Operation Angelhaken

fish hook

This was the designation of the two German naval forays into the North Atlantic by the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper (30 November 1940/15 February 1941).

Admiral Hipper left the Norwegian theatre in September 1940 for an overhaul in the facilities of Wilhelmshaven in north-western Germany. After this routine maintenance had been completed, toward the end of the same month the heavy cruiser attempted to break out into the Atlantic to attack the convoys carrying British goods and other materials to and from the UK. The engine oil feed system caught fire, however, and there was severe damage. The fire forced the crew to shut down the ship’s propulsion system until the blaze could be brought under control, which left Admiral Hipper at a halt for several hours, and therefore very vulnerable. British reconnaissance failed to locate the ship, though, and after the fire had been extinguished and emergency repairs effected, the ship returned to the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg, where full repairs were completed in just more than one week.

Admiral Hipper made a second attempt to break out into the Atlantic on 30 November in 'Angelhaken A', and passed to the south through the Denmark Strait without being detected on the night of 6/7 December. After cruising without success for a little more than a fortnight, on 24 December Admiral Hipper then intercepted the southbound British WS.5A convoy of 20 troop ships, including five carrying men earmarked for 'Excess', on 24 December at a point about 810 miles (1305 km) to the west of Cape Finisterre. The convoy had a powerful escort comprising the aircraft carriers Furious and Argus delivering aircraft to Takoradi in West Africa, the heavy cruiser Berwick, light cruiser [Dunedin, light anti-aircraft cruiser Bonaventure and six destroyers.

Admiral Hipper did not initially spot the escorting warships, and so began an attack the convoy. The fire of the heavy cruiser’s 8-in (203-mm) guns severely damaged two ships, the 5,874-ton Arabistan carrying motor transport and the 14,106-ton Empire Trooper, before her lookouts spotted Berwick and destroyers steaming toward her. She quickly withdrew, using her main guns to keep the destroyers at bay.

Some 10 minutes later, Berwick reappeared off Admiral Hipper '​s port bow. The German ship fired several salvoes from her forward turrets and scored hits on the British cruiser’s after turrets, waterline and forward superstructure. Concerned with the parlous state of his ship’s machinery, Kapitšn Wilhelm Meisel then ordered Admiral Hipper to disengage in order to prevent the British destroyers from closing to launch a torpedo attack. Moreover, the German ship was by now running low on fuel, and so she put into Brest in occupied France on 27 December. While on passage to Brest, Admiral Hipper encountered and sank a 6,078-ton cargo vessel steaming independently.

Another round of routine maintenance was effected while the ship was in Brest, readying her for another sortie into the Atlantic shipping lanes.

On 1 February 1941, Admiral Hipper embarked on her 'Angelhaken B' second sortie in the Atlantic. The German navy had initially sought to send the battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau to operate in concert with Admiral Hipper, but in December 1940 Gneisenau suffered storm damage sufficient to persuade the German naval authorities to postpone the battle-cruisers' operation: the required repairs were effected quickly, however, and the two battle-cruisers broke out into the Atlantic early in February for 'Berlin'.

Admiral Hipper made rendezvous with a tanker and replenishment vessel off the Azores islands group to top up her fuel tanks. On 11 February, after being ordered to the location as a result of a U-boat sighting report, the ship encountered and sank a ship straggling from the HG.53, which had been dispersed by U-boat and air attacks that also caused severe losses. In the evening of the same day, Admiral Hipper found the unescorted SLS.64 of 19 merchant vessels, and on the morning of the following day closed and sank the 3,924-ton Norwegian Borgestad, 4,896-ton British Derrynane, 4,684-ton British Oswestry Grange, 5,172-ton Greek Perseus, 4,542-ton British Shrewsbury, 4,875-ton British Warlaby and 4,712-ton British Westbury. The German heavy cruiser also damaged another two ships.

After this attack, Admiral Hipper was running short of fuel, and therefore headed back toward occupied France, reaching Brest on 15 February. British bombers were regularly attacking the port, however, and the German navy thus decided that Admiral Hipper should return to Germany, where she could be better protected. Before the ship could leave, though, damage to the ship’s hull, caused by impacts with wrecks in the harbour, had to be repaired at least temporarily. On 15 March, the ship slipped out of Brest without being observed, and passed through the Denmark Strait eight days later. While en route, Admiral Hipper stopped to refuel in Bergen, called in at Bergen in occupied Norway to refuel, and reached Kiel on 28 March after a passage which was wholly undetected by the British.

On arrival in Germany, the ship went into the Deutsche Werke shipyard for an extensive overhaul, which lasted for seven months. After the completion of the refit, Admiral Hipper undertook sea trials in the Baltic before putting into Gotenhafen on 21 December for some minor refitting. In January 1942, the ship had her steam turbines overhauled at the Blohm & Voss shipyard, and a degaussing coil was fitted to the ship’s hull during this overhaul. By March, the ship was again fully operational, and was next deployed to Norway.