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23 March 1898|
Hamburg, German Empire
|Died||26 December 1943
North Cape, Norway
|Allegiance|| German Empire
|Service/branch|| Kaiserliche Marine
|Years of service||1916–1943|
|Commands held||Z14 Friedrich Ihn
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross|
Erich Bey (23 March 1898 – 26 December 1943), was a German naval officer who served as a commander of the Kriegsmarine's destroyer forces and commanded the battleship Scharnhorst in the Battle of the North Cape on 26 December 1943, during which the German ship was sunk. He was killed during that action. Bey was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross of Nazi Germany.
Bey joined the Kaiserliche Marine on 13 June 1916 and served in its destroyer arm. Following the end of World War I, Bey stayed in the weakened German navy, now known as the Reichsmarine. He continued his career with the rise of the Nazi Party in power in Germany, and by the start of World War II was a Fregattenkapitän (frigate captain).
Battle of Narvik
As a Fregattenkapitän (frigate captain) in the Kriegsmarine, Bey led the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, consisting of the destroyers Z11 Bernd von Arnim, Z12 Erich Giese and Z13 Erich Koellner, as part of Kommodore Friedrich Bonte's force that carried General Eduard Dietl's mountain troops for the occupation of Narvik during the German invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940. In the following Battles of Narvik on 10 April and 13 April, Bey distinguished himself by leading a small group of destroyers in a brave though doomed action against a superior Royal Navy force that included the battleship HMS Warspite.
Due to his distinguished service at Narvik, Bey was awarded with the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 9 May 1940. The next day he was promoted to Captain and appointed commander of the German destroyer force (Führer der Zerstörer), succeeding Commodore Bonte, who had been killed on 10 April in the first Battle of Narvik.
Captain Bey then commanded the destroyer screen protecting the ships of the Brest Group (Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Prinz Eugen) during Operation Cerberus (the “Channel Dash”) in February 1942. Of the three, Scharnhorst suffered extensive damage, having struck a naval mine laid off the Dover Straits.
Battle of North Cape
Promoted to Konteradmiral (rear admiral), on Christmas Day, 25 December 1943, Bey led a task force consisting of the battleship Scharnhorst and Z29, Z30, Z33, Z34 and Z38 out of Alta Fjord in Operation Ostfront. The first and only surface sortie ordered by Großadmiral Karl Dönitz, Bey's objective was to intercept the Allied Convoy JW 55B en route to Murmansk.
Bey's initial force of Scharnhorst and five destroyers was superior to the convoy's escorting British cruisers and destroyers in terms of firepower. However, Bey's flagship was outmatched by Admiral Bruce Fraser's battleship HMS Duke of York which led another Royal Navy fleet shadowing the convoy. Scharnhorst was expected to use her speed to avoid an engagement with Duke of York.
Poor weather, heavy seas and inadequate Luftwaffe reconnaissance, prevented Bey from initially locating the convoy so he detached his destroyers to fan out and assist in the search. However the storm meant that Bey's destroyers ending up played no part in the battle. Bey guessed correctly and Scharnhorst then managed to locate the convoy by herself. In the first engagement of the ensuing Battle of North Cape, while trading fire with the British convoy's screening cruisers, Scharnhorst's radar was destroyed by a lucky shot fired which rendered her blind. Scharnhorst was then caught by the more powerful HMS Duke of York and suffered critical damage before being sunk after several torpedo hits from British cruisers.
Of Scharnhorst's crew of 1,968, Royal Navy vessels fished 36 men alive from the icy sea, not one of them an officer. One of the surviving sailors stated that he saw Captain Fritz Hintze and Admiral Bey take leave of each other with a handshake and address their men saying, "If any of you get out of this alive, say hello to the folks back home, and tell them we did our duty to the last." Bey was reported as having been seen in the water but was not rescued.
For his brave command against the superior odds, Bey received the admiration of his British counterpart, Admiral Bruce Fraser, who commanded the British forces during the Battle of North Cape. When Admiral Fraser briefed his officers on board Duke of York later on the evening of 26 December 1943 he said: "Gentlemen, the battle against Scharnhorst has ended in victory for us. I hope that if any of you are ever called upon to lead a ship into action against an opponent many times superior, you will command your ship as gallantly as Scharnhorst was commanded today".
- Iron Cross (1914), 2nd Class
- Hanseatic Cross, Hamburg
- Prussian Lifesaving Medal on band
- Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918
- Wehrmacht Long Service Award 4th to 2nd Class
- Memel Medal
- Sudetenland Medal
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939), 2nd Class (16 October 1939)
- Iron Cross (1939), 1st Class (20 November 1939)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 9 May 1940 as Kapitän zur See and chief of the 4. Zerstörer-Flottille
- Destroyer War Badge (October 1940)
- Narvik Shield (1940)
- Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht on 27 December 1943
- Dörr 1995, p. 40.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 132.
- Dörr, Manfred (1995). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Überwasserstreitkräfte der Kriegsmarine—Band 1: A–K [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Surface Forces of the Navy—Volume 1: A–K] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2453-2.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) . Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6.
- Claasen, A.R.A.: Hitler's Northern War: The Luftwaffe’s Ill-Fated Campaign, 1940–1945. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001. ISBN 0-7006-1050-2 pp. 92–93, 230–232
- Range, Clemens (1974). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Kriegsmarine [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Navy]. Stuttgart, Germany: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 978-3-87943-355-1.
- Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Militaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, 1. Januar 1942 bis 31. Dezember 1943 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 2, 1 January 1942 to 31 December 1943] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2.
|Chief of the 4. Zerstörerflottille
April 1939 – 13 April 1940
|Chief of the 6. Zerstörerflottille
14 May 1940 – 1 November 1940
Kapitän zur See Alfred Schulze-Hinrichs
Kapitän zur See Friedrich Bonte
|Führer der Zerstörer
10 April 1940 – 14 April 1940
Korvettenkapitän Alfred Schemmel
Korvettenkapitän Alfred Schemmel
|Führer der Zerstörer
14 May 1940 – 26 December 1943
Kapitän zur See Max-Eckart Wolff