After World War One Germany was severely limited in the size of the navy that she could maintain and also in the size and types of warships which she could build. In 1919 the battleship was still king and the two most restrictive terms for the German Navy were the prohibition against building submarines and the very restrictive characteristics of any new battleship construction. Germany lost every dreadnought, all big gun battleship, in the High Seas Fleet. The only battleships that she was allowed to keep after the war were a handful of obsolete predreadnoughts whose main armament was four 11-inch guns and in some ships smaller. Germany was limited to new replacement construction of no greater than 10,000 tons per ship and maximum gun size of 11-inches. These hand cuffs on battleship design were placed there to ensure that she would not be capable of building future warships that could even remotely challenge the navies of the victorious powers. It was anticipated that the best design that could be built would be a modern predreadnought, that would still have all of the limitations of the obsolete prewar predreadnought battleships.
In the late 1920s German warship designers looked at replacements for the oldest of the German predreadnoughts. Their goal was to design the most powerful battleship possible within the severe restrictions of the treaty. The result was the Deutschland Class panzer shiffes (armored ships). The design was truly revolutionary and the ships were totally unlike anything that had come before. They came as a shock to the navies of Great Britain and France. Although the class in reality exceeded the allowable tonnage, on a nominal displacement of 10,000 tons, German designers came up with a ship that emphasized armament and speed at the expense of armor. They gave up the idea of providing battleship armor to use the saved weight in the categories of speed and armament. The armor was on a cruiser scale. The armament jumped to six 11-inch guns of a modern design in two triple turrets. However, the single most revolutionary aspect of the design was the propulsion plant. Diesel engines were utilized to give the ships a huge range with a top speed of 26 knots. With the exception of the three British battlecruisers, Hood, Renown and Repulse, no capital ship in the world could approach their speed. In theory they could evade any ship that was stronger and was stronger than any ship that was faster. The British and French navies clearly saw them as supreme commerce raiders. They were clearly not designed to fight other battleships but to go after something softer and with their huge range the obvious target was merchant shipping.
In response to the German design the French navy designed the Dunkerque and Strasbourg. Now they to would have ships faster and stronger than the German panzer schiffes. German followed the Deutschland with two improved versions, the Admiral Scheer and the Admiral Graf von Spee. Germany never called ships of this class battleships. The term "Pocket Battleship" used for ships of the class was coined by the British press. Later the surviving two ship Lutzow, ex-Deutschland, and Scheer were redesignated by the Kriegsmarine from panzer schiffes to heavy cruisers. The Kriegsmarine had plans for two more improved panzer shiffes, D (Ersatz Elsass) and E (Ersatz Hessen). However, the political events of 1934 and 1935 changed these plans and the design for the follow on ships.
Germany and Britain reached an agreement on the size of the new German navy and that it would not exceed 35% strength of the Royal Navy. Basically the Anglo-German Naval Treaty, abrogated the restrictive terms of the Versailles Treaty and allowed Germany to build warships to the world standards set by the Washington and London Treaties. With the lifting of the 10,000-ton restriction on battleship size, German designers could work on designs of up to the treaty limit of 35,000 tons. Panzer shiffes D and E were completely reworked in light of this new design freedom and the results were the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.
What are Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, battleships or battlecruisers? They were called battleships and had the speed of a fast battleship and the armor scheme of a battleship. Only with their armament of nine 11-inch guns in the same triple turret of the panzer schiffes, were they noticeably inferior to other battleship designs. The Kriegsmarine used the triple 11-inch gun turret because that was what was available at the time. As the twin 15-inch gun turret was developed for the Bismarck Class battleship, plans were made to substitute twin 15-inch turrets for the triple 11-inch turrets in the twins. With the start of World War Two, the pair always operated together and along with their commerce raiding cruises, their most spectacular success came in 1940 in the Norwegian Campaign. They caught the British carrier HMS Glorious along with her two escorting destroyers, HMS Ardent and HMS Acasta, and sank all three with their gunfire.
Eventually the pair were bottled up in Cherbourg and were the targets of frequent RAF raids. In 1942 they sailed north through the English Channel to reach the safety of German ports. Gneisenau was sent to the Baltic to repair the battle damage sustained in the Channel dash and to replace her 11-inch gun turrets with 15-inch gun turrets. Scharnhorst repaired her damage and was sent to the Norwegian Fjords to threaten the Russian convoys. Gneisenau was never repaired and was sunk as a block ship in 1945 at the Polish port of Gdynia. Scharnhorst sortied against a Russian convoy in December 1943 and was caught and sunk by HMS Duke of York. Her 11-guns were not up to the task of confronting a state of the art, fast battleship and she was critically hurt by losing her radar early on to gun fire from the heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk.
The Polish publishing company of Okrety Wojenne has published a volume on the Scharnhorst Class in their Warships of the World (Okrety Swiata) series. It is number 13 in the series and its Polish title is Niemieckie pancerniki typu "SCHARNHORST", German Battleship Type Scharnhorst. Written by Przemyslaw Federowicz, the title is hard bound and runs 68 pages in length. In format it follows other titles from the same publisher. As it was produced earlier than the volume from the same publisher on the Sevastopol Class Russian battleships, which was printed in an English edition as well as one in Polish (Click for Review) this volume is written only in Polish. However, even without the ability the read the Polish language, the modeler will find great benefit to this title through the photographs, color plates and the multiple 1:400 scale plans found within the covers.
Genesis - The first chapter is on the genesis of the Scharnhorst design. It looks at the preceding predreadnought designs and the Deuschland design. It looks at how the design was influenced by the French Dunkerque design and examines the different armament fits that were considered for Scharnhorst. The chapter is short with five pages and includes five photographs.
Technical Data- The second chapter looks at the technical aspects of the design. It has some marvelous on-board photographs of the fitting of the main turrets and cleaning the 11-inch and 5.9-inch guns. By far the greatest emphasis in this chapter is on the various armament systems of Scharnhorst. At 34 pages this section is by far the longest in the volume. Many pages are taken up by excellent full page photographs. There are 42 photographs, 11 line drawings and 8 tables. Line drawings include a cross section at B or Bruno turret: the 11-inch (280mm) gun turret in 1:200 scale; the 5.9-inch (150mm) gun turret in 1:100 scale; the twin 105mm AA mount in 1:200 scale; the twin 37mm AA mount in 1:50 scale; the single 20mm C/30 AA mount in 1:50 scale; the single 20mm C/38 AA mount in 1:50 scale; the quadruple 20mm mount in 1:50 scale; the 10.5 meter range finder/director in 1:100 scale; the SL-6 AA director in 1:100 scale; and the Arado Ar-196 float plane in 1:200 scale. Data tables are included on the following: 280mm C/34 turret; two on the 150mm turret; 105mm AA mount; 37mm C/30 AA mount; 20mm C/30 AA mount; 20mm C/38 mount; and a full page technical data chart on both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.
Operational History- The third and last part to the book proper covers the operational history of the pair. It is a very interesting mix of distance photographs, on board photographs, battle damage photographs, RAF aerial photographs and maps, which follows their short violent careers. The 27 pages in this section contain 42 photographs and four maps.
Color Plates– One consistent feature from this publisher is the inclusion of color plates. This title uses the inside front covers, inside back covers and book back to provide color plates of six paint schemes worn by the class. The inside front cover and opposing page show Scharnhorst in 1938/38 with straight stem and crest and Gneisenau in 1940 with clipper or Atlantic bow and Baltic stripes. Both of these plates extend to both pages and each contains a plan and profile. The rear inside cover provides the same two-page treatment as does the front inside cover. This time the two-page plans and profiles show Scharnhorst in "Operation Berlin" in 1941 with yellow turret crowns and the second plan and profile shows Gneisenau and Brest in 1941. The back cover features two schemes, each with plan and profile. One is Scharnhorst for the Channel Dash "Operation Cerberus" in 1942 and Scharnhorst in Norway in 1943.
Scale Plans– For the modeler one of the strongest features of this book are the inclusion of separate 1:400 scale plans and profiles of the ships with their different fittings over time. These are at the back of the book in a pocket and since they are separate from the book are designed to be taken out and used by the modeler. There are two separate sheets included. Each sheet folds out to four pages. One sheet shows the plan and profile of the original straight stem Scharnhorst of 1938/39. On the back is the Gneisenau in 1941. The second sheet shows Scharnhorst in 1943.