The Gneisenau is a German vessel that has appeared at least three different times. The first incarnation of the Gneisenau was an early battleship, launched on September 4, 1879. The 82 meter long boat held a crew of about 450 men. The boat was stranded on Malaga on December 16, 1900 after a bad storm. The name Gneisenau would be used years later for an armored cruiser. The Gneisenau would be used alongside the Scharnhorst and the Emden, Leipzig and Nurnberg in the Pacific Ocean during World War I. The fleet would travel and wreck havoc with allied shipping and trading lines during the 1910's. However this write-up will focus on the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst of WW2.
The Gneisenau building contract was placed with Deutsche Werke, in Kiel, Germany on January 25, 1934. Within a month, a keel was laid down and work on the battle cruiser would be in full swing. However, on July 5 the specifications for the boat were redesigned, and the construction was halted immediately. A little less than a year later, a new keel was laid down and construction begun again. The Gneisenau, all 38,900 tons of her, would be christened on December 8, 1936 by the widow of Captain Julius Maerker, the captain of the WWI Gneisenau. When completed, the Gneisenau would have 9 11" guns, 12 6" guns, 14 4" guns and 16 1.5" guns and would be able to travel at 32 knots.
The Gneisenau was placed under the command of Captain Erich Förste, and would finish with all combat training and preparation by the end of November 1938. The ship would not be commissioned until the second half of 1939. In October of that year, the Gneisenau, alongside light cruiser Köhn and several destroyers traveled north to raid and intercept a British trading line between Britain and Scandinavia. The fleet would not be able to find any British ships.
On November 21, 1939, The Gneisenau and its sister-ship, The Scharnhorst received the order to head south of Iceland and attack the Northern Patrol. Two days later, the two boats got into a skirmish with British auxiliary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi, sinking it. However, the ships' good fortune would not continue. Three days after the sinking of the Rawalpindi, a heavy storm would come in while the boats were in the Shetland - Bergan narrows. The Gneisenau would suffer damage causing both boats to head towards Kiel. After the repairs were completed, both boats would head down to Wilhelmshaven.
At Wilhelmshaven, the ships received orders for Operation "Nordmark." Joined by heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and three destroyers, the fleet was sent to intercept British convoys between Bergen and England. Similar to the Gneisenau's first mission, no ships were seen.
Things would go differently on operation "Weserübung," occurring during April 7-12, 1940. The Gneisenau was dubbed the flagship of the fleet commander Vice-Admiral Lütjens. The Gneisenau, paired as usual with the Scharnhorst, would cover the invasion of Narvik. During the invasion, Brittish battle cruiser Renwon and cruiser Birmingham would appear, and in the ensuing firefight between the ships, the Gneisenau would be hit once, and have to go back for repairs.
The Gneisenau would be ready for action by June, and was called upon for Operation "Juno," occurring between June 4-10. During this operation, The Gneisenau would again be the flagship for this polar excursion. The boat would be joined in the fleet with the Admiral Hipper and four destroyers. The fleet would fight with British aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, and the destroyers Ardent and Acasta. When the carrier was hit, the two destroyers tried to provide cover along with a smoke-screen, but the Glorious would be unable to retreat from the relentless German assault, and sank. The Gneisenau would return to Trondheim on June 10, 1940, but would not stay there long, as later in the day, The Gneisenau, along with the Admiral Hipper would head back out into the icy waters of the polar sea, only to return two days later.
The pair of ships would sit in Trondheim until new orders came in on June 20. The duo would head for operations taking place between Iceland, the Faroers and Orkney island. On this mission, approximetly 40 nautical miles north-west of the island of Halten, The Gneisenau would be sneak attacked by the British sub Clyde. Clyde would hit the Gneisenau with a torpedo. The Gneisenau hustled back to Trondheim for emergency repairs. The damage was extensive, and once the emergency repairs were done, the light cruiser Nürnburg would escort it back to its home of Kiel. Once at Kiel, The Gneisenau docked, where she would remain until December, when all the repairs were completed.
On December 28, 1940 The Gneisenau was ready to return to the open sea. Immediately, the Germans needed the help provided by the healthy boat. The Gneisenau, backed by the Scharnhorst, would attempt to break the allied blockade and reach the open north Atlantic ocean. The boats would be unsuccessful in their attempt. A week later, The Gneisenau would have to return to Kiel for repairs. One month later, when the ships were repaired, again, they both managed to break through the blockade and into the Denmark Straight.
On February 8, 1941 a British convoy was spotted and both ships were eager to see some action that didn't include them getting damaged. Ready to attack, the ships closed in until they noticed the British battleship Ramiles. The boats changed their strategy, and the Scharnhorst attempted to draw the battleship away from the convoy so the Gneisenau could come in and attack. The Ramiles would not have any of the Scharnhorst's temptation and remained with the convoy. The boats would shortly retreat.
Anxious and eager, the boats were ready to prove themselves again. Two weeks after the incident with the Ramiles, the boats would find a small unprotected convoy. Like wolves on an injured chicken the ships attacked, sinking all 4 ships in the convoy. Two weeks after this, the pair would encounter another convoy, but do not strike due to the approaching British battleship HMS Malaya. Two U-boats are sent in instead and sink 5 merchantships.
One week later, the Gneisenau and its compatriot, the Scharnhorst would hit the goldmine. The two ships pounced on a large convoy of merchantships, and in two days, the pair sank 16 ships! Things went from good to bad when the British battleship HMS Rodney appeared on the horizon. Rodney hailed the Gneisenau, requesting identification. The Gneisenau responded, saying they were the HMS Emerald and managed an escape. One week later both ships would Dock at Brest. During that run of operations the Gneisenau sank 14 (out of 22) sinking 66.3 tons of metal!
The Gneisenau's next operation was Operation "Cerberus," taking place during Feb 11-13, 1942. She was part of a large fleet, including the Scharnhorst, heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, 6 destroyers and 9 torpedo boats. The fleet would end up breaking through the British blockade over the English Channel, however on the way home, the Gneisenau would run into a mine, and would return to Kiel for repairs.
While sitting in dock, the Gneisenau would meet the beginning of the end. During February 26 and 27th the ship would be pelted by bombs from an allied air attack. Oil would ignite, and the entire bow, up to the gun turrets, would burn out. The ship would be taken out of action afterwards. In April, The Gneisenau would be sent down to Gotenhafen to be decommissioned and reconstructed. The gun turrets were to be redone, so that instead of the 11 inch triple turrets, the boat would have 15 in double turrets. However the renovations would never be completed. When the Scharnhorst was sunk, plans for the Gneisenau were stopped. In March 1945, the Gneisenau was sunk as it was used as a blockade ship outside of Gotenhafen.
Dimensions: 234.9 m length - 30 m broad - of 9.90 meters depth
Achievement: 165,000 HP
Top Speed: 32 knots
Turbines: Deschimag geared turbines
Boilers: 12 Wagner three drum type
Complement: 56 officers, 1,613 men
all of the above were translated