THE BATTLESHIP SCHARNHORST

Reviewed by: Rear Admiral R. G. Melly

This is the latest addition to the Anatomy of the Ship series of books by Osprey Publishing, with previous studies including other iconic vessels such as the Hood, the Bismarck, the Iowa and the Yamato. The Polish author, Stefan Dramiński, lives in Toruń and makes his living as a naval researcher and as an illustrator, utilising 3D software to create highly detailed and historically accurate digital models of his subjects. The book starts with a relatively short narrative section before developing into an astonishing collection of no less than 600 scale drawings and 400 colour, three-dimensional views. The book will undoubtedly appeal to model makers, who will be delighted by the level of detail provided, and to ship enthusiasts – and to anyone who wants to remind themselves that the Germans built good looking ships!

The Scharnhorst was named in honour of a Prussian general of the Napoleonic era and in memory of the armoured cruiser sunk by the British during the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914.  Commissioned in January 1939, she had an active, even successful, war until she was intercepted by the Duke of York and her escorts in an action which came to be known as the Battle of the North Cape. Greatly outgunned and after a desperate action, she was sunk with a heavy loss of life on 26 December 1943.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section provides a technical description and a brief history of the ship’s operational movements, including a description of her loss, along with some evocative black and white photographs taken during her brief service career. The second section provides exterior views of the ship, indicating how her appearance altered over the years (the principal change was perhaps the addition of a clipper bow in 1939), and also illustrations of the camouflage schemes adopted for her various sorties. The third section, itself divided into nine sub-sections, contains the detailed drawings of the ship’s general arrangements, armament, fire control systems, fittings, aircraft and boats. It is this latter section which comprises the greater part of the book, and it contains an astonishing amount of detail. Individual drawings include additional information, where appropriate, and the interior layout is not neglected, with deck plans and transverse sections, throughout the ship, also provided. The level of the artwork is such that I found it necessary to use a magnifying glass, on occasions, in order fully to appreciate the craftsmanship and fineness of some of the illustrations.

The ship was a fine example of German engineering, combining battleship levels of protection with battlecruiser speed. However, whilst of similar age, displacement and dimensions to her eventual nemesis, HMS Duke of York, she differed in one crucial aspect: the former had a main armament of nine 28cm guns, whilst the latter ship had ten 36cm guns. Other issues of course had a bearing on the Scharnhorst’s eventual loss, but her lack of a large calibre main armament was always of concern to the Kriegsmarine.

I much enjoyed reading this book, with its meticulously researched narratives and astonishing range of illustrations. It is well-written, handsomely produced and, at 336 pages, it is good value for money (the RRP is £40, but it is available on Amazon for as little at £25).