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Speculative History Pt. 4
Operation Berlin
by Patrick Graham

At the beginning of the Second World War Germany faced a serious deficiency in one branch of its military, the Navy. At the close of the First World War, Germany had lost almost her entire surface fleet. A staggering sum of money invested in the dreadnaught race now rusted at the bottom of the sea, scuttled or sunk, and The Treaty of Versailles gave Germany no leverage to rebuild for a long time. The victors of the First World War had relatively intact navies and the resources to upgrade old ships or build new ones. This was especially true of England, which would work hard to ensure that her navy remained both large and modernized, building new battleships, refitting old ones, and even investing in the untested technologies presented in Aircraft Carriers.

Once Germany repudiated the onerous treaty, she began to redesign her military unhindered. In 1935 Plan-Z was drawn up as a schedule to rearm the Kriegsmarine. It called for the construction of numerous Battleships, Pocket Battleships and Aircraft Carriers. However, the plan had a projected completion date of 1945. Several ships were constructed before the war began, but once wartime needs pressed against the German military, the vast quantity of resources that would be needed to complete Plan-Z were diverted elsewhere. As it was, Germany entered the Second World War with one of the smallest navies of Europe’s major powers. To get the most out its limited surface fleet, the Kriegsmarine shifted toward a policy of using its powerful ships for maritime raiding. Capital ships would take to the open seas, sinking merchant ships and tying up the superior Royal Navy by forcing them to spread out to track these raiding ships and bring them to heel.

However, a surface raider strategy was proving too limited in its dividends from the beginning. As early as December of 1939, the Admiral Graf Spee had run into serious trouble after the Battle of the River Plate. In an exchange with three Commonwealth Cruisers, the ship sustained serious internal damage. Additionally, her captain, Karl Langsdorf feared that his ship was successfully hemmed in by British forces. He ordered his ship scuttled and took his own life. Despite the loss, there was no other viable option for engaging the Allies in a maritime war with Germany’s existing surface fleet.

Both the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had completed several missions in the Norway campaign with varying degrees of success. The ships would be useless in port so as soon as refitting was completed, the two ships would take part in the campaign to stretch the British Navy as thinly as possible by attacking convoys in the Atlantic Ocean. The menace of two Battlecruisers operating in tandem would cause a great deal of grief for British shipping and would divert several taskforces to hunting them. The two ships would rendezvous with friendly tankers throughout the journey to keep them supplied with fuel. On the 22nd of January, 1941, the two ships left Kiel to break out into the Atlantic under the command of Admiral Gunther Lutjens. Stealth and confusion would be necessary. For all the British knew, the two ships were still in Kiel. If there was certainty that two of Germany’s Battlecruisers were raiding in the Atlantic, then Royal Navy would stop at nothing to destroy them far away from support.

After avoiding a British patrol along the Farow Island/ Iceland passage, the two ships traveled through the Denmark Strait. Once in the northwest Atlantic they set themselves upon convoys traveling between Canada and England. On February 9th the ships had spied a convoy but backed off on the sighting of the HMS Ramilies. Continued efforts to find another convoy bore no fruit at first, forcing Admiral Lutjens to abandon North Atlantic raiding and move south. There his pickings would be much better. As it was, on the 22nd of February, a quarry of six ships was found as they were steam south. The two ships successfully sunk five of them while the sixth escaped. They continued onward, hoping they would run into more convoys without armed escorts.

This is where this scenario begins and departs, if just a little, from history. Supposing that the two Battlecruisers stumbled upon a convoy after having mistaken the position of enemy warships, its safe to assume a rather nasty fight would have ensued. Could the two Battlecruisers, assisted by U-Boats, sink enough of the convoy and slip away without receiving too much damage themselves?

Aftermath: Fortunately, both ships avoided such an encounter. Under orders not to engage capital ships, the ships stayed away from a convoy guarded by the Battleship Malaya on March 7th. However, they did alert U-Boats in the area which stalked to convoy for a little while before unleashing an attack which brought down six vessels.

On the 11th of March, the two ships would be ordered to return to Brest, France beginning on March 18th. The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau would make the most of their remaining time, spotting convoys on the 15th and 16th with the help of friendly supply ships, bagging 15 ships sunk or captured. They deftly avoided detection by both the HMS Rodney and the HMS Ark Royal and settled into Brest on the 22nd of March.

All told, both the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau accounted for twenty-two ships sunk or captured over the course of Operation Berlin and assisted in the sinking of several more by relaying positions to waiting U-Boats. The ships sunk or captured weighed in at about 113,000 tons. It was a stunning success for the surface raiding campaign, sending several British taskforces all over the Atlantic chasing ships they thought were still in port in Germany. However, the operation required a great investment of supplies and logistics that would become scarce of the next few years. In some ways, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were lucky in avoiding detection or a confrontation. While docked at Brest, their life would not be so charmed as the ships would be bombed several times. The only place where they might be safe would be in a German harbor. However, to get there, the two ships would have to run a gauntlet of mines, torpedo bombers and naval screens.

Scenario Card Description: In this fictional scenario, on the 16th of March 1941, The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau come upon a wonderful prize of an Allied Convoy. However, they find more than they bargained for as they run into convoy protection given by the HMS Ark Royal and Rodney.

Maps: Use the Convoy Scenario Map Setup for this Scenario. Coordinates are calculated from the bottom of the map, letters horizontal and numbers vertical.

English Taskforce H:

HMS Rodney x 1
HMS Ark Royal x 1
Swordfish x 2
HMS Javelin x 1
Convoy Ships x 5

Taskforce under Admiral Lutjens:

Scharnhorst x 2
U510 x 3

Deployment: The Allies must deploy first followed by the Axis.

Victory Conditions: Victory is determined as per rules for convoy scenarios with one addition:

The Axis force may also lose this scenario if either of the Scharnhorst units are destroyed.

Special Rules: There are no special rules for this scenario

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