Operation Berlin (Atlantic)

Operation Berlin was a successful commerce raid performed by the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau between January and March 1941. The commander-in-chief of the operation was Admiral Günther Lütjens, who subsequently commanded the famous cruise of Bismarck and Prinz Eugen.

Operation Berlin
Part of Battle of the Atlantic
TypeCommerce raid
DateJanuary–March 1941
Executed byGerman battleships Scharnhorst
and Gneisenau

The two ships aborted the operation in December 1940, but finally sailed from Kiel on 22 January 1941. They were spotted en route through the Great Belt and the British Admiralty was informed. Admiral Sir John Tovey sailed with a strong force (three battleships, eight cruisers and 11 destroyers), hoping to intercept the German ships in the IcelandFaroe Islands Passage. Instead, Lütjens took his flotilla through the Denmark Strait into the Atlantic, where they were positioned to intercept convoys between Canada and Britain.

Convoy HX 106 was intercepted, but the attack was aborted when the escorting battleship HMS Ramillies was spotted. Lütjens had orders to avoid action with enemy capital ships. The British failed to make an accurate identification of the German battleships.

After refuelling, the German ships missed convoy HX 111, but happened upon an empty convoy returning to the U.S. Over 12 hours, five ships were sunk but the attack was reported. The squadron moved south to the Azores to intercept the convoy route between West Africa and Britain.

A convoy was sighted but, once again, was not attacked due to the presence of the battleship HMS Malaya. Instead, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau shadowed it, acting to guide in U-boat attacks.

The two ships moved back to the western Atlantic, sinking a solitary freighter en route. Two unescorted convoys were attacked and 16 ships were sunk or captured. One of these ships—Chilean Reefer—caused problems. It made smoke, radioed an accurate position and returned Gneisenau's fire with its small deck gun. Lütjens, uncertain of the freighter's capabilities, withdrew and destroyed it from a safe distance. During this action, HMS Rodney appeared, possibly in response to the radio calls. The German ships bluffed their way to safety while Rodney picked up survivors.

The German ships were ordered back to Brest. They met air and sea escorts on 21 March and docked the next day.

In total, they had sailed nearly 18,000 mi (16,000 nmi; 29,000 km) in 60 days and destroyed or captured 22 ships. They were supported by supply ships and the tankers Uckermark, Ermland, Schlettstadt, Friedrich Breme and Esso Hamburg.

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