The Scharnhorst class were the first capital ships, alternatively referred to as battlecruisers or battleships, built for Nazi Germanys Kriegsmarine after World War I. The class comprised two vessels, the lead ship Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and they marked the beginning of German naval rearmament after the Treaty of Versailles. The ships were armed with nine 28 cm SK C/34 guns in three turrets, though there were plans to replace these weapons with six 38 cm SK C/34 guns in twin turrets. The two ships were laid down in 1935, launched in late 1936, and commissioned into the German fleet by early 1939, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau operated together for much of the early portion of World War II, including sorties into the Atlantic to raid British merchant shipping. The two ships participated in Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Norway, during operations off Norway, the two ships engaged the battlecruiser HMS Renown and sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious on 8 June 1940. In the engagement with Glorious, Scharnhorst achieved one of the naval gunfire hits in history. In early 1942, the two made a daylight dash up the English Channel from occupied France to Germany. In late 1942, Gneisenau was heavily damaged in an Allied air raid against Kiel, in early 1943, Scharnhorst joined the Bismarck-class Tirpitz in Norway to interdict Allied convoys to the Soviet Union. Scharnhorst and several destroyers sortied from Norway to attack a convoy, during the battle of North Cape, the Royal Navy battleship HMS Duke of York sank Scharnhorst. In the meantime, repair work on Gneisenau had begun, however, when Scharnhorst was sunk, work on her sister was abandoned. Instead, she was sunk as a blockship in Gotenhafen in 1945 and they were the first class of German ships to be officially classified by the Kriegsmarine as Schlachtschiff. Previous German battleships were classified as Linienschiffe, and Panzerschiffe and their adversary, the Royal Navy, rated them as battlecruisers though after the war classified them as battleships. Janes Fighting Ships 1940 lists both the Scharnhorst and Bismarck classes as Battleships Another adversary, the United States Navy, rated them as battleships, in English language reference works they are sometimes referred to as battleships and sometimes as battlecruisers. The Treaty of Versailles, which established the terms concluding World War I, the first design, completed in 1928, called for a 17,500 long tons battlecruiser armed with eight 30.5 cm guns in four twin gun turrets. In 1933, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, he made clear to the command that he had no intention of building a large fleet to challenge British supremacy at sea. He was primarily concerned with the possibility of a war with France. To this end, he authorized two more ships—the D class—to augment the three Deutschland-class Panzerschiffe and these ships would displace 19,000 tons and have the same armament and speed as the Panzerschiffe, the extra tonnage would be taken up by increased protection. Hitler wanted to follow this course so he would not be seen as overtly flouting the Treaty of Versailles, to combat the German Panzerschiffe, the French built two small Dunkerque-class battleships in the early 1930s
Image: Scharnhorst 1 A503 FM30 50
Scharnhorst, before the fitting of the "Atlantic bow"
Scharnhorst in harbor; the thickness of the armour belt is easily seen