The Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen


The shell pierced the fuel tank and the leaking oil allowed the British to track down the Bismarck.. Due to the damage, Adm. Lütjens, commanding the German task force, decided to cancel the operation. The Bismarck would head for St. Nazaire, while the Prinz Eugen would continue the sorite as part of Operation Hood after  refuelling and resupplying from either the Belchen or the Lothringen. The first attempt to change the course, undertaken at 15.40, failed. The cruiser Suffolk noticed the Bismarck’s manoeuvre. For the second time, at about 18.14, the Bismarck turned south. During the manoeuvre, she fought a short artillery duel with the Suffolk and the Prince of Wales. The Prinz Eugen took advantage of that fact and managed to break away from the enemy. On May 26, at 06.20, she met with the tanker Spichern and refuelled. The operation lasted from 08.33 until 22.00. On the following day the cruiser searched for convoys, but found none. Due to the search for the Bismarck, the British Admiralty ordered all convoys in the vicinity to change their course. On May 27, radio operators on board the Prinz Eugen received report concerning the final battle and the sinking of the Bismarck.In that situation Captain Brinkmann, commanding officer of the Prinz Eugen, had a choice of either cancel the operation and head for Brest or continue the sortie with help of the supply vessels Ermland and Friedrich Breme. The message received from the headquarters of the Group West informed that “5 battleships steaming at high speed” had been spotted by Italian submarines operating in the Atlantic. The information convinced the German commander to head for Brest. On May 28, after refuelling from the Esso Hamburg, the cruiser steamed for the Bay of Biscay. Between May 27-29, the ship was plagued by numerous powerplant breakdowns, but on June 1, at 19.50, she finally called at Brest. The battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had already been there. The fact that such a strong force stayed there triggered numerous British air raids. Consequently, all the German ships suffered heavy damage. At the turn of 1941/1942, the British, in fear that the German warships may attempt to escape the harbour unnoticed, dispatched seven submarines to patrol its entrance and attack any large vessels from a cruiser up. The vessels were called back at the beginning of January and the air force took over, patrolling the possible routes which the German could use to escape Brest. The Atlantic sortie was improbable, as still in 1941, the British Admiralty took action to eliminate the German supply vessels. Without them the German warships would have been unable to undertake any successful operations. There was a possibility that the squadron would try to force its way through the English Channel, but it was considered highly improbable. However, just in case, the British prepared a plan (Operation Fuller), which would prevent the German warships from taking that route. Admiral Ramos, commander of the operation had 6 motor torpedo boats at Dover, 6 motor torpedo boats at Ramsgate, 6 old destroyers at Harwich, 300 bombers (the number was later reduced to 100) and 6 Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers at his disposal. The fate of the German warships was decided by Adolf Hitler himself, as he was obsessed with the vision of the Allied landing in Norway. He demanded that the warships take the shortest route back to Germany and then proceed to the bases in Norway. Despite Admiral Reader’s protests, Hitler ordered the preparation of the Operation Cerberus under command of Admiral Ciliax. The German warships were being prepared for the passage through the English Channel. As strong attacks of the enemy air force were expected the anti-aircraft armament was reinforced. The Prinz Eugen received five quadruple 20mm guns. Also a strong air cover was prepared en route between Le Havre and Calais. The escort would also be reinforced as the squadron entered further into the Channel, thus increasing its ant-aircraft efficiency. To mislead British agents, a party was held in Paris at the Group West headquarters for the commanders of the warships and the base’s high ranking officers. A similar party was held at the base for the officers and sailors of the warships stationed there. Some crew members were also granted leaves. To mislead the British even more, tropical uniforms were ordered for the crews of the German warships. The beginning of the operation was planned for February 11, 1942, at 19.30, but due to an air raid, it was postponed until 21.48. After putting to see, the German warships passed Ushant and entered the English Channel. The battleship Scharnhorst led the formation, followed by the Gneisenau with the Prinz Eugen in the van. The escort was provided by 6 destroyers and 3 torpedo boats. On February 12, at 01.00, the crews were informed about the true objective of the operation. At 10.42, two Spitfire fighters accidentally flew over the German task force, but they reported the fact only after landing at 11.03. At 12.14, six Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers took off to attack the Germans. At 12.18, the German task force found itself within the range of 228.6mm guns of the coastal batteries located near Dover, at the narrowest section of the Channel. It fired at the ships, but since they were hidden in the smoke screen, no hits were scored. Thirty minutes after noon, a motor torpedo boats squadron from Dover, under command of Captain Pumprey, attacked the Scharnhorst and the Prinz Eugen, but the torpedoes missed the German warships. At 12.44, the Swordfish torpedo bombers under command of Captain Esmond attacked the German task force, but due to strong anti-aircraft fire all the planes were shot down and their torpedoes scored no hits. Later, in vicinity of Vlissingen, the Scharnhorst struck a mine