The Gneisenau (known during construction as E or Ersatz Hessen) was laid down on 25 January 1934 in Deutsche Werke yard in Kiel as a sister of pocket battleship Deutschland. However on 5 July 1934 her construction was stopped and on 6 May 1935 was resumed, according to new design. She was launched on 8 December 1936 and named after one of famous armoured cruisers sunk in 1914 off Falklands.
On 21 May 1938 Gneisenau was commissioned and in August she left for a prolonged North Atlantic journey. It was repeated in summer 1939.
When war broke out Gneisenau and Scharnhorst were in Brunsbiittel and on 8 September 1939 arrived in Kiel. In October the Gneisenau (together with cruiser Koln and nine destroyers) hunted for merchant ships in the North Sea, without any success. In November she was sent to Iceland waters (together with Scharnhorst) to attack British ships and draw them away from Admiral GrafSpee, at that time in South Atlantic. On 23 November the ships found and sank British auxilliary cruiser Rawalpindi, but three days later they were forced to return to Kiel due to heavy storm. The repairs lasted until mid-February 1941. On 18 February Gneisenau, Scharnhorst and cruised Admiral Hipper (together with three destroyers) lef for operation "Nordmark" to hunt for British shipping between Bergen and British harbours, but no ships were found. In the beginning of April 1940
Gneisenau and Scharnhorst screened German invasion of Norway, operating far north, off Narvik. There they met British Renown. The latter was hit twice and Gneisenau - three times, but again storm proved to be the winner, as German ships had to return when Scharnhorst was damaged by heavy seas. In June both German ships returned to Norwegian waters and on 8 June they sunk British aircraft carrier Glorious and two destroyers. On 20 June 1940 Gneisenau left Trondheim with Admiral Hipper, attempting to reach Iceland waters. On the same day, 40 miles off Halten, Gneisenau was hit with a torpedo by British submarine Clyde. The Germans had to return to Trondheim for temporary repairs and on 28 July arrived in Kiel. Repairs to Gneisenau took until the end of 1940. Only on 28 December 1940 she left - with Scharnhorst - for Atlantic, to sink Allied ships. Again the storms interfered and in beginning of January 1941 both ships were in the Baltic, for repairs. Both ships left for Atlantic again on 22 January. On 5 February they were south of Greenland and on 8 February they met HX.106 convoy, left unmolested due to presence of British battleship Ramilles. On 22 February the Germans sank five merchant ships (25 784 t) off New Foundland. On 7 March they sighted SL.67 convoy, but again presence of a battleship (Malaya) prevented the attack. Instead they raported convoy's position; U105 and U124 were directed there and managed to sink five ships. On 15 and 16 March Germans found ships from dispersed westbound convoy. Scharnhorst sank six ships (35 080 t) and Gneisenau - seven (26 693 t). In addition the latter took three tankers (20 139 t) as prizes and sent them to France; however only one managed to arrive there. Germans broke action only when British battleship Rodney (detached from HX.114 convoy) arrived in vincinity; they steamed for France and on 22 March arrived in Brest. During whole operation they sank 22 ships of 115 622 t.
Both German battleships remained in Brest for almost a year, repeatedly bombed by British airplanes. On 6 April 1941 Gneisenau was heavily damaged by an aerial torpedo, while during night 10/11 April she was hit by further four bombs. Repairs lasted until Christmas 1941. On 11 February 1942 Gneisenau, Scharnhorst and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were sent to Germany. During operation "Cerberus" they made a famous dash through the English Channel minefields, despite desperate British attempts to stop them with aircraft and torpedoes. The mines proved most dangerous, as one damaged the Scharnhorst and two - the Gneisenau. The latter received
further damage from British bombs in Kiel on 25 February. Over 100 men were lost when a bomb exploded off "A" main artillery turret and fires that raged for three days damaged bow part of the ship.
On 4 April 1942 Gneisenau was sent to Gotenhafen (Polish Gdynia), away from British aviation. The plans were to replace her nine 280 mm guns with six 380 mm guns, but in 1944 - after Scharnhorst was sunk - work on Gneisenau was stopped. Her guns were used as coastal batteries in Holland and Norway, while the hull was scuttled on 27 March 1945 in entrance to Gotenhafen harbour.
After the war Polish authorities attempted to raise the wreck. Most of superstructures were cut down and on 12 September 1951 remains of the hull were towed away from the entrance, to be broken up for scrap.
Parts of Gneisenau were salvaged in shape good enough to be used again. For example three motorboats were used well into the fifties as auxilliary craft in Polish Navy, while auxilliary generators went to south of Poland to provide electricity there.
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Инструкция по сборке моделей на английском и на польском языке.