Sinking of the 'Scharnhorst', 26 December 1943

On Christmas Day 1943, the ‘Scharnhorst’ and several destroyers sailed out from Norway to attack Russia bound Arctic convoys. Their intentions had been decoded by the British and the Royal Navy was able to intercept. During heavy weather on 26 December the German destroyers headed south, leaving the ‘Scharnhorst’ alone. Less than two hours later, the ship encountered the convoy's escort force of the cruisers ‘Belfast’, ‘Norfolk’ and ‘Sheffield’. Under cover of snow, the British cruisers opened fire and ‘Norfolk’ scored two hits which demolished ‘Scharnhorst's’ main radar aerial, leaving her unable to return accurate fire in low visibility, so she attempted to break away from the cruisers. In the late afternoon, however the British battleship ‘Duke of York’ made contact and opened fire. Her second salvo wrecked the ‘A’ turret, detonating the charges in ‘A’ magazine which led to the same in ‘B’ magazine. Just after 1800 hours the ‘Duke of York’ destroyed one of ‘Scharnhorst's’ boiler rooms which slowed her down and made her more vulnerable to attack. Other British ships joined the attack and she was dealt her final blow by the cruiser HMS 'Jamaica’ and sank. Of a total complement of 1,968 men, only 36 survivors were rescued.

The last moments of the ‘Scharnhorst’ are recorded in this painting as fire takes hold of her and she is listing to starboard. Her guns are trained to port and her bridge tower glows in the light of the flames that rage through most of her length. In the right background are three destroyers and in the left background is a cruiser, probably the ‘Jamaica’. This painting was commissioned by the artist for publication in the ‘Illustrated London News’.

Object Details

ID: BHC2250
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Turner, Charles Edward
Vessels: Scharnhorst (1936)
Date made: Mid 20th century
People: Royal Navy; German Navy
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. We regret that Museum enquiries have not been able to identify the copyright holder and would welcome any information that would help us update our records. Please contact the Picture Library.
Measurements: Frame: 770 mm x 909 mm x 100 mm;Overall: 11.8 kg;Painting: 610 mm x 710 mm

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