The famous Channel Dash in February 1942, in which the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sailed from Brest though the English Channel to their homeports in Germany, is one of the most dramatic but ignored events of the Second World War. Until now, there has not been a single major book on this subject since John Deane Potter wrote Fiasco in 1970. Veteran Osprey author Ken Ford provides the first new book on this subject in four decades with Run the Gauntlet: the Channel Dash 1942. This volume offers the best of Osprey's raid series, with dramatic cover art by Howard Gerrard, decent maps and a number of interesting B/W photos. The author's writing style is fluid and he is an excellent story-teller, weaving together disparate threads into a taught narrative. Yet as military history, this volume falls considerably short of providing any real new detail beyond what Potter provided. Looking at the short bibliography, the author lists no sources written after 1970, which is significant since the Ultra secret was not revealed until 1976. The volume is overly British-centric, both in source material and perspective, with limited detail on the German side. Overall, Run the Gauntlet is a fun and enjoyable read, but rather superficial.
The author begins his narrative by discussing how the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, plus the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen came to be at the French port of Brest in late 1941 and British efforts to eliminate them with nightly raids by Bomber Command. Although the author mentions damage inflicted on the German ships, he does not mention that Bomber Command lost 127 bombers in these raids - equivalent to about 8 percent of all Bomber Command losses in 1941. However, the Germans realized that the warships would never be fully operational if they were always repairing bomb damage, so Hitler ordered them brought home, which led to the genesis of Operation Cerebus. The author does a good job highlighting Hitler's role in the planning, which goes against the usual grain that he was not interested in naval affairs.
However, the author's exposition of the planning prior to the Channel Dash is marred by excessive vagueness, particularly in regard to the Luftwaffe contribution to the operation. He mentions Oberst Adolf Galland, but Galland had actually just been appointed General der Jagdflieger. He mentions three German fighter "groups" (he confuses the British and German use of this term; there were actually three German jagdgeschwader, with a total of nine gruppen) but since he provides no order of battle for the operation, JG 1, 2 and 26 are only listed on one map. The map legend claims that all three JG were equipped with Fw-190A fighters, but only JG 26 had them in February 1942 - this is basic research! The author totally misses the fact that Galland's air superiority mission had a separate operational name - Donnerkeil - which he easily could have discovered by consulting the Wikipedia page on this subject. Indeed, the author's ignorance of easily available references on the Internet is astounding and seriously degrades his ability to offer fresh insight. Similarly, no real order of battle is provided for the Kriegsmarine forces involved in Cerebus, beyond the three main players and their six escort destroyers. The involvement of 14 torpedo boats, three flotillas of R-Boats and six minesweeping flotillas is not even mentioned. On page 24, the author erroneously describes a photo of two Type 1935 torpedo boats as "destroyers."
The Channel Dash itself is covered in 42 pages and the author's narrative is similar to the one that Potter presented in Fiasco. The British reconnaissance effort is depicted as half-hearted and incompetent, which allows the German battlefleet to sortie from Brest and nearly reach the Dover Straits before being detected. Although this author joins in with the commission held after the war in condemning the various `frictions' that contributed to this failure, I think the real failure was one of British imagination. The Royal Navy simply didn't think the Germans would try something as bold as simply steaming at high speed through the channel. I think the British also bought into their own mythology about no foreign navy transgressing the channel in centuries and therefore assigned totally inadequate forces to Operation Fuller, their response plan. The idea that a few motor torpedo boats, elderly destroyers and biplane torpedo bombers could stop a fleet this size was nonsensical from the start. During the narrative, the author tells us that the German ships were moving at high speed, but really doesn't get into details about how all the various escorts - numbering over 50 light craft - were deployed around the heavy ships. I did think it interesting that the German fleet sailed within 15 miles of Vice-Admiral Ramsay's headquarters in Dover Castle - it would have been funny if Admiral Ciliax had decided to fire a broadside at his opponent on the way by!
The author provides one 3-D map of the battle in the Straits of Dover and the detail - at least from the British side - is quite good. The destruction of 825 Squadron's torpedo bombers is particularly well-told. It is apparent that both Coastal Command and Fighter Command were caught with their pants down and their contribution to stopping the German heavy ships was minimal. Bomber Command did show up, but lost a total of 17 bombers for no hits. Ouch! Throughout the day, the Germans shrugged off each feeble British attack in turn and escaped unscathed. Indeed, it is amazing that the British succeeded in shadowing the Bismarck in the North Atlantic but failed to shadow the Brest squadron while off the coast of England. In the end, it was only the appearance of three British mines that damaged the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau that took some of the gloss off the successful German feat. The author fails to mention the results of the air battles over the channel, with 20 RAF fighters lost against 17 Luftwaffe fighters.