Order of Battle
Operation Cerberus / Operation Fuller
The Channel Dash
11-13 February 1942
Contributed by Richard Hawes, Richard Worth, and John Elrod

1. Chronology


i. Arrived at Brest on 23rd March 1941, and went out of service because of repairs to her boilers.
ii. Repairs completed mid July, requiring sea-trials.
iii. Sailed for La Pallice, 250 miles SE, on 24th July.  Her place was taken by a merchantman covered with camouflage netting, and oil slicks were spread to the north of Brest.
iv. Simultaneous daylight attacks on La Pallice and Brest at 1400 / 25th July.  Scharnhorst was hit 5 times, damaging the electrical systems, and causing flooding.
v. Very quickly patched up, and in dry dock at Brest on 26th July for repairs.  Refitted and equipped with torpedo tubes from KM Nuremburg.
vi. Ready for service in December 1941, but the dock gates were damaged by bombing, 17th / 18th December, and the ship was not undocked until January 1942, 1 month before sailing.


i. Arrived at Brest on 23rd March with Scharnhorst;
ii. During a raid by Bomber Command on the night of 4th April, a bomb fell into No.8 Dock where Gneiseanau was lying;
iii. The bomb did not explode, and Gneisenau was moved to a mooring in the harbour;
iv. Gneisenau was torpedoed early on the morning of 6th April by Pilot Officer Kenneth Campbell RAFVR (posthumous VC), Sgt. J.P. Scott (posthumous DFM), Sgts W. Mallis and R.W. Hillman, 22 Squadron RAF Coastal Command, flying a Bristol Beaufort from North Coates;
v. The aircraft was shot down into the harbour while climbing out, and all the crew were killed;
vi. The achievement remained unknown by the Admiralty until later, because the aircraft did not return to base;
vii. On 24th March, air photo recce showed that Gneisenau had been moved into dry-dock;
viii. On the night of 10th-11th April, Gneisenau received 4 bomb hits from Bomber Command;
ix. As a result of the attack by P.O. Campell and his crew, Gneisenau was out of service for  6 months with a smashed propeller shaft.
x. Not damaged by the air raids of 24th July.  Fitted with torpedo tubes from KM Leipzig.
xi. Ready for service in November 1941, 3 months before sailing.
xii. Slightly damaged in an air-raid, 6th January 1941.

Prinz Eugen:

i. Detached from Bismarck 1800 / 24th at 56o30’N 36o15’W;
ii. Refueled by Esso Hamburg on 28th May, when Prinz Eugen discovered serious defects in all 3 engines plus a propeller blade chipped by ice in the Denmark Straits;
iii. Returned to Brest on 1st June, having steamed 7,000 miles at an average speed of 24 knots since leaving Gotenhafen (Danzig / Gdansk).
iv. Bombed 1st / 2nd July; hit on the bridge, with over 50 killed; estimated 6 months to repair.
v. Not damaged by the air raids of 24th July
vi. Ready for service in December 1941and undocked 15th December.

Planning for Operation Cerberus:

i. At a meeting with Admiral Raeder at Rastenburg, Hitler pressed for Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen to be withdrawn from Brest to counter an expected invasion of Norway, Hitler’s “Zone of Destiny”.
ii. On 29th December 1941, Hitler insisted on the ships being brought back to the North Sea, or the ships being paid off, having all of their main armaments removed for coastal defence in Norway, and the hulls scrapped.
iii. On 12th January, Vizeadmiral Ciliax agreed to the concept of sending the ships through the Channel, providing that they were guaranteed air cover by the Luftwaffe.  Lt. General Jeschonnek agreed to provide 250 fighters between Brest and Hamburg.  Hitler emphasized the importance of surprise: “If one ship is not ready, the other two must go.”  The only provision was that the Prinz Eugen should not sail alone.
iv. Hitler also suggested that Mussolini be informed that KM Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen were breaking out to the Pacific to assist the Imperial Japanese Navy.
v. The optimum date was 12th February, when high water at Dover was at the optimum time of 0930 within the period of maximum darkness.
vi. Since the ships could reach maximum speeds only in deeper waters, marker buoys indicated channels with depths in excess of 15 meters.  119 mines were cleared in advance from these channels by 80 minesweepers.
vii. The weather forecast was “slight to moderate sea, with winds not in excess of 20 kph / 13 mph, visibility no more than 16 km / 10 miles, cloud 10/10”.
viii. Long range weather forecasts by FW 200’s confirmed 12th February.

Planning for Operation Fuller:

i. Bomber Command bombed and mined the Brest area and the cleared channels on the route along the Channel from 11th December onward, every night.
ii. Sir Philip Joubert, C-in-C Coastal Command, noticed increased numbers of German destroyers and torpedo boats in the Channel, and that Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen had been observed taking part in exercises together. He predicted in a Memorandum that the German Squadron would try a break-out through the Channel about 10th – 15th February.
iii. With the destruction of the Bismarck in mind, the strategy was to cripple the German Squadron by means of torpedo aircraft, so that surface ships could sink them.
iv. Coastal Command set up three patrol lines, “Stopper”, to the east of the Brest Peninsula, “Habo”, and “Line SE”.
v. Joubert noted that 15th February, when there would be no moon, would be a tentative date.
vi. Joubert’s conclusions were in agreement with those of Fighter Command, Bomber Command, and the Admiralty.
vii. Only Admiral Bertram Ramsay thought that a daylight break-out would be attempted, and that the RAF and RN forces lacked the necessary torpedo bombers to stop the German Squadron.  He therefore requested and received the redeployment of 825 Squadron from Lee-on-Solent to Manston.  All of Coastal command’s other torpedo bomber squadrons were in the Mediterranean.

Operation Cerberus and Fuller:

i. From 11th December onward, Coastal Command and Bomber Command bombed and / or mined the Brest area and the presumed route to the North Sea every night.
ii. The RN went on immediate notice every night from the beginning of February, against a nighttime passage through the Straits of Dover.
iii. HMS Sealion was given discretion to patrol the Brest Roads every night from 7th to 11th February.  This was done, including recharging her batteries on the surface, and proceeding to sea every day.  On station at 1900 to 2200 / 11th, but forced out to sea at about 2200 to recharge batteries.
iv. Brest, 2030 / 11th, order given to German ships to raise steam.
v. ~2035 / 11th air raid warning sounded, followed by an air raid.
vi. 2100 / 11th, all clear sounded.
vii. 2245 / 11th, German ships weighed anchor.
viii. 2200 / 11th, HMS Sealion recharging her batteries.
ix. The 224 Squadron Hudson patrolling “Line Stopper” took off at 1900 from St. Eval, and immediately nearly collided with a Ju 88.  The radar set was immediately switched off, and when being switched on again was found to be inoperative, and the aircraft returned to base.
x. The replacement aircraft arrived over the Brest area at about the time the German Squadron was leaving, but made no sightings.
xi. The 224 Squadron Hudson patrolling “Line SE” arrived at 1930, but at 2055 the radar failed.  It was decided to patrol the line Bréhat – Ushant in the hope of making a visual siting, but this proved impossible.  At 2156, the aircraft decided to return to base.
xii. No replacement aircraft was sent to patrol “Line SE”.
xiii. “Line Habo” was patrolled by Hudsons of 223 Squadron, but at no time during the hours of patrol were the German ships within radar distance of the aircraft.
xiv. The German Squadron was off Alderney, due south of Portland Bill, at 0515.
xv. The German Squadron was NW of Le Havre at 0800.
xvi. The German Squadron was NW of Dieppe at 0915.
xvii. Three large blips were sighted by Swingate Downs radar station using a Type 271 set, Dover, when the ships were 60 miles away, moving at 25 knots, at about 1000.  Two Spitfires were scrambled from Hawkinge to investigate.
xviii. The German Squadron was not sighted until 1042 off Le Touquet, by two separate pairs of patrolling Spitfires from Kenley and Hawkinge.
xix. At about the same time, Admiral Ramsey, acting on radar plots, decided that the German Squadron was in the Channel and informed the First Sea Lord.
xx. Wireless silence was maintained until the aircraft landed at 1109.
xxi. The weather had deteriorated to7/10 cloud, 1,400 yards visibility, cloud base at 600 to 900 feet.
xxii. The Admiralty confirmed to Admiral Ramsay that the German Squadron was approximately one hour’s steaming away from the Straits of Dover.
xxiii. The Dover MTB Flotilla sailed at 1150.
xxiv. The Harwich Flotilla had been taking part in gunnery exercises under the AA cover of a flotilla of Hunt class destroyers, and was informed that the German Squadron was in the Straits of Dover “shortly before noon”.
xxv. The German Squadron was off Cap Griz Nez at 1156.
xxvi. The heavy guns on the South Foreland opened fire at 1219.
xxvii. 825 Squadron took off at 1220.
xxviii. The Ramsgate MTB Flotilla sailed at 1225

2. German Forces


Group Commander—Generaladmiral Alfred Saalwächter
Fleet Commander—Admiral Schniewind

CinC Battleships—Vizeadmiral Otto Ciliax
KM Scharnhorst (F)—KaptzS Kurt Caesar Hoffmann
KM Gneisenau—KaptzS Otto Fein
KM Prinz Eugen—KptzS Helmuth Brinkman

Screening destroyers—Rear Adm. Bey, from Brest
KM Z 29 (F)
5th Destroyer Flotilla—Capt. Berger
KM Richard Beitzen (F)
KM Paul Jacobi
KM Herman Schoemann
KM Frederich Inn
KM Z 25
KM Bruno Heinmann, intended to be part of the screen but mined and sunk off Calais on 25th January 1942

2nd Torpedo Boat Flotilla—Cdr. Erdmann, Le Havre, joined off Cherbourg Peninsula:
KM T 2
KM T 4
KM T 5
KM T 11
KM T 12

3rd Torpedo Boat Flotilla—Cdr. Wilcke, from Dunkirk, joined off Le Havre (?):
KM T 13
KM T 15
KM T 16
KM T 17

5th Torpedo Boat Flotilla—Cdr. Schmidt, joined off Cape Griz Nez.
KM Kondor
KM Falke
KM Seadler
KM Iltis
KM Jaguar

S-boot Flotillas (ten boats)
2nd—Lt. Cdr. Feldt
4th—Lt. Cdr. Bätge
6th—Lt. Cdr. Obermaier

Commander, Minesweeping West—Kapitän zur See Friederich Ruge
1st Minesweeping Flotilla (shared with Minesweeping North)
2nd Minesweeping Flotilla
4th Minesweeping Flotilla
5th Minesweeping Flotilla
12th Minesweeping Flotilla

Commander, Minesweeping North—Konteradmiral Wolfram
1st Minesweeping Flotilla
5th Minesweeping Flotilla
2nd R-boot Flotilla
3rd R-boot Flotilla
4th R-boot Flotilla

Other small craft of Commander Naval Defense Forces West and Commander Naval Defense Forces North (V1302 lost)


Luftflotte 3, Generalfeldmarschall Hugo Sperrle, Paris

Radar jamming by 2 HE 111’s from Paris
KGr 122 transferred from Montdidier to Eindhoven
KGr 106 transferred from Dinard to Eindhoven

Total 176 bomber aircraft to attack RN ships

Luftflotte Reich, General der Fleiger Weise

Fighter Groups: Oberst Adolph Galland (at Audembert)

Jafue Schiff Oberst Max Ibel (aboard Scharnhorst)

Jagdgeschwader 26
Stab (FW-190A-1)—Kommodore Major Gerhard Schoepfel
I Gruppe (FW-190A-1, Bf-109F-4)—Kommandeur Major Johannes Seifert
 1 Staffel—Staffelkaeptain Oberleutnant Josef Haiboeck
 2 Staffel—StaKap Oblt. Christian Eickhoff
 3 Staffel—StaKap Oblt. Johannes Schmidt
II Gruppe (FW-190A-1, FW-190A-2)—Kommandeur Hauptmann Joachim Muencheberg
 4 Staffel—StaKap Oblt. Kurt Ebersberger
 5 Staffel—StaKap Oblt. Wolfgang Kosse
 6 Staffel—StaKap Oblt. Otto Behrens
III Gruppe (FW-190A-1, FW-190A-2)—Kommandeur Hauptmann Josef Priller
 7 Staffel—StaKap Hptm. Klaus Mietusch
 8 Staffel—StaKap Oblt. Karl Borris
 9 Staffel—StaKap Hptm. Kurt Ruppert
Total available strength of approx. 90 fighters

Jagdgeschwader 2
 Similar composition with similar strength
Jagdgeschwader 1
Similar composition but with approx. 60 available Bf-109’s available for the Dash because next day’s air cover is also their responsibility
Jagdgeschwader 52 grounded due to bad weather

Approx. 12 Bf-109’s available from the Paris Fighter Training School
Approx. 30 Me110  night fighters available for dawn and dusk cover

Total available fighter strength is approx. 252 planes. Losses amounted to 17 fighters and 11 pilots.

Plan is for capital ships to leave Brest at 2000. Continuous fighter cover will be by four schwaerme of four planes each, two low and two high, one of each set on either side of the flotilla flying in broad figure-eights along the length of the KM formation. Patrols to last 30 minutes with relief to take place over the naval force: approx. flight overlap time of 10 minutes. Strictest radio silence to be maintained (Luftwaffe fighter pilots were known for being extremely talkative while in flight) and all patrols to be maintained at minimum altitude until the command “open visor” was given, at which time all flights to go to their assigned altitudes. Interception of incoming enemy forces to be met as needed and radio silence relaxed. On-site LW commander was Ibel on the Scharnhorst; overall commander—and the one to issue the "open visor" command—was Galland at Audembert.


Gun batteries, Pas de Calais.

3. British Forces


SUBMARINES: Admiral Sir Max Horton, flag officer

HMS H.34
HMS Sealion—Lt. Cdr. G.R. Colvin, off Brest replaced one other H class on 6th February, with the discretion to go inside Brest Roads.

5th Submarine Flotilla, Portsmouth:
1 “U” class
1 “T” class
3 “S” class, including Sealion
1 Porpoise class
1 “R” class
1 “P” class
1 ex Turkish
1 R. Nor. N.
4 Free French
H.M.S. Graph

7th Submarine Flotilla, Western Approaches:
2 “O” class
2 “L” class
7 “H” class
3 R.Net, N.
1 R. Nor. N.
1 Polish


Sir John Tovey refused to risk the one effectively available battleship, HMS King George V, in the Channel, so close to the U-boats bases and Luftwaffe bomber bases.

Of the Home Fleet battleships available in the second week of February 1942:
HMS King George V was watching the Tirpitz;
HMS Duke of York was working up and would not join the Fleet until the end of the month;
HMS Rodney was too slow to catch Scharnhorst, Gneisenau or Prinz Eugen, and was in need of another refit;
HMS Renown (Force H) was in the UK to escort a troop convoy to the Middle East.


At Devonport
HMS Manxman (fast minelayer)
HMS Plover, controlled minelayer
HMS Cardiff, Gunnery Firing Cruiser, Western Approaches
HMS Belfast, refitting at Devonport
1st Destroyer Flotilla and 15th Destroyer Flotilla, employed as coastal convoy escorts.  The use of these ships to attack the German Squadron was not considered because of their low speed (25 knots), and the lack (on some ships) of torpedo tubes.

At Dover
Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, flag officer, Dover:
HMS Welshman (fast minelayer)
Dover Flotilla—Lt. Cdr E.N. Pumphrey:
MTB 221—Lt. Cdr Nigel Pumphrey
MTB 219—Lt. Mark Arnold-Foster
MTB 45—Lt. Hilary Gamble DSC
MTB 44—Lt. Richard Saunders RAN (rescued Sub Lts. Lee and Rose)
MTB 48—Lt. Anthony Law, RCN

MGB 43—Lt. P.F.S. Gould, DSC
MGB 41—Lt. R. King

ASB 31 (rescued Sub Lt. Kingsmill and his crew)

Ramsgate Flotilla
MTB 32—Lt. D.J. Long
MTB 18—Sub Lt. I.C. Trelawney, RNVR
MTB 71—O.B. Mabee, RNVR

At Harwich
21st Destroyer Flotilla—Capt. Mark Pizey Harwich, reporting to Admiral Ramsay
HMS Campbell—Captain Pizey
HMS Vivacious—Lt. Cdr. Alexander

16th Destroyer Flotilla—Capt. J.P. Wright, Harwich, reporting to Admiral Ramsay
HMS MacKay—Capt. J.P. Wright
HMS Whitshed—Lt. Cdr. W.A. Juniper
HMS Walpole—Lt. Cdr. John Eadon
HMS Worcester—Lt. Cdr. Colin Coates
The destroyers formed as follows:
1st Division: HMS Campbell, Vivacious, Worcester;
2nd Division: HMS Mackay, Whitshed, Walpole.

HMS Walpole was ordered back to Harwich at 1318 when a main bearing burned.  During her return voyage she was attacked by 2 RAF Wellington bombers, which made several runs and scored near misses.  The bombers were driven off by a flight of Me 109’s, which gave the ship close air cover until they ran short of fuel and had to return to base.

After the battle, Captain Pizey was made a Commander of the Order of the Bath, and Lt. Cdrs. Coates and Juniper received the DSO

Including FAA aircraft, British losses reached 17 fighters and 26 bombers.


825 Squadron—Lt. Cdr. Eugene Esmonde, at Lee-on-Solent, 6 Swordfish, transferred to Manston at Admiral Ramsay’s request on or about 6th February:

A Flight:
825/H Lt. Cdr Esmonde DSO*, Lt. W.H. Williams* (observer), CPO W.J. Clinton* (air gunner)
825/G Sub Lt. Brian Rose, Sub Lt. Edgar Lee (observer), Leading Aircraftsman Johnson* (air gunner)
825/L Sub Lt. Charles Kingsmill, Sub Lt. R.M. Samples (observer), L/A Donald Brunce (air gunner)

B Flight:
825/F Lt. J.C. Thompson*, Sub Lt. Parkinson* (observer), L/A E. Topping* (air gunner)
825/K Sub Lt. C.R. Wood*, Sub Lt. Fuller-Wright* (observer), L/A Wheeler* (air gunner)
825/M Sub Lt. Peter Bligh*, Sub Lt. W. Benyon* (observer), L/A Smith* (air gunner)

* killed, missing in action and presumed dead
Lt. Cdr Esmonde received the posthumous VC at the specific recommendation of Wing Commander T. Gleave, RAF, Officer Commanding RAF Manston, who was not Esmonde’s commanding officer and therefore not the person who would usually recommend a decoration.
Sub Lts. Rose, Lee, Kingsmill, and Samples received the DSO.
L/A D.A. Brunce received the CGM.
Lts. Thompson and Williams, Sub Lts. Wood, Fuller-Wright, Parkinson, Bligh, and Benyon, CPO Clinton, L/A L/A Topping, Wheeler and Smith were all posthumously Mentioned in Dispatches.  (L/A Topping is also spelled Tapping).


Coastal Command

42 Squadron at Leuchars watching the Tirpitz: transferred on the night of 10th / 11th to Manston (a Fighter Command base without any torpedoes), 22 aircraft, 14 serviceable, 9 with torpedoes, 5 without torpedoes; 9 despatched, 2 lost;
Mobile Torpedo Servicing Unit, which received the nickname of the “Immobile Unit”.  This was supposed to supply 42 Squadron’s Beauforts with torpedoes, but was held up in the snow.
86 Squadron, Beauforts, St. Eval
217 Squadron at St. Eval with a detachment at Thorney Island, 7 Beauforts, 4 serviceable, 1 unservicable, 2 not yet armed with torpedoes, 4 despatched, 1 lost;
223 Squadron, Hudsons, Thorney Island, radar patrols on Line “Habo”;
224 Squadron, Hudsons, St. Eval, radar patrols on Lines “Stopper” and  “SE”.

Fighter Command

11 Group—Air Vice-Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory, including:
3 Squadron, Spitfires
11 Squadron, Hurricanes, Debden
64 Squadron, Spitfires, Hornchurch
65 Squadron, Spitfires, Debden
72 Squadron, Spitfires—10 planes available—Squadron Leader Brian Kingcombe
91 Squadron, Spitfires, Hawkinge—Squadron Leader Bobby Oxspring
118 Squadron, Spitfire
124 Squadron, Spitfires, Biggin Hill
128 Squadron, Spitfires?
137 Squadron, Whirlwinds, Matslake
234 Squadron, Spitfires
401 RCAF Squadron, Spitfires
407 RCAF Squadron
411 RCAF Squadron, Spitfires, at Hornchurch—Squadron Leader R.B Newton
452 RAAF Squadron, Spitfires, Kenley
485 RNZAF Squadron, Spitfires, Kenley
602 City of Glasgow Squadron, Spitfires, Kenley
607 Squadron, Hurricanes, Tangmere

Bomber Command: was stood down on the 12th February. Only 5 Group was at 4 hours notice.  Bomber Command’s aircraft attacked in 3 waves, the first of which was airborne at 1330.  The attacking aircraft included:

2 Group:
88 Squadron, Bostons
110 Squadron, Blenheims
226 Squadron, Bostons
402 RCAF Squadron, Hurricanes, conducting anti-shipping sweeps in the North Sea.  (The squadron is also described as being equipped with Hudsons).

5 Group:
35 Squadron, Halifaxes
40 Squadron, Wellingtons, Alconbury—Squadron Leader McGillivray
207 Squadron, Manchesters
241 Squadron, Halifaxes, Stradishall—Wing Commander McFadden
455 RAAF Squadron, Hampdens
42 Squadron, Beauforts (14), Manston via Coltishaw, based at Leuchars—Squadron Leader W.H. Cliff
43 Squadron, Beauforts, Leuchars (11 planes) and Coltishaw (3)
86 Squadron, Beauforts, St. Eval (12)
110 Squadron, Blenheims, Wattisham
217 Squadron, Beauforts, St. Eval (3) and Thorney Island (7)
223 Squadron, Hamptons, Thorney Island
224 Squadron, Hamptons, St. Eval
407 RCAF Squadron, Hudsons, Manston

Bomber Command despatched:
92 Wellingtons
64 Hampdens
37 Blenheims
15 Manchesters
13 Halifaxes
11 Stirlings
10 Bostons
0 Whitleys

Approximately 700 aircraft total, 242 aircraft dispatched, 39 attacked the German Squadron, 15 were lost, and the remainder did not find the enemy because of the atrocious weather conditions.

Scharnhorst (twice) and Gneisenau (once) were mined off the Friesian Islands, on mines laid during the previous nights by Hampdens of 5 Group.

Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU): Spitfires


Gun Batteries, Dover

540th Regiment R.A., South Foreland Battery, Dover, 9.2” Mk X* radar controlled
range 31,000 yards, 392 lb shell—Maj. Guy Huddelstone

J/K/L Troops, 540th Regiment R.A.’s 15” guns at Wanstone Battery was being installed

1 and 2 Troops, R.M. Siege Regiment, 2  14” Mk VII guns (spare King George V class barrels), “Winnie” and “Pooh”; crews were away on a training exercise and had to be recalled. The guns were suffering from worn barrels and were effectively on a Care & Maintenance basis until the liners could be replaced. Range 47,000 yards, 1400 shell—Lt. Col. H.D. Fellowes

13.5” Mk V (and reportedly a 18” howitzer) railguns, “Sceneshifter,” “Gladiator,” “Bochebuster,” and “Peacemaker” on the Elham Valley Light Railway

6” ex RN Mk XXIV guns at Fan Bay, Langdon, Lydden Spout

Army Signals Interception Unit

Battleships of the Bismarck class by Koop and Schmolke
Battleships of the Scharnhorst class by Koop and Schmolke
Chronology of the War at Sea 1939-1945 by Rohwer and Hummelchen
Warships of World War II by H.T. Lenton & J.J. College
The Bomber Command War Diaries by M. Middlebrook and C. Everitt
The War at Sea, 1939-1945,Vol II by S.W. Roskill
Hold the Narrow Seas by Peter C. Smith
The War at Sea by J. Thompson
German Cruisers of World War 2 by M. J. Whitley
Fiasco: The Break-out of the German Battleships by John Deane Potter
The JG26 War Diary: Vol. 1 by Donald Caldwell