The Channel Dash

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by dwbr22387, Jun 13, 2005.

  1. dwbr22387

    dwbr22387 Junior Member

    hello all,
    does anybody out there know anything of the so called channel dash,
    I have had an enquiry as to a death then of a british pilot but can find no reference to this event
  2. angie999

    angie999 Very Senior Member

    This was in February 1942 when the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, together with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen slipped out of Brest in bad weather and made a dash through the English channel on their way back to Germany.

    A quick and simple Google search came up with these:

    I must say though that the description in the middle one, the Local History Initiative of this as the "largest German battle fleet ever assembled" made me laugh. On 31 May 1916, the full German High Seas Fleet, commanded by Admiral Scheer, sortied and briefly fought the British fleet at the Battle of Jutland. It was bigger than the squadron led by Scharnhorst by an order of magnitude and more.

    It was though the largest German naval force to put to sea in WWII.
  3. Kiwiwriter

    Kiwiwriter Very Senior Member

    Don, welcome to the boards!

    The "Channel Dash" was an episode of high drama and an impressive feat of arms.

    With the German battlecruisers tied up at Brest by British bombs, Hitler wanted them back home in Germany, to move on to Norway, the "zone of destiny" in the war. No more Atlantic cruises.

    Vice Adm. Otto Ciliax decided to gamble that wtih Luftwaffe cover, the battlecruisers Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen could sail up the English Channel and home by the direct route.

    February 11, 1942, the ships formed out outside of Brest at 22:45 hours. They evaded all British detection and gained a 300-mile start over British defenses by the time the RAF spotted them at 11:09 hours on February 12, under heavy Luftwaffe fighter cover, orchestrated by Adolf Galland.

    At 11:20, The Germans slowed down for the Dover minefield, but cranked back up to 25 knots by 11:40. The Dover guns and MTBs attacked at 12:18 but had to launch torpedoes at extreme range.

    At 12:30, Lt. Cdr. Eugene Esmonde and his six Swordfish torpedo bombers head for attack, having waited in vain for five squadrons of Spitfires as escort. With only 11 Spits covering them, Esmonde attacks. All six Swordfish are shot down, only five men survive. Esmonde wins a posthumous Victoria Cross, as the Germans race past Ramsgate.

    At 14:31, Scharnhorst hits a mine, losing all power for a while. Ciliax transfers his flag to a destroyer as Beaufort torpedo bombers from Thorney Island swoop in, with no success. Scharnhorst repairs its damage and cranks back up to 20 knots as the ships leave the Narrows.

    At 15:30, the Harwich destroyers tie in to the German squadron, but cannot close. Coastal Command's Beauforts from Leuchars in Scotland try again, with quite a melee, but no hits.

    With all bombing and torpedo attacks having failed, the Germans steam home triumphantly...but Scharnhorst and Gneisenau both strike mines on the way home, making both dockyard cases. Scharnhorst is out of action for eight months. Prinze Eugen is torpedoed 10 days later, and loses its stern. And a fortnight later, Bomber Command puts AP and HE through Gneisenau, exploding her forward turrets, and she never goes to sea again, ultimately being sunk as a blockship.

    The British press and public are furious that Ciliax has succeeded where Medina-Sidonia failed, but the Channel Dash actually makes life easier for Britain. All three ships are now back in Germany, not menacing the Atlantic sealanes, so they can be corralled. Two are out for nearly a year, the third out of the war. It is an amazine military tactical feat, and a rare example of Luftwaffe-Kriegsmarine cooperation, but Hitler has actually just made a very sound move -- for the British.
  4. Friedrich H

    Friedrich H Senior Member

    The ‘Channel Dash’

    by Friedrich vHuH


    The Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen

    One morning, all the staff of Boulogne's Security Division was excited by something they did not know. They were ordered to leave all behind and get into lorries and watch the Channel. Hauptmann Von Banc just told them: 'Gentlemen, we just want you to look at the sea'.


    The Scharnhorst


    The Gneisenau


    The Prinz Eugen

    Suddenly, they watched the unconciebeable: one, two, three... fifteen ships full-ahead running across the Channel! An entire fleet at noon! It was 12.15 hours and the visibility was like a spring's day, not a winter's day! They could see three big ships at the middle: the heavy cruisers Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen, compained by destroyers and Schnellboote (E-boats). Their speed was of over 30 knots! 'What the-hell? Is the English Lyon bloody slept or what?', the men in Cap-Gris-Nez wondered. What was happening on Dover? Who cared! Everybody just cheered and threw their Mützen up into the air.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Admiral Kurt Fricke, Admiral Karl Dönitz, Großadmiral Erich Raeder

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Colonel general Hans Jeschonnek, Major general Adolf Galland

    Just a month earlier, a small train ran from Berlin to Rastenburg in Eastern Prussia. Inside were ten high-ranked officers of the Kriegsmarine, including Großadmiral Erich Raeder and Admiral Karl Dönitz. The Chief of Staff of the Kriegsmarine, Admiral Kurt Fricke, said: 'Remember that the Führer is the one who is going to decide in the end, so tell him it is a dangerous enterprise, but do not show so pesimistic'. At 4 o'clock all the men were in the Wolfsschanze discussing a very important matter with the Führer; there were too generals Hans Jeschonnek and Adolf Galland, the Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe and the commander of its fighter arm. All the men discussed the posibility of getting the major ships in the Kriegsmarine out of Brest, where they had been bombed, up to that day unsucesfully, by the RAF.

    'If the ships remain in Brest, it is obvious that, sooner or later, the enemy's air force is going to put them out of action. It is the same case that a person ill with cancer. If I do not operate, he will die, slowly but surely; if I operate he MIGHT be saved. Therefore, I have to operate!!!', cried Adolf Hitler, giving green light to Operation ‘Cerberus’.

    Four weeks were needed to make the 'Prachstrasse' (a mine-clear corridor). According to British testimonies they thought that Paris' Admiral had gone insane; the corridors that mine sweepers were clearing had no tactical value nor followed any logical pattern. What they did not know is that if they put all the non-sense corridors to-gether, they get a free-mine corridor along the whole lenght of the Channel. The mission was so secret that it was shown in a funny incident; several officers from mine sweepers' crews, the very same ones who had planned the corridors, were sent to Brest to supervise the run. The commander of the Gneisenau had told them: 'What did you say you are? Mine sweepers' officers? What the-hell are you doing on board of my ship then?' And there were even diversion methods which caused rumours; several thousand tropical uniforms and helmets were ordered to Brest. 'Hey, boys, we're going into the sweet and warm South Atlantic...' 'Yeah! We're going to take the Azhore Isles!...'


    Admiral Otto Ciliax

    The date for the run was stablished for February 12th 1942 at 8.00 hours. Manœuvers were ordered to keep everybody at their posts, and suddenly, the alarms were sounded: a visitation of the RAF. Fortunately, no damages reported, but the run was posponed until 10.00 hours. Artifitial fog was used and at that very moment the radars of the British aeroplanes had stopped working. General Koller, from the Luftwaffe, met with Admiral Ciliax, the man in charge of Operation ‘Cerberus’, on board the Scharnhorst, his flagship. 'Do you think you could sail with this fog?', asked Koller. 'Yes, but what about the British aeroplanes?' 'OK, you sail and I will take care of them!', said Koller. The ships departed, protected by the artifitial fog and encountered a British patrol at 11.00. On the beginning, nobody in London could believe what was happening. They knew that the Kriegsmarine was up to something, but they had bigger issues to worry about: that morning, all the radar system on the Eastern coast was not working! The Germans were using for the first time a lot of interfierence stations.


    At 1.15 the British guns near Dover opened fire. The E-boats made fog and the shooting stopped. When the British had finally reacted, the German ships were already in the Belgian coast. Then, six British Swordfishes aeroplanes were sent, commanded by Lieutenant Commander E. Esmonde, DSO (the same who had put his torpedoes in Bismarck's rudder ten months before!). But there were some Messerschmitts and Focke Wulfs waiting. The six Swordfishes were shot down. Then hell started when the Luftwaffe, the Schnellboote, the minor ships and the three enormous cruisers all opned fired simultaneously and reached the coast of Holland.


    Then, at 3.28 hours, the Scharnhorst kind of flew over the water. Admiral Ciliax and all the crew were thrown into the air. A mine had made impact in the hull. Then came the reports: 'No electricity in the ship. The rudder doesn't work. The gyroscopes don't work. Anton's tower is making water. No fire in any boiler...' Then, Admiral Ciliax ordered E-boat 38 to come and pick him up. He had to command the operation. Rapidly, the Scharnhorst found itself at the rear, but, amazingly, 12 minutes later after the mine hit, the Scharnhorst moved again at 32 knots and soon reached the other ships, including E-boat 38, where Ciliax was waiting happily. 'Sir, I think we should slow down so we will not spill the Admiral...'.

    On February 1942, the Times said:

    "Vice-admiral Ciliax has achieved what duke De Medina Sidonia could not do... Since the XVII century there had not ocurred anything in the Channel so humilliant for our power and pride at sea...'

    My own writing, based on: C.D. Bekker, Kampf und Untergang der Kriegsmarine, Düssseldorf, 1953.
  5. adrian roberts

    adrian roberts Senior Member

    Did you find the answer to your original question? Two of the Swordfish pilots who died were Esmonde and Thompson; I've seen the names of the others somewhere but I can't think where. The two who survived were Kingsmill and Rose. Pat Kingsmill died 1/1/2003 aged 82.
    The German fleet got half-way up the Channel undetected because the entire British radar system had been turned off that very day for modifications. The enemy was spotted by two senior RAF officers, Group Captain Victor Beamish and Wing Commander Finlay Boyd, out for a semi-official patrol/joyride in their Spitfires.
    One British newspaper reported the next day that there was no truth in the rumour that the Germans had stopped off for tea and cake at Brighton Pier before the RAF and RN noticed them.
  6. nolanbuc

    nolanbuc Senior Member

    Fascinating topic! I knew nothing of this episode.
    I learn something new every time I log on here! :D
  7. angie999

    angie999 Very Senior Member

    Excellent post, Friedrich.
  8. Kiwiwriter

    Kiwiwriter Very Senior Member

    Originally posted by angie999@Jun 14 2005, 09:43 AM
    Excellent post, Friedrich.
    [post=35359]Quoted post[/post]
    Yes, it is. I especially like the story about the guys hauled to the beach to "watch the sea." That must have been some sight. And no cameras! :)
  9. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive



    Kapitän zur See Kurt-Caesar Hoffmann. The Scharnhorst's Captain until 24.3.42 ?

    Kapitän zur See Erich Bey. He was captain of the Scharnhorst at the Battle of North Cape, during which he died when the ship was destroyed.
  10. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive




  11. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

  12. Sadsac

    Sadsac Senior Member

    DON / FRIEDRICH, you MAY like to add the following ;
    In coversation with Capt. M.R.G WINGFIELD of HMS/m SEALION he related that he had withdrawn at dawn to recharge boats batteries. On hearing the sound of screws approaching he brought SEALION to periscope depth and saw the fleet exciting from mouth of river. He brought boat to readyness and prepared to fire torpedoes. He was just to short of target and realised that although the last ship was within range by the time the torpedo caught up to the PRINZ EUGEN she would have beat the torps by the fact that they were doing 25 knots. MRG - `given another 5 minutes and I would have had the A*** off the buggar' !!

  13. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    Tricky Dicky, Peter Clare and CL1 like this.
  14. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    Also recently (Feb 13th 2017) covered by Dan Snow's History Hit podcast here:

    The Channel Dash

    "The Channel Dash or Unternehmen Zerberus (Operation Cerberus) was a German naval operation during World War II. A Kriegsmarine (German navy) squadron consisting of both Scharnhorst-class battleships and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen along with escorts, ran a British blockade from Brest in Brittany, where they had been a latent threat to British trans-Atlantic convoys. At Brest and La Pallice, the ships had been attacked by Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command and by RAF Coastal Command torpedo-bombers from March 1941, which inflicted periodic damage to the ships, reducing their seaworthiness. In late 1941, Adolf Hitler ordered Oberkommando der Marine (OKM Navy high-command), to plan an operation to return the ships to German bases, to counter a possible British invasion of Norway. The short route up the English Channel was preferred to a detour around the British Isles, to benefit from surprise and from air cover by the Luftwaffe."

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