The Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen

Operational history

On the night of June 1/2, 1940, during the air raid against the harbour and the shipyard, the ship was hit by two aerial bombs, while she was still moored at the fitting-out berth. The damage was slight and it did not delay her commissioning date. The Prinz Eugen was officially commissioned on August 1, 1940. Until January 25, 1941, there were trials, gunner trainings and the crew was getting familiar with the ship. The final fitting-out work was also being completed. Since January 25 until April 8, 1940, the ship remained at the Deutsche Werke shipyard at Kiel. Between April 17 and 22, she took part in the joint manoeuvres in vicinity of Gotenhafen (Gdynia) with the battleship Bismarck (with Adm. Günter Lütjens on board) before their sortie in the Atlantic (Operation Rheinübung). On April 23, while the cruiser was on the way to Kiel, a magnetic mine detonated near her hull, when she was already in the Bay of Kiel. The explosion deprived the ship of electricity. The turbines received no steam as the shock jammed the valves. Shortly, the emergency parties managed to get the turbines running and the ship limped to the shipyard, where she entered the dry dock. Following the inspection, it turned out that the propeller shafts bearings were fractured. Also damaged were the artillery directors and other fire control systems. The Prinz Eugen left the shipyard on May 2 and returned to Gotenhafen to complete preparations for the Atlantic sortie.The operation was prepared following the success of an earlier Atlantic sortie of the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which managed to sink 22 Allied ships sustaining no losses. It was expected that sending larger warships would mean greater success. On May 18, tugboats lead the Prinz Eugen out of Gotenhafen and the turbines were engaged in the roadstead, as there were fears that the pumps might draw in dirty water from the harbour basins. Until 21.00, the ship was manoeuvring in the roadstead and then she headed for the Danish straits, via a route leading north of Bornholm. On May 19, at about 11.25, near Cape Arcona, she met the Bismarck, which departed Gotenhafen at about 02.00. Both ships continued their journey together and on May 20, at 13.00, they were spotted by the Swedish cruiser Gotland. On May 21, both ships traversed Bergen and entered Korsofjord. On the way the German ships were being observed by Norwegian agents, who transmitted their reports to the British Admiralty. During their stay both ships bunkered fuel and then, at 19.30, put out to sea under escort of the 6th Destroyer Squadron. On May 22, at 04.20, the escort was sent back to Trondheim. A few hours later a report was received, which informed the Germans, that the British made an air raid on the area where the ships had been bunkered. Due to excessive fuel consumption the ships slowed down to 24 knots. At noon, in dense fog, the German task force approached the coast of Iceland. On May 23, at 19.22, observers on board the Bismarck spotted a silhouette of an unidentified ship. At 20.44, the cruiser Suffolk, for she was the aforementioned stranger, opened fire on the Prinz Eugen, but scored no hits. On May 24, at 02.28, yet another cruiser was spotted, it was the Norfolk. At 05.43, the observers on board the ship spotted the battlecruiser Hood. Ten minutes later the British task force (Hood and Prince of Wales) opened fire at the Germans. The British mistook the Prinz Eugen for the Bismarck and as a result the Hood fired on the Prinz Eugen, while the Prince of Wales concentrated on the Bismarck. During the artillery duel, the Bismarck scored a hit on the Hood starting a fire on board of the British battlecruiser. At 06.00, a salvo from the Bismarck hit the Hood. One of the shells penetrated the deck between the second funnel and the mainmast and exploded in the magazines. The British battlecruiser went down and only 3 seamen of her entire crew survived. Then, the Bismarck concentrated her fire on the Prince of Wales, scoring a hits on her navigation bridge. A few minutes later the British battleship was hit by three more shells fired by the Prinz Eugen and four by the Bismarck. However, the German battleship was also damaged, receiving three hits. One of those was especially unlucky.