Who Sank the Blücher?

Who Sank the Blücher?

On September 20th 1939 the German heavy cruiser Blücher was commissioned.

Blücher launching at Kiel, 8 June 1937

Heavy cruiser Blücher launched in the 1930s with a public event that hosted more than 10,000 spectators. 

She completed a training mission in the Baltic Sea between Sep 1939 and Apr 1940. Then became designated the flagship of the naval forces for the invasion of Norway. Confidently, she sailed in front of the task force. 

The Norwegian defenders at the Oscarborg fortress at the Drøbak narrows fired their shore-based gun at a relatively close range, hitting Blücher’s forward fire control station, rendering blind the ship’s guns. 

Oberst Birger Eriksen, the commander of Oscarsborg on 9 April 1940.

The second shot struck the ship as well, hitting the aircraft hangar and igniting the aviation fuel. Then, smaller caliber guns opened fire on Blücher, hindering the firefighting efforts. 

Finally, the Norwegian defenders fired their nearly-40-year-old obsolete torpedoes, and two of them struck Blücher. 

Losing her engines by the torpedo blasts, Blücher laid anchors to prevent running aground. She also fired away her torpedoes to prevent accidental ignition. 

28 cm main battery gun at Oscarsborg.

Nevertheless, the precautionary procedures did not save her from capsizing; she sank at 0623 on April 9. An hour after initially struck by the guns of Oscarborg.

Blücher on fire and sinking in Drøbak Sound
“So details are important here: the gunfire hits set off a secondary magazine on BLUCHER which ALSO blew a hole in the underwater hull in addition to those caused by the torpedoes. So yes both the torpedoes and gun hits shared in credit for the fatal damage as it is just barely possible she might have survived two underwater holes but not three. I’ve seen an early scanning sonar profile of the wreck that clearly shows the hole made by the secondary magazine explosion, but I’ve been unable to find it again.”

According to Naval Historian Brooks Ashley Rowlett.

Brooks Ashley Rowlett

“The German Invasion of Norway” (Geer Haar) gives a good description of the position Admiral Kummetz found himself in, not quite sure what was in front of him in the dark in narrow confined waters. 

His ship was loaded with troops, their munitions, and with a crew which was new and barely run in the ship. When the equally old shells hit and started fires with munitions exploding, power lost and communications breaking down. The torpedo hits sealed her fate ensuring the brand new heavily damaged Blucher would sink. 

Old weapons can still be deadly!

Of course, many weapon systems have served for much longer than 50 years while still showing great results!

The US Iowa battleships had deadly accuracy in the Iraq war with guns over 50 years old.

The Norwegians fired two older torpedoes. But, the wear and tear on the torpedoes was just superficial. And going 1200 or so meters in the water is not a huge ask of a torpedo as well.

Many of the US Navy’s torpedoes were impotent early in the war. At the Battle of Midway, the US submarines fired at point blank range on the Japanese carriers with no success.

For example, during the Falklands War. The Royal Navy used older torpedoes to sink the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano during the Falkland War that had a design date of the 1920’s. See our piece: Sinking Of The ARA General Belgrano

Mk3 Whitehead torpedo fired from East Dock, Goat Island, Newport Torpedo Station, Rhode Island, 1894

Furthermore, Lutzow had her forward turret disabled and the Germans found themselves forced to withdraw. 

In conclusion, the loss of Blucher, was the result of an unwise decision or the result of placing the commander in a “Catch-22” .

Written by Kim Hansen & James Stewart

One of Blücher‘s anchors is now at Aker Brygge in Oslo. Who Sank the Blücher?

Who Sank the Blücher?

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