Gneisenau and her sister ship Scharnhorst operated together for much of the early portion of World War II. During their first operation the two ships sank the British auxiliary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi and both later participated in the German invasion of Norway.
During operations off Norway, the two ships engaged a British squadron consisting the Battlecruiser HMS Renown and nine Destroyers. During the engagement, Gneisenau was struck by two 15 inch shells from Renown which damaged her director tower, forward range finders and aft turret. Afterwards
Gneisenau put in at the port of Wilhelmshaven for repairs. Both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau once again sailed from Kiel on January 22nd 1941 to execute operation Berlin. They both succeeded in reaching the open Atlantic via the Denmark Straight where they were in position to intercept Allied convoys between Canada and Britain.
In the next sixty days both warships accounted for sinking twenty two enemy vessels, after which they were ordered back to the French port of Brest, docking on March 21st.
In early 1942, both Gneisenau and Scharnhorst evaded Royal Navy detection and made a daylight escape up the English Channel from occupied France back to Germany, reaching the port of Kiel in early February.
On the night of February 26th, the British launched a massive air raid on the port, one bomb penetrated Gneisenau’s armored deck and exploded in the forward ammunition magazine, causing extensive damage.
The repairs necessitated were so time consuming that it was determined to rebuild the ship in favor of 15 inch guns, her 11 inch guns were then removed and used as shore batteries.
In 1943, Hitler ordered the cessation of conversion work, she lay derelict until March 27th 1945, when she sailed out of port and was scuttled and used as a block ship in Gdynia Poland. She was later captured by the Soviets and broken up for scrap in 1951.
During World War II British spycraft and deception had the German’s equivalent intelligence agencies beat a hundred times over. Due to ingenious subterfuge British secret services used misdirection to convince the Germans that an invasion of North Africa would occur in Norway, that the Allied landing in Sicily would happen in Greece, and that the D-Day invasion would occur at the Port of Calais instead of Normandy. The Brits even fooled the Germans into carpet bombing empty ocean off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. Once reason for British success was their ability to root out enemy spies and turn them into double agents. Throughout the war the Germans had infiltrated the British government and military with scores of spies, almost all of whom were captured by British intelligence. Rather than executing or jailing captured spies, the British convinced them to switch sides, becoming double agents who fed the Germans with a steady diet of bogus information.
In 1944 Germany began it’s terror attacks with V-1 flying bombs. The V-1 flying bomb was a jet powered cruise missile, a true wonder weapon for its day. The missile would be launched from France and Germany, would cruise to its target, and at a preset distance drop like a bomb onto its intended target. The missile was guided by a gyrocompass which operated as an autopilot. In reaction to the attacks, the Allies set into motion Operation Crossbow, which created defensive measures to intercept and shoot down the bombs and destroy known V-1 launch and storage sites.
While the V-1 flying bomb was a marvel of technology for its time, in practicality it wasn’t very effective and had many kinks to be worked out. Out of every 7 launched only 1 would strike its intended target. British intelligence noticed that V-1 missiles which missed tended to land 2-3 miles away from its target. It was obvious that German’s aim was short and technicians needed to re-calibrate the guidance systems of the missiles. The British, however, never wanted the Germans to find out about the V-1’s ineffectiveness.
Drawing on its network of double agents, British spy agencies sent a stream of bogus reports to German intelligence regarding the effectiveness of the V-1 bombs. Double agents sent the Germans reports of factories destroyed, bombs landing in Trafalgar Square, and massive casualties around London. The British even concocted reports of massive damage to Southampton. Even though Southampton was not a target, the Germans targeted the town, firing a volley of V-1’s most of which dropped harmlessly into the sea off the Southampton coast. Using similar methods of deception, British intelligence was even able to direct the most deadliest attacks away from London.
In late 1944 the German’s introduced the V-2 rocket, a much deadlier weapon which acted as a ballistic missile. Like the V-1, many V-2’s fell short of their target. The British campaign of deception was modified to include the V-2, and like the V-1, most V-2’s fell short of their intended targets.
Throughout the war 30,000 V-1 rockets were produced, or which 10,000 were aimed at England. Though ineffective against the British war effort, the V-1’s still caused terrible casualties, mostly from errant bombs which struck civilian homes. Around 6,200 people in London alone were killed from the attacks. British intelligence estimated that if the German’s had made the correct adjustments to the flying bombs, casualties would have increased by 50%.
A series of incredible photographs from the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hippercapture the plight of HMS Glowworm as it attacked with an indomitable spirit before being sunk on 8 April 1940.
Having become separated from her own force in search of a crewman washed overboard in heavy seas, HMS Glowworm found herself in confrontation with two German destroyers. In actual fact, she had encountered the lead elements of a larger force participating in the German invasion of Norway.
After HMS Glowworm scored a hit on the lead, despite seas so severe that another two crewman were lost overboard, the German destroyers withdrew, baiting Glowworm’s captain in an attempt to bring Admiral Hipper into the fray.
Lieutenant Commander Gerard Roope, aware of this ploy, accepted the bait in the hope of shadowing whatever larger force he would find. The atrocious sea state however, had already sealed his ships fate.
Within moments Admiral Hipper rose into view, a vessel some ten times the size of the 1,345 ton destroyer. Under a hail of 8″ and 4.1″ gunfire, Glowworm committed itself to the cause of making the uttermost havoc it could, before it would inevitably succumb. After launching torpedoes under the relative cover of what smokescreen she could lay - and already in a dire state, Glowworm rammed Hipper. Her bow, as can be seen in the second image, crumpled against the cruisers armoured plating, but not without causing substantial damage. Though Glowworm defiantly continued to fight she quickly began to heel over, forcing whatever crew could to abandon ship.
The victorious Admiral Hipper hove to, recovering 40 survivors, though some later died of wounds sustained. On 10 July 1945, after the full circumstances of Glowworm’s sinking came to light, Lieutenant Commander Gerard Roope was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.