Lutzow torpedoed by HMS Spearfish

The damaged Lutzow

The 'pocket battleship' Lutzow after being torpedoed by HMS Spearfish.

HMS Spearfish fired her last four torpedoes at 0129 on 11th April when she spotted what was thought to be the Admiral Scheer. There was a triumphant report in the British press when she returned to base on the 18th April:

“The men have been splendid”, said Lieut.-Commander Forbes.

“Everything went like clockwork. We got into some pretty tight corners, but the crew faced everything with the cheery efficiency of British sailors.”

A member of the crew described how Lieut. Pirie, second-in-command, and the captain stood in the conning-tower watching the approach of the “Admiral Scheer”.

“It was bad weather for us – we like it rough – when the ship came in sight.

“Lieut. Pirie remarked ‘I think this is a German battleship’, but our captain at first thought it was only a destroyer. Suddenly he said to Lieut. Pirie ‘You’re right. It’s a pocket battleship.’

“We were ready for anything. As the ‘Admiral Scheer’ came nearer the captain realized what a great opportunity was being presented. Lieut.-Commander Forbes had time to manoeuvre his ship to bring the ‘Admiral Scheer’ to a favourable position.”

Then came crisp orders which electrified the whole ship’s complement and earned them full reward for months of patrols without sighting a German ship.

One of them, a lanky, bearded gunlayer, said: “I was on deck when we sighted ‘Admiral Scheer’. She was travelling fast, but there was no escort, so we gave her the works.

“It was impossible, of course, to wait and see what damage we had done, but not a man in the ship believes the German story that the ‘Admiral Scheer’ has reached home. As we got away we distinctly heard the impact of the torpedoes on the German warship.”

Lieut.-Commander Forbes said: “We torpedoed the ‘Scheer’ all right. I thought she had gone. She was going over when we were forced down.”

In fact the ship was the Lutzow, which had previously been called the Deutschland but had been renamed because Hitler did not want the risk of a ship bearing that name being sunk. The damage was severe, at 0220 she radioed her situation:

0220: Signal to Group East: “My position is 233°, 10 nautical miles off Skagen. Am unmanoeuvrable, flooding held, both screws lost. Lützow situation: ship drifting broadside to sea at 2 kt SW towards Skagen. I hope to find a lee and calm waters in Aalback Bay. As the ship is visible from afar, further submarine attacks are to be expected. Boats made ready for lowering, all crew members wearing lifejackets, all lower decks evacuated with exception of damage control personnel. “B” turret has jettisoned all ammunition to help lighten the stern. All Flak guns closed up, sharp anti-submarine watch set.”

She was fortunate that Spearfish was out of torpedoes.

Film of Spearfish returning to base was released as Movietone News on 22nd April.

The informality of the crew contrasts markedly with German newsreel celebrating the return of U-Boats from patrol, where they are usually shown on parade being presented with medals. See for example Admiral Donitz awarding medals in January 1940.

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