Battle of the North Cape

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The Battle of the North Cape was a naval battle which took place on December 26, 1943 between British and German forces just north of Norway. It resulted in the sinking of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

The convoy JW55B was on its way to Russia with an escort of 14 destroyers and three cruisers, plus a Royal Navy protection group 200 miles away, consisting of the battleship Duke of York, the cruiser Jamaica, and four destroyers. The British commanding officer was Admiral Bruce Fraser. The German battlecruiser Scharnhorst, along with five destroyers, was sent north under Admiral Erich Bey to intercept the convoy. It had already been attacked by German bombers and U-boats, but without success. The German ships left Altenfiord, in northern Norway, on December 25.

By 0930 on the following day, bad weather caused the Scharnhorst to become separated from her escorts. Bey tried to attack the convoy anyway, but was intercepted by the escorting cruisers. While they kept the German ship busy, the protection group came around from the other side and attacked. Caught between two strong forces, the Germans had no choice but to fight. The Scharnhorst was hit by several salvoes from the Duke o York, then the destroyers moved in to attack with torpedoes. The small ships retreated under smoke, and the Duke of York attacked again. With the battlecruiser battered and aflame, she was finished off with another torpedo attack. By 2000 hours, the Scharnhorst had capsized, taking over 1900 of her crew with her. Only 36 German sailors were rescued by the British ships. British casualties and damage were light.

This was the last attempt by a German capital ship to challenge the superiority of the Royal Navy.


  • The World’s Great Battleships, by Robert Jackson, Thunder Bay Press, 2000
  • A History of War at Sea, Helmut Pemsel, Naval Institute Press, 1975