In any war, each side has just one goal in mind…winning. Of course, this is not just a video game or war games, but it is really a life and death challenge. In retrospect, I find it interesting to see some of the strategies the different sides use. While I cannot agree with anything the Germans did under Hitler’s rule, because Hitler was unbelievably ruthless, hateful, and cruel, there were some strategies that either he, his admirals, or his soldiers executed that were quite spectacular, though surprising in nature, because the Germans didn’t usually coordinate their efforts this well. I would never have wanted the Germans to win in World War II, because of their horrible treatment and murders of the Jewish people, but they did have a way of fighting that has captured my interest…at least on this day.
The Germans had controlled and occupied France since June of 1940. Their ships docked in French ports were drawing fire from the British. It became clear that the ships needed to escape. The German battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst had been anchored at the port of Brest since March of 1941, and the heavy cruiser, Prinz Eugen had been there since May of 1941. They were periodically subjected to bombing raids and damage at the hands of the British. Now it was time to turn a bad situation into a successful failure, as it were. The Germans knew they were not going to hold onto France here, so now they needed to steal away in the night without getting caught.
It was decided that they would make a mad dash up the English Channel to the safety of German waters. The key here was to make the Channel Dash right under the watchful eye of the British Royal Navy without their notice. It was quite risky. Despite the watchfulness of the British submarines and aircraft, the German Vice Admiral, Otto Ciliax launched Operation Cerberus to lead the ships out of the French port, and to the safety of the German ports.
On the evening of February 11, 1942, they set their plan in motion. Accompanied by six German destroyers and twenty one torpedo boats for protection, they moved north late that evening. When daylight hit, they were joined by German planes to provide air cover as well. The air cover was led by ace pilot, Adolf Galland. He was joined by 250 other fighters in a coordinated joint effort of the German Navy and the Luftwaffe…an unusually well coordinated joint effort. The British Royal Navy scrambled to coordinate its own attack, but the late start would prove to be the undoing of the attack, because they did not realize that the escape was in progress until the afternoon of February 12th. All three of the German warships made it to a German port on February 13th, although the Gneisenau and had incurred damaged by British mines along the route. In addition to the embarrassment of the well planned escape that was carried out by the Germans, the British lost 40 aircraft and six Navy Swordfish during their confrontation. The Germans, on the other had, only lost one torpedo boat and 17 aircraft.
Nevertheless, the British would exact a revenge of sorts, when British warships sunk the Scharnhorst in December of 1944, as it attempted to attack a Russian convoy. The Gneisenau was destroyed during a bombing raid, while it was still being repaired from the prior damage, and the Prinz Eugen survived the war, but was taken over by the US Navy at the end of the war. It isn’t that I want to commend the Germans for their sneaky escape, because I don’t. They simply lived to fight…and ultimately lose, another day. It was, however, a good strategy, and I guess that even crazy dictators like Hitler, and the men he trained, could come up with an occasional good escape plan. Nevertheless, evil must not be allowed to continue, and the Germans had to be shut down, so the British, and all the other nations who stand for what is good, had to continue to fight, until Germany and its allies had no choice but to surrender. Still, February 11, 1942, the day of The Channel Dash would stand out as one of the best fights put up by the Germans, or at least, the best escape plan.