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Operation Regenbogen (Ger: "Rainbow") was the sortie in 1942 into the Arctic Ocean by warships of the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) during World War II. This operation culminated in the Battle of the Barents Sea.


Following the hard fought PQ 18 and the disastrous PQ 17 battles in the autumn and summer of 1942 the Allied supply convoys to the Soviet Union had been temporarily suspended. In December 1942 they started again with a new series, the JW/RA convoy series.

Against this possibility the German Navy had concentrated a large force of surface vessels and U-boats, assisted/augmented by aircraft from the German air force.

The operation[]

Regenbogen was the operation planned to intercept the next Allied convoy to Murmansk. A patrol line of four U-boats was established off Bear Island and a surface force consisting of cruisers Hipper, Lutzow and six destroyers was assembled at Altafjord. In the event of a convoy report the fleet would sail as two battlegroups; one to engage the expected cruiser escort and the other to attack the convoy.

The German force was handicapped by strict orders from Hitler himself not to risk the loss of, or damage to, the capital ships, which led to a general loss of aggressiveness/excess of caution; the Regenbogen plan was also hampered by an additional aim of sending Lutzow on into the Atlantic following the action, which also led to a reluctance to take the risk of damage.[1]


On 22 December 1942 JW 51B sailed for Murmansk, and was detected by U-354 on 30 December. On hearing this, the fleet sailed from Altafjord the same day, on an interception course.

In the resulting action, the Battle of the Barents Sea the Regenbogen plan had some success, in that Hipper was able to draw off the escort as planned, allowing Lutzow to close with the convoy However excessive caution on the part of Lutzow’s captain caused him to break off the attack having caused little damage.


The failure of the operation can be attributed to the spirited defence made by the convoy escort, and the restrictive and contradictory orders given by Hitler to the force commander. Notwithstanding this, Hitler was furious when he heard about the dismal performance by the navy.[2] He subjected Raeder, the head of the Kriegsmarine, to a 90 minute tirade, in which he berated the uselessness of the German surface fleet, and announced a decision to scrap all its ships, and use its guns and men as shore defences.[3] Raeder felt unable to continue in post without the confidence of his leader, and offered his resignation, which was accepted. Raeder was replaced supreme as commander of the Kriegsmarine by Admiral Karl Dönitz, the commander of the U-boat fleet.[4]


  1. Roskill p292
  2. Blair p155
  3. Blair p155
  4. Blair p155


  • Clay Blair : Hitler's U-Boat War [Volume 2]: The Hunted 1942-1945 (1998) ISBN 0-304-35261-6 (2000 UK paperback ed.)
  • Stephen Roskill : The War at Sea 1939-1945 Vol II (1956).ISBN (none)
  • B B Schofield : The Russian Convoys (1964) ISBN (none)

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