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German cruiser Blücher
The German heavy cruiser Blücher ¹ was the German Kriegsmarine's newest ship at the outbreak of World War II. The Blücher is most notable for being sunk on April 9, 1940, less than three years after her launch, on the first day of the invasion of Norway (Operation Weserübung).
Blücher and other smaller naval ships were sailing up the Oslo fjord to capture the Norwegian capital, Oslo, but the 47 year old (and, ironically, German) guns of Oscarsborg fortress opened fire, quickly putting Blücher out of control. She then drifted into range of a torpedo battery, which hit her with two torpedoes. Blücher sank at 07:23 German time (06:23 Norwegian time), taking 600 men with her into the deep.
As a result of the sinking, Oslo was not captured for some hours, allowing the Norwegian royal family, parliament and cabinet to escape: additionally, Norway's gold reserves were moved out of reach of the invaders and ultimately shipped to the Allies for Norway's use during the war.
The Blücher was a Hipper class heavy cruiser: like her sister ships, Admiral Hipper ² and Prinz Eugen, she was built in the mid-1930s. Blücher was launched 8 June, 1937, at a public event numbering more than ten thousand spectators, at the Deutsche Werke Kiel AG. Her main armament consisted of eight 8" (203 mm) guns, backed up with twelve 4.1" (105 mm) guns, twelve 37 mm anti-aircraft guns, eight 20 mm anti-aircraft guns and twelve 21" (533 mm) torpedo tubes. In addition, she carried three aircraft for reconnaissance. Blücher was about 650 feet long (200 m), with a beam of 70 feet (21 m) and a draught of about 26 feet (8 m). She had a standard displacement of just under 15,000 tons.
Blücher had three Blohm & Voß engines that provided her with no less than 132,000 horse power and a top speed of 32.5 knots (equivalent to 60 km/h). Her armour was well distributed, and a match for most foreign heavy cruisers. She had a sidebelt of 70–80 mm (about 3"), upper deck armour of 12–30 mm (about ½–1"), an armoured deck of 20–50 mm (about 1–2") while her main armament was protected by 70–140 mm (about 3–6"). Like the other ships in her class, although well-armoured, Blücher was plagued with relatively short range and unreliable machinery. This limited the class' use as commerce raiders in the North Atlantic.
Blücher was the flagship of the naval detachment sent to capture Oslo in the initial stages of the German invasion of Norway. Despite some early indication that the Norwegians was going to resist the invasion, notably the interception and attack on the fleet by the Norwegian armed vessel Pol III, the heavy cruiser was at the front of the line as they reached Oscarsborg fortress in the Drøbak narrows. Since the three Krupp guns of the fortress were severely outdated, having been installed in 1893, the defenders held fire until the vessels were at point-blank range (most sources state that fire was opened at a range of 1,600–1,800 metres, or about one mile). By sheer luck, the first hit from one of the ancient 280 mm (11 inch) guns hit the forward fire control station , rendering the ship's forward guns effectively blind and unable to fire back. The second hit from the fortress's guns apparently hit the aircraft hangar , setting fire to aviation fuel: the resulting fire is thought to have been a major reason of why the ship was finally lost.
While fire was raging aboard Blücher, the Norwegian coastal batteries pelted her with smaller calibre guns. While not causing significant damage, this suppressed the fire from her light guns as Blücher slowly moved past the fortress; also, any organized attempts at putting out the fire aboard the ship, as well as tending to the many wounded, were effectively hindered by the continuous small-calibre fire.
The German invaders were not aware of the Norwegians' secret weapon: a torpedo battery had been built at the narrowest point of the fjord in 1901, and fitted with Austrian-built Whitehead torpedoes of the same turn-of-the-century vintage. Aiming the torpedoes was unnecessary: the only question was whether the 40-year-old weapons would work properly, which they did. Blücher received two direct hits in the engine room, leaving her drifting out of control in the narrow fjord. The rest of the fleet, believing Blücher had hit mines, reversed their way out of the narrows, thus ensuring that Oslo would not be invaded at dawn as intended.
In order to avoid hitting land, Blücher dropped anchors at Askholmen , 6 nautical miles south of Oslo. Her torpedoes were fired into the sides of the fjord to prevent them from exploding aboard the ship.
At 06.23, Blücher capsized and sank, about an hour after she was first hit. Of the 2,202 men³ on the ship, more than 600 either went down with the ship, drowned in the freezing water or were burnt to death by the flaming oil slick surrounding the crippled ship. The survivors reached the shore on either side of the fjord. The sailors were ordered to give their life vests to the land troops being transported by the ship, saving the lives of a significant number of soldiers.
- Blücher was the third German navy ship named after Prussian General Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (most famous for helping the Duke of Wellington defeat Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo). The first ship named after the General was a corvette built at Kiel's Norddeutscher Schiffbau AG (later renamed the Krupp-Germaniawerft) and launched 20 March 1877. Taken off service after a boiler explosion in 1907, she ended her days as a coal freighter in the harbour of Vigo, Spain. On the 11 April 1908, the Panzerkreuzer SMS Blücher was launched from the Imperial Shipyard in Kiel. This ship was sunk the 24 January 1915, in WWI's Battle of Dogger Bank. It succumbed to an overwhelming force of British battle cruisers and other ships, under command of Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty.
- Hipper also took part in the invasion, successfully entering the harbour of Trondheim (Norway's third largest city, roughly half way up Norway's west coast). The troops carried on board Hipper occupied the city in the early hours, flying the Nazi flag on the city's old Kristiansten fortress and other municipal buildings before most of the inhabitants had even awoken.
- In addition to the officers and sailors of the crew, the men on board Blücher numbered 882 passengers: Generalmajor Engelbrecht and his staff of officers; soldiers to occupy Oslo; bureaucrats and officials for taking over the administration of the capital and with it most of the central institutions of the country (as well as, importantly, the print and broadcast media); and a music corps.
- Blücher technical data – From German naval history website german-navy.de
- Blücher data, history and pictures; also some information on Oscarsborg fortress – From the homepage of Jan Arild Aaserud
- Timeline of the Blücher
- Koop, Gerhard; Schmolke, Klaus-Peter (2001). Heavy Cruisers of the Admiral Hipper Class: The Admiral Hipper, Blucher, Prince Eugen, Seydlitz and Lutzow. Naval Institute Press. 240 pp. ISBN 155750332X.
- Binder, Frank; Schlünz, Hans Hermann (1990). Schwerer Kreuzer Blücher. Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft. ISBN 378220784X (2nd ed., Jan 2001).
- Lyon, Hugh (1986). Encyclopedia of the World's Warships: A Technical Directory of Major Fighting Ships from 1900 to the Present Day. Book Sales. ISBN 0890097801 (reprint edition).
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