The two Scharnhorst class battleships were the first interwar German battleships to ignore most of the treaty restrictions that had limited earlier German naval construction (and continued to affect other countries almost to the start of the Second World War). Although their main guns were underpowered for their size, this was more due to political considerations and the lack of an immediately available alternative than any international commitments. They sat between the pre-war pocket battleships and the wartime Bismarck and Tirpitz, and were more active than their larger successors.
The author is generally critical of the design of these ships. They weren't actually very seaworthy, and shipped large amounts of water over the bows when moving at any sort of speed or in rough seas. This tended to knock out the forward turrets, or at least make it very difficult to operate them, reducing the power of these ships in combat. The decision to carry medium sized main guns comes in for criticism as unnecessarily weakening them. Finally the introduction of a series of advanced technologies comes in for severe criticism as many of the new features failed to operate properly, leaving the crew to work around these problems.
It is very refreshing to read an account of these ships that acknowledges their flaws - many British works concentrate on their modern features and ignore the problems they caused. The account of the famous Channel Dash is also interesting, in that it acknowledges how effective the Allied bombing campaign against the ships trapped at Brest was, and gives more details on the damaged caused by British mines late in the run. Soon after the dash the Gneisenau was badly damaged by RAF bombs while awaiting repairs and never returned to service, while the Scharnhorst suffered some crucial damage that was effectively left unrepaired.
The text is supported by an impressive collection of plans and photographs of both ships. I particularly liked the internal pictures of Scharnhorst, including a good selection from the machinery rooms, and the picture showing the hole blown through the bow of the Gneisenau, showing clear water all the way through.
This is an excellent history of these famous German warships, and will be of value to anyone with an interest in naval warfare.
Development and Construction
The Battleship Gneisenau
The Battleship Scharnhorst
Author: Gerhard Koop and Klaus-Peter Schmolke
Year: 2014 edition of 1991 original