Under the command of Admiral Günther Lütjens, German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau departed from Kiel, Germany on 22 Jan 1941 to raid Allied shipping. The two surface warships were supported by supply ships and tankers Uckermark, Ermland, Schlettstadt, Friedrich Breme, and Hamburg. They were detected by the British in the Great Belt strait between the islands of Zealand and Funen in Denmark; in response, Admiral Sir John Tovey was dispatched with a fleet of 3 battleships, 8 cruisers, and 11 destroyers to intercept. While Tovey hypothesized that the German force would enter the Atlantic Ocean south of Iceland, Lütjens decided on the route north of Iceland instead, thus the British fleet failed to make contact with the German fleet.
Allied convoy HX-106, consisted of 41 ships, was en route from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada to Liverpool, England, United Kingdom when it was detected by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau on 8 Feb. Captain Otto Ciliax of Scharnhorst offered to use his battleship’s superior speed to draw off British battleship HMS Ramillies escorting the convoy, allowing Gneisenau to overpower the transports. Lütjens, however, opted to abide by Adolf Hitler’s orders to avoid engaging Allied capital ships and broke off the attack. The convoy failed to make the correct identification on the two German battlecruisers, thus Tovey was not alerted of the actual location of his assigned prey.
The German battlecruisers then set to hunt down Allied convoy HX-111, during which attempt they came across another convoy on 22 Feb en route to the United States after already having emptied their cargo in Britain. This attack lasted over 12 hours, during which 5 ships were sunk. The attack was reported by the convoy.
Next, the Germans sailed south to the Azores off western Africa. They sighted a convoy, but due to the presence of battleship HMS Malaya, Lütjens decided not to pursue; instead, he shadowed the convoy and directed submarines in the area to attack.
Moving into the western Atlantic, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sank a freighter, followed by two separate attacks on two convoys that resulted in 16 Allied ships sunk or captured.
Operation Berlin ended on 22 Mar 1941 as the fleet made a port call at Brest, France. The ships had traveled 17,800 miles during this operation, sinking or capturing 22 enemy ships totaling 113,690 tons.