PRINZ EUGEN history page


By Paul Schmallenbach Fregattenkapitan a.D.

Text originally published April 1971 in Profile Warship *
Photos Collection of D.Krakow

1934 The Naval Staff issued contracts to Friedrich Krupp AG in Essen for the construction of 38 and 20.3 cm guns and double turrets of both calibres. These contracts were a start for the armament of the eventual Bismarck Class battleships and of the heavy cruisers of the Admiral Hipper Class. But before the construction of these ships could be started there was still some way to go, a way signposted by two dates:

16 March 1935 By a law re-introducing general conscription, the German Reich re-established its military soverignty.

18 June 1935 The Anglo-German Naval Agreement laid down inter-alia that German naval strength could amount to 35% of that of the Royal Navy, each class of ship being considered separately.

Germany was therefore entitled, on the basis of the Royal Navy's current 146,800 tons, to build heavy cruisers to a total of 51,380 tons, this gave Germany the right to build five heavy cruisers, with an armament limited to a maximum calibre of 8 inches (20.3cm).

17 July 1937 With the signature of the Anglo-German Supplemental Agreement, Germany was granted the right to build further vessels of this type, in addition to the three cruisers already under construction. This addition was occasioned by the Soviet Union's declaration of her intention to build seven cruisers with an armament of 18cm calibre.

9 July 1935 The German Government announced a building programme that, in addition to two battleships (each of 26,000 tons and armed with 28cm guns) 16 destroyers and 28 submarines, also included two heavy cruisers. The two cruisers, planned in detail between 1934 and 1936 by the Design Section of the Naval Staff and first designated G and H, were later named Bluecher and Admiral Hipper. The Admiral Hipper was laid down in 1935 in the yard of Blohm & Voss AG, Hamburg, and launched on 6 February 1937, her name being used to designate the whole class. Her sister ship was only begun in 1936 at the Deutsche Werke, Kiel (successors to the former Imperial Shipyard) and launched on 8 June 1937.

Admiral Hipper.
Photo F. Urbans

Photo Fink

Autumn 1936 The Krupp Germania Shipyard, Kiel, started work on the third heavy cruiser, orginally designated J.

22 August 1938 The launch took place onduring the period of a State visit by Vice-Admiral Nikolaus Horthy de Nagybanya, Madame Horthy christening the ship.

Hitler used the event to strengthen ties with the Hungarian Regent.

Admiral & Madame Horthy ceremoneously toured Germany afterwards. Photo Courtesy Olivier Walas of Monaco

Fitting out will begin. The three rings on the pillar are Krupp's Trademark

In 1866, the Austrian Navy was one of the two navies then in existence in the German Federation. Together with the Prussian navy, the Austrian squadron under Commodore Tegetthoff had fought off Heligoland in 1864. So it was very natural to think of choosing a name for a new ship from their common history in order to emphasize the historical links with the Ostmark. The choice first fell on the victor of Lissa, Rear-Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, who without and doubt was the outstanding leader of the former Austrian Navy (the Tegetthof family originated in Westphalia). The heavy cruiser then being built in the Germania yard was to receive this name. But having regard to the possible injured feelings of their Axis partner, Italy, the Reich Government decided to specify the name Prinz Eugen.

From August 1939 until the end of 1939, the sale of the three still incomplete heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, Seydlitz, and Lutzow to the Soviet Union was under discussion; on 8.12.1939 the decision was reached to sell only the Lutzow to Russia.

July 1940 Still not in commission, the Prinz Eugen received one bomb-hit in British air-raids on both 1 and 2.7.1940 while in the Germania yard at Kiel (in front of the main railway station).

1 Aug 1940 Commissioned at Kiel. Training excercises begin.

The War flag is raised; the ship is officially commissioned.

Photo F. Urbans 1940

Photo F. Urbans 1940

Photo F. Urbans 1940

Photo F. Urbans 1940

Christmas 1940.
Photo Matr. Malinowski

23 April 1941 Damaged by magnetic mine in the Fehmarn Belt. Damage to optical sections of gun control directors and range-finders. Sailing with Bismarck delayed.

18 May 1941 Sailed from Gotenhafen to break out into the Atlantic in company with the Bismarck.

Prinz Eugen signals to Bismarck.

Destroyer escorts approaching astern Prinz Eugen.
Photo PK Busch

Bismarck from the Prinz Eugen.
Photo PK Lagemann

21 May 1941 Both ships anchored south of Bergen in the Korsfjord and refuelled. While so doing, they were detected by British aerial reconnaissance. The same evening, both ships sailed again.

Steyermark heaves to and brings the fjord pilot onboard. Photo PK Busch

Photo PK Lagemann

British Recon photo revealing Bismarck and merchant ships. MoD

23 May 1941 0822 (CET), the British heavy cruisers Suffolk and Norfolk sighted the German ships north-west of Iceland in the northern reaches of the Denmark Strait. Both British ships shadowed the German pair. Short ineffectual exchange of fire between the Bismarck and the Norfolk During the night, the British cruisers lost contact for two and a half hours, The Prinz Eugen took up a position ahead of the Bismarck because, aboard the latter, the radar on the foretop had broken down.

Prinz Eugen follows Bismark's searchlight in fog. Photo PK Lagemann

Bismarck in rear position. Photo PK Lageman

24 May 1941 0347 (CET), the Suffolk again made radar contact with the German ships. 0653-0713 (CET), engagement with the British battle-cruiser Hood and battleship Prince of Wales, under vice Admiral Holland. 0700 the Hood exploded and sank. Both German ships had opened fire on the Hood at the beginning of the engagement. The Prinz Eugen scored the first hit of the engagement; the next five hits were to the credit of the Bismarck. After the Hood had been wiped out, the fire of the German ships was concentrated on the Prince of Wales, who received four hits from the Bismarck and three from the Prinz Eugen. The Prince of Wales broke off the engagement but maintained contact with the German ships, as did the Norfolk and Suffolk .

0606 Bismark fires rapid salvoes at Prince of Wales
Photo PK Lagemann

0608 Bismarck fires at retreating Prinz of Wales.
Photo PK Lagemann

Kmdt Brinkmann examines a stray shard of shrapnel from Hood.
Motion picture still Schmallenbach

The Prinz Eugen was ordered to maintain course and speed in order to draw the pursuit to herself. Between 1900-2000 the Bismarck then reduced speed and there was a short exchange of shots with the pursuers. By this manoeuvre the fact that the German ships were parting company was concealed. The Prinz Eugen was released by the Commander-in-chief for commerce raiding in the Mid-Atlantic.

Bismarck, bow heavy from water entering a shell hit from Prince of Wales.
Photo PK Lagemann

Bismarck parts company with Prinz Eugen
Photo PK Lagemann
26 May 1941 The Prinz Eugen refuelled from the supply ship Spichern (former Norwegian prize Krossfonn).

Supply ship Spiechern

26-29 May 1941 No merchant ships sighted.

29 May 1941 Damage to Engines forced the cruiser to run for Brest. She reached port on 1.6.1941

Brest, 1 June 1941

July 1941 Bomb hits while in dock at Brest during the night of 1-2.7 1941

Fallen Kameraden are buried in France.

One of the casualties, First Officer Otto Stooss.

12 Jan 1942 Hitler ordered the transfer of battleships Gneisenau, Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen through the Channel to Norway.

Prinz Eugen in Brest

11 Feb 1942 Sailing of group from Brest was planned for 2030 (CET). Postponed till 2345 on account of air-raid.

12 Feb 1942 at 1120 (CET), the German force was detected by enemy air-reconnaissance. The ships at this time were already off the mouth of the Somme. 1319, passage of the Straits of Dover. Even now, no enemy attacks or attempts at interference. 1325, unsuccessful attack by six British torpedo-bombers: no success achieved by any of attacks.

Photo PK Schoeppe

Photo PK Schoeppe

Flak crews at highest alert. Photo PK Schoeppe

Bridge crew keep a tense watch. Photo PK Schoeppe

1531, off the mouth of the Scheldt the first damage, by a mine, suffered by the battleship Scharnhorst. The Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen steamed on. 1643, the British destroyers Campbell, Vivacious, Mackay, Whitshed, and Worster, out of Harwhich, attacked the German force off Rotterdam. The Prinz Eugen drove off the Mackay and Whitshed The German ships were able to evade all torpedo attacks. The Worster was damaged by the Prinz Eugen but reached her home port under her own steam. 2055 the Gneisenau damaged by a mine off Terschelling.

Scharnhorst, Gneisenau ahead, the view from the bridge.
Photo PK Schoeppe

AA crew in anti flash suits eat a hurried lunch between attacks.
Photo PK Schoeppe

T-3 escorting Prinz Eugen in the Channel.

13 Feb 1942 The Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen reached the mouth of the Elbe at 0800. As the two battle-cruisers were damaged, the Force Commander, Vice-Admiral Ciliax, transferred his flag to the Prinz Eugen. The heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer joined the force.

Panzerschiff Admiral Scheer from Prinz Eugen. Photo PK Lagemann

21 February 1942 Various deception manoeuvres by the force in the North Sea to mislead the enemy. At 1210 the Prinz Eugen, Admiral Scheer and three destroyers on a northerly course off the Dutch Coast. Contact was lost. Only in the afternoon of 22.2.1942 was enemy reconnaissance able to pick up the ships again, in Grimstadfjord.

23 Feb 1942 Off the Drontheim Fjord, the British submarine Trident torpedoed the Prinz Eugen at 0700 and seriously damaged the ship. Vice Admiral Ciliax transferred to the Tirpitz.

Although sustaining severe damage and losing rudder control, the "lucky ship" was underway again in two hours.

HMS Trident.

Tugboats assist entry to Drontheim harbour.

In Drontheim damage is assessed. Repair vessel Huscaran dispatched to effect repairs.

In Drontheim, 5 fallen Kameraden are laid to rest in a snow shrouded military ceremony.

Feb-Mar 1942 Part of the ships after section had to be cut away. Emergency rudder repairs.

Temporary repairs begin immediately. The ship must be drydocked at Kiel.

Moored alongside repair vessel Huscaran
Photo PK Langemann

Temporary rudders are affixed for the voyage back to Kiel. Photo PK Langemann

16-18 May Transfer to Kiel (ship traveled under her own steam). Off Lister, 27 British torpedo bombers and 19 bombers made a concentrated attack. No hit was scored.

This famous photo shows crewmen manually turning the temporary rudders after the electric drive failed.
Photo PK Langemann

October 1942 The Prinz Eugen, again ready for service, remained initially in home waters.

Kiel, October 1942.
Photo Urbans

January 1943 In company with the Scharnhorst, on two occasions attempted to run through the Kattegat and the Skaggerak to Northern Norway. On both cases sighted by enemy aircraft and attempt abandonded.

Underway with Scharnhorst, seen here in dark/light gray camouflage.
May 1943 The Prinz Eugen joined the Fleet Training Squadron. The ship belonged to this Force, or to the Task Force derived from it until the end of the war, chiefly as Flagship.

Autumn 1943 Special tasks (development of equipment and weapons).

June 1944 From the heavy cruisers Prinz Eugen and Lutzow and the 6th Destroyer flotilla, the Second Task Force was formed; after the break-up of the First Task Force in Northern Norway, the former was given the title Thiele Task Force (Kampfgruppe Thiel) after Vice Admiral Thiele who was commanding the Force. The cruiser was operating in the Eastern Baltic, north-west of Uto.

19-20 Aug 1944 Advance into the Gulf of Riga and bombardment of Tukum.

15 September 1944 The Task Force was at this time present in full strength in the Aland Sea and by its presence forced the unopposed passage of six German freighters coming from the Gulf of Bothnia with cargoes of heavy equipment of the German Lappland Army. The Task force was shadowed by Swedish destroyers and aircraft (the intervention of the Task Force was necessary because the German freighters had been fired upon in the previous days. Finland had capitulated at this time.)

October 1944 Employed in artillery support operations for Army Groups in retreat, inter alia on 11, 14 and 15 October near Memel.

15 October 1944 On the retreat, the Prinz Eugen rammed the light cruiser Leipzig, north of Hela. The ships were interlocked for 14 hours.

November 1944-April 1945 Further fire support operations for the Army, inter alia 20 & 21.11 Sworbe peninsula, 29-31.1 in Samland, March-April 1945 in the Blight of Danzig.

1945 the Leipzig, though crippled, moored, and doomed to be overrun, gallantly covers the German retreat by firing at Red Army units advancing on Gotenhaven.

8 April 1945 In company with the Lutzow the Prinz Eugen sailed to Swinemunde. The Lutzow remained there, while the Prinz Eugen sailed to Copenhagen.

Danish and German sentries keep watch in Copehagen harbor.

9 May 1945 Placed under British Command.

Ammunition offloaded in Copenhagen under British orders.

27 May 1945 In company with Nurnberg and escorted by the British cruisers Dido and Devonshire, transferred to Wilhelmshaven.

13 December 1945 The Prinz Eugen allotted to the USA and taken to Wesermunde.

13 January 1946 Sailed for the USA. 22.1.1946 in Boston.

22.1.1946 Part of the German crew leave Prinz Eugen in Boston.

At the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Turret Anton's guns are removed for examination.

1946, the last view of the Prinz Eugen under steam. Secretly taken from fantail of DD-786, USS Richard B. Anderson. Photo Patrick

Summer 1946 In atom-bomb tests (Bikini Lagoon) slightly damaged but still afloat. Thereafter anchored near the Kwajalein atoll; stranded and sank at Enubuh on 22 December 1946.

Today the Prinz Eugen's massive port propellor stands watch at the German Navy Memorial in Laboe.
Photo Laarman.


*Paul Schmallenbach was the Prinz Eugen's First Gunnery Officer and official historian.