Operation Wunderland (German: Unternehmen Wunderland) was a large-scale operation undertaken in summer 1942 by the Kriegsmarine in the waters of the Northern Sea Route close to the Arctic Ocean. The Germans knew that many ships of the Soviet Navy had sought refuge in the Kara Sea because of the protection that its ice pack provided during 10 months of the year.
On 16 August 1942, Admiral Scheer—under Kommodore Wilhelm Meendsen-Bohlken—left Narvik and entered the Barents Sea. Along with it went U-boats U-601, commanded by Captain Grau, and U-251, commanded by Lieutenant Captain Timm, as well as destroyers Friedrich Eckoldt, Erich Steinbrinck and Richard Beitzen.
By 19 August the German fleet rounded Cape Zhelaniya and entered the Kara Sea which was fairly free from ice during the short summer. The next day the Arado Ar 196 seaplane on board Admiral Scheer flew to Kravkova Island in the Mona Islands and spotted three groups of Soviet ships there, with icebreakers Lenin and Krasin among them. Fog and ice floes, however, prevented the German warships from approaching. When they arrived at the Mona Islands, the Russian ships were gone. Then, Admiral Scheer turned northeast and sped towards the Nordenskiöld Archipelago.
Despite this initial setback, on 24 August, U-601 sank the Soviet steamer Kuybyshev (2,332 BRT). On the 25th, Admiral Scheer fell upon the Russian icebreaker Sibiryakov (under the command of Captain Anatoli Kacharava) right off the northwest coast of Russky Island at the northern end of the Nordenskiöld Archipelago. After putting up resistance, Sibiryakov was sunk in an unequal battle.
Looking for Soviet convoys to destroy, Admiral Scheer headed back to the Mona Islands, but not finding any ships there, it sailed again to the Nordenskiöld Archipelago, trying to straddle the two convoy routes coming from the Vilkitsky Strait. Since it was not able to find any more Soviet ships, Admiral Scheer decided to head southeast towards Dikson Island in order to attack the Soviet military installations there. With its powerful guns, it caused random destruction ashore at Dikson and badly damaged the ships Semyon Dezhnev and Revolutsioner which lay anchored in the harbour. Finally, on 30 August, Admiral Scheer returned to Narvik.
Among Kriegsmarine vessels operating in the Barents Sea during the "Wunderland" operation, U-209 (Lt. Captain Brodda) sank, on 17 August, a transport convoy of the Soviet Secret Service (NKVD) composed of cargo ships Nord and Komsomolets and light vessels Sh-III and P-IV west of the Yugorsky Strait. Apparently there were 328 political prisoners of the NKVD on board, out of which 305 men were killed through artillery fire or drowning. Meanwhile, on 20 August, U-456 (Lt. Captain Max-Martin Teichert) tried to sink the Soviet icebreaker Fyodor Litke off Belushya Guba with torpedoes but was unsuccessful. U-255 and U-209 emerged and bombarded Soviet targets in Cape Zhelaniya and Khodovarikha on 25 and 28 August respectively.
Operation Wunderland was only moderately successful. Owing to adverse weather conditions and the abundance of ice floes, the vessels taking part in Operation Wunderland did not venture beyond the Vilkitsky Strait. Therefore, the Kriegsmarine campaign only affected the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea. By mid-September it had to be stopped because of the freezing of the sea surface with thick pack-ice, especially in the Kara Sea, which not being affected by the warmer Atlantic currents freezes much earlier.
- Sinking of Sibiryakov
- Wunderland explained: Comprehensive historical account
- L. Peillard, Geschichte des U-Bootkrieges 1939−1945. 1970.
- Attack at Cape Zhelaniya
- German Naval Warfare in 1942