SINKING OF SCHARNHORST
Dec. 26th 1943
With us is the “Sheffield” 6in. and “Norfolk” 8in. cruisers and we are covering a convoy bound for England from Murmansk. We have been at sea for 2 days now and today we should meet a convoy which is coming up to Murmansk. When we meet the “Duke of York” and “Jamaica” will take over the convoy from Russia and we will escort the one back to Murmansk. The “Duke” and “Jamaica” will take over the one going south. Just before we sailed reports were received that the “Sharnhorst had been to sea and was now in a Norweigian Fiord. That report came from Russia after one of their planes had been on a reconnicance. The Cmdr. told us that it was a 50-50 chance that she would come out and have a go at the convoy’s tomorrow.
THE CHASE AND THE BATTLE
09:00 Went to Excersise Action Stations and was told we wouldn’t know just how long it would last. The Scharnhorst was then reported at sea and it was not known just where the Enemy was. All day the weather was clear and very cold. We had about 2 hrs of half daylight and that didn’t help much.
11:00 Echo was picked up on the R.D.F. and we opened up with Starshell followed by 6” tracer shells fired by “Norfolk”, Sheffield and us. At the same time the “Scharnhorst” opened up at us. The “Norfolk” and us both scored hits in our second salvo and the “Scharnhorst” turned and headed towards the Norweigan coast followed by us in line astern. At that time the Enemy was going at 28 knots and we were travelling at 30 knots. In the second salvo from the “Scharnhorst” the “Norfolk” received a hit on “X” Turrett killing 8 and injuring14. The Admiral sent a message to the C. in C. on board the “Duke of York” to tell him what course the Scharnhorst was taking and what time she was expected to get to a certain position. Then came the fastest and wildest trip I have yet had as it turned up a bit rough and there was one continuous lot of waves and spray breaking over. After half an hours sailing 5 destroyers got in front of us and kept ahead. We were going S.E. and the “Duke of York” was coming up from the S.W. with the “Jamaica”. In company of the “Scharnhorst” was 5 Destroyers which left her and got away after the first contact. All through the shadowing we kept about 5 miles astern.
14:00 a message was received from the Duke which read “We are closing in on the Scharnhorst and our combined speed is 53 knots and are expecting to open fire in an hours time”.
14:27 We sighted “Scharnhorst” on the horizon and opened up with Starshell followed by 6” tracer. We fired 203 rounds of 6” and salvos from Scharnhorst fell just astern. Again she altered course and this time she almost got away. She would have done had not the Destroyers gone in and attacked with torpedo’s 3 of which scored direct hits. In the attack the Destroyers were travelling at 38 knots. That slowed the Scharnhorst down to 24 knots and gave the “Duke” and “Jamaica” a chance to close in on her.
18:15 “Scharnhorst” is now 15 miles ahead and the “Duke” and “Jamaica” are to our Starboard.
18:50 We opened fire again with Starshell and 6” firing to the port side. Our speed is over 32 knots and waves are breaking over continuous still making it hell but no-one takes much notice of it.
19:00 “Scharnhorst” is in sight and the Duke and her have started firing main armament.
19:05 “Scharnhorst” on our starboard beam and we fire again at a very long range.
19:10 Speed is now 34 knots.
19:14 “Scharnhorst” fires at us and her shells fall just ahead. We cant fire back as the range is too great for us.
19:16 “Duke of York” and “Scharnhorst” start firing at each other and Starshell lights them both up in the distance.
19:35 We are steering S.E. with the “Scharnhorst” on our Port bow and the “Duke” 10 miles ahead. The three cruisers are in line ahead astern of the battleships.
19:50 Course 140°. The “Duke” is between the “Scharnhorst” and her base and we are covering her from the North. She hasn’t much hopes. Our speed has been reduced to 31 knots and the “Sheffield” has dropped back owing to trouble with her propeller shaft.
20:00 “Scharnhorst” has decreased speed to 21 knots.
20:05 “Scharnhorst” is going ahead of the “Duke” at a distance of 13 miles and they are still exchanging salvos with occasional Starshell for illumination.
20:25 We have gained the speed of 34 knots on a course 060°.
20:45 Position still the same and the 2 battleships are still firing but it is probably blind as it is now total darkness. “Scharnhorst” has altered course to the East.
20:50 “Scharnhorst” is firing close range as the Destroyers have gone in again to attack. One of the destroyers got hit and received damage and 20 men killed.
20:59 “Duke of York” ceases fire because the Destroyers are in “Scharnhorst” is on our Starboard beam.
21:05 Our speed has dropped to 31 knots.
21:06 “Duke of York” firing again and gives orders to “Jamaica” to go in and attack with torpedoes
21:10 Duke of York ceases fire.
21:15 “Scharnhorst” is on fire and is almost at a standstill. “Jamaica” fired 3 torpedo’s at her but were all misses.
21:20 The Admiral has volunteered to go in and torpedo the Scharnhorst and the C in C says alright. She is well on fire but still firing hard. Our own speed is 28.5.
21:30 Fired 3 torpedo’s out of Starboard tubes and scored hits with two of them. They are still fighting but they have dropped back to her 6” and 4”.
21:40 Scharnhorst ceases firing and is going down by the stern.
21:43 Scharnhorst at a standstill.
21:48 The C in C signals to say that it was the “Belfast” that fired the fatal torpedo that sent her to the bottom. On the news they said it was the “Norfolk” that did.
21:50 “Scharnhorst” has just gone down. Strong smell of burning oil and a great cloud of smoke.
21:52 We fire Starshell to see if there is any wreckage that wants sinking. We turn our searchlights on so the Destroyers can pick up survivors. There are only 50 survivors out of 1600 crew. The Captain was climbing up a scrambling net and fell back into the sea and drowned. He was injured in the face. The “Scharnhorst” put up a wonderful fight.
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