I Was There! - We Knew We Had Hit The 'Scheer'

The War Illustrated, Volume 2, No. 35, Page 479, May 3, 1940.

The submarine "Spearfish" arrived home on April 18 after one of the most adventurous under-water patrols of the war. She had torpedoed the pocket-battleship "Admiral Scheer" and her crew were convinced they had scored a direct hit. Here is the story of the encounter which they and their commander had to tell.

The fight for life of the submarine "Spearfish", when she was severely damaged by German depth-charges, is described in page 206 of Vol. I. The "Spearfish" had her revenge in the second week of April 1940 when she torpedoed the "Admiral Scheer".

As the submarine came into port on April 18 her crew were lining the deck with their thumbs up.

"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."

Historical context, by the webmaster

The "Spearfish" did not torpedo the "Admiral Scheer" but her sister ship the "Lützow". The "Lützow" was heading back to Germany after damage received during operation Weserübung. On April 11, 1940, she was sighted by the "Spearfish" and torpedoed, her stern was practically blown of. It wasn't until the beginning of 1941 when the "Lützow" was repaired.

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