Friday, June 3, 2011

German Battleships of the 20th Century

SMS Schleswig-Holstein

SMS Schleswig-Holstein served in World War 1 and fired the opening salvos against Poland in World War 2.

The battleship SMS Schleswig-Holstein was named after the northern-most region of Germany. She was the fifth of five vessles built for the Deutschland class of battleships beginning in 1906 under the hammers of Kaiserliche Marine and, as it turned out, they the last of the pre-Dreadnought class of battleships built due to the arrival of HMS Dreadnought.

Representing the final group of Germany’s pre-dreadnought battleships, the Deutschland class was laid down between 1903 and 1904 at the dockyards in Kiel, Szczecin, Wilhelmshaven and Danzig. They were similar to the Braunschweig-class preceding them however Schleswig-Holstein and the other Deutschland’s were mounted with heavier armor. The shipbuilder, Germaniawerft, built both the SMS Deutschland and Schleswig-Holstein. Each ship cost over 24 million marks at the time of construction and took three to four years to be completed.

Schleswig-Holstein was 413 feet (126 meters) long at the waterline, and 419 feet (127.6 meters) overall. At her beam she was 73 feet (22.2 meters) and had a draft of 25 feet (7.7 meters), displacing 14,218 tons in full. She was powered by 3-shaft triple expansion engines, which produced 19,330 ihp, and a top speed of 17 knots (31 km/h). The triple expansion engines were powered by eight Marine type boilers and six cylinder boilers. After 1915, oil-firing capability was added to supplement the coal-fired boilers. The ship had a single rudder and three screws. The two outer propellers were three bladed, and 4.8 m (5.24 yd) in diameter. The center screw was four bladed and 4.5 m (4.92 yd) in diameter. She was fitted with two funnels.

Schleswig-Holstein's main armament consisted of 4 x 11-inch (28 cm) guns in twin turrets - one fore and one aft of the superstructure. Her secondary battery was comprised of 14 x 6.7-inch (17-cm) guns and 22 x 3.4-inch (8.6-cm) guns, all casemated along the length of the ship and concentrated amidships. The Deutschland class also mounted six 17.7-inch (45-cm) torpedo tubes. Schleswig-Holstein’s armored belt was 9 inches (23-cm) thick at its maximum center points and then tapered to 4 inches (10-cm) thick in less critical areas, most notably the bow and stern. The turrets had 11 inches (28 cm) of armor protection - a full inch thicker than the preceding class. The decks had 3 inches (7.6 cm) of armor plate to stop plunging fire.

SMS Schleswig-Holstein was present at the Battle of Jutland in World War I along with all of her sister ships. The SMS Pommern was hit at about 02:00 on June 1st, 1916, by a torpedo fired from the British destroyer HMS Faulknor. The torpedo hit and caused an explosion in one of the magazines and the ship quickly sank with the loss of the entire 839-men crew. SMS Schleswig-Holstein was hit by one shell during the battle and caused little damage. After the war, Germany was allowed to keep three of the remaining four battleships as part of the Treaty of Versailles. SMS Schlesien, SMS Schleswig-Holstein and the SMS Hannover were the chosen vessels while SMS Deutschland was scrapped in 1922. Schleswig-Holstein was modernized in the 1920s and served as flagship of the German Navy from 1926 to 1935.

By 1939 she and her sisters were considered obsolete but were powerful enough so that she could be used as a gun platform for land bombardments. With Captain Gustav Kleikamp in command of SMS Schleswig Holstein, she and her sister ship, SMS Schlesien, were on a planned visit to Poland. This subterfuge was meant to honour the sailors killed on the German cruiser Magdeburg in World War 1 and were buried in Danzig in 1914. The Magdeburg had run aground near the Odensholm lighthouse in the Baltic Sea. Efforts to refloat her failed and the Russian cruisers Bogatyr and Pallada appeared and destroyed her and most of her crew.

Schleswig Holstein and her small flotilla had anchored in Danzig harbour at the mouth of the River Vistula. At 4.30am on September 1st, 1939, she weighed anchor and moved down the canal, taking up a position opposite the Polish fort Westerplatte. Schlesien and the gun boats stayed and protected the mouth of the harbor. This had been the plan of the German High Command; Schleswig Holstein had her 11-inch guns at point blank range, while Captain Kleikamp, at 4.47am, gave the order to open fire on the Westerplatte in the name of Adolf Hitler. Germanys first shot fired by the SMS Schleswig Holstein of World War 2 in Europe was exactly 20 years, 9 months, 19 days and 18 hours after the last shot was fired in World War 1. World War II in Europe had begun.

The bombardment of the fort was joined by Stuka dive bombers of the German Luftwaffe and the few Polish garrison defenders were additionally attacked by larger numbers of German ground troops. The battle lasted for seven days before the Polish commander surrendered though the fort was never overrun by the German troops. In the first few weeks of the war, the Schleswig-Holstein and the Schlesien bombarded other Polish positions in Gdynia, Kepa Oksywska, and the Hel Peninsula.

The remaining Deutschland class battleships were returned to training duty following the occupation of Norway in 1940. Schleswig-Holstein became an anti-aircraft ship in 1944 at Gdynia to protect the port. The she berthed at Gdynia till the end of the war. Being a stationary target she was attacked by the RAF on December 18th, 1944, killing twenty eight of her crew members. The RAF attacked again and scored many bomb hits, leaving her burning and finally sinking in 39 feet of water near the port on March 21st, 1945. After World War 2, she was raised by the Soviet Union and towed to the Russian port of Tallinn where she was renamed Borodino. The Russian navy scuttled Borodino in shallow water near Osmussaar island in the Baltic Sea sometime in 1948 and was used as a target ship until the 1964. The remains of the ship have been protected by the Estonian National Heritage Board as a historic shipwreck since 2006.

The battleship Schleswig Holstein served Germany in both world wars and was the instrument used to begin the Second World War. A conflict, by some reports, that claimed the lives of 60 million people. It is doubtful that this number reflects all the peoples in all the far corners of the world where records were at best dubious. Nevertheless, the SMS Schleswig-Holstein earned her legacy - perhaps not as the operating nation first intended. 

KMS Admiral Scheer

The KMS Admiral Scheer proved a headache to Allied commerce shipping during World War 2.

Admiral Scheer was the second of the three Deutschland class heavy cruisers ordered and funded by the Reichsmarine of the Weimar Republic in 1926. This class of ships were often referred to as "pocket battleship" - vessels smaller than a conventional battleship though bigger than any ocean-going cruiser at the time. Serving with the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) during World War 2, the Admiral Scheer was aptly named after German Admiral Reinhard Scheer who commanded the Kaiserliche Marine High Seas Fleet at the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of World War 1. Scheer survived the war and died in 1928. Five years later, his namesake was launched and christened by Scheer's daughter, Marianne.

During the inter-war years (the period between World War 1 and World War 2) Germany made a habit of side-stepping international treaty rules limiting the number and tonnage of warships allowed to the Kriegsmarine (based on the post-World War I Treaty of Versailles. As such, the Reichsmarine classified the Scheer as a smaller armored ship, or "Panzerschiff". This subterfuge of the class placed him in the eyes of the world as complying with the treaty rules for, at least on paper, he was a small warship. The heavy cruiser was one of the few ships in naval history that has often been referred to as male by its crew and referred to as “he” instead of the usual feminine gender use of “her” utilized in most navies of the world, even today.

The Scheer's first mission began in July 1936 when he was sent to Spain to evacuate German civilians caught up in the Spanish Civil War. The vessel was also called on to spy on Soviet ships carrying supplies to the Communist Republicans while protecting ships delivering German weapons to Franco’s Nationalist Fascist Army. On May 31st,1937 he and several German planes bombarded the Republican town of Almería, Spain, in response to a previous air attack on the sister ship KMS Deutschland. The British papers condemned it as a criminal act and, upon further review, only a few deaths were attributed to the limited shelling. By the end of June 1938 the Scheer had completed a total of eight deployments to Spain in support of the Fascist Spanish government. He returned to Germany for a refit, having his superstructure lowered for a reduced profile and radar image. After the refit, the Kriegsmarine reclassified him as a heavy cruiser for shore bombardment and supply delivery to Spain was not what Hitler had intended for his pocket battleships - commerce raiding of convoys was more the forte of this class
A convoy was a group of ships traveling together for mutual support and protection - this tactic was utilized before and during the Second World War. The British adopted a convoy system, initially voluntary and later compulsory for all merchant ships, when World War 2 was declared. The first convoys emerged from Canadian ports and then soon after from American ports. A Commodore with naval experience was assigned to oversee the assignment of these ships and their cargos. He would develop a master plan for each ship and they would be assigned to a particular spot in the convoy "box". The box required each ship to maintain a certain speed and keep an assigned distance from the ship along her bow and stern and to her on port and star board sides. No doubt this required a lot of discipline for each ship and crew, especially when considering operations at night, often running in complete darkness so as not to provide easy prey to enemy submarines.

Convoy HX-84 was assigned 38 merchant ships with cargos to be shipped from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada sailing to Liverpool, England under the command of Commodore H.B. Maltby. The vital cargos being carried by the ships in the convoy ranged from general merchandise, steel, military trucks and maize. The convoy sailed out on October 28th, 1940 taking a secret route only known to the captains at the time of sailing. Due to the lack of warships early in the war, the convoy’s security was handled in three legs; first the local leg escort from Halifax was composed of the Canadian destroyers Columbia and St. Francis. The most dangerous center ocean leg was handled by the HMS Jervis Bay and the local escort close to English shores from Liverpool were the destroyers HMS Hesperus and three accompanying Corvettes. The ocean leg was assigned to a converted armed merchant ship, formally the Aberdeen & Commonwealth liner, Jervis Bay. The Jervis Bay, built originally as a passenger ship, was taken over by the Admiralty in August of 1939. She was fitted out with 7 x 6-inch guns of World War 1 vintage with each gun attaining a maximum range of 15,000 yards (or 8.5 miles) at 28-degree maximum elevation. Painted grey for camouflage and manned by 255 crew men, she proudly hoisted the White Ensign of an ocean escort for Atlantic convoys.

The Admiral Scheer slipped quietly into the Atlantic on October 14th, 1940, searching for a convoy target. Its two Arado seaplanes were launched daily looking over the horizon for targets or enemy warships to contend with. On November 5th, 1940 one of the pilots spotted a convoy and, not seeing any warships, felt it was an unescorted target and promptly radioed the Scheer with the ship's location.

The Scheer proceeded towards the position as radioed by the seaplane. Sure enough, as the Scheer approached the target location, only a single ship was seen. Captain Kranckes problem was that if he steamed around or attacked the small freighter she could radio the speed and heading of the Scheer and convoy HX.84 could scatter. Krancke decided to approach the vessel at flank speed and ordered the target vessel to stop and not use her radio. The vessel turned out to be the banana boat SS Mopan of 7,909 tons. The Mopan's skipper decided to obey the German order primarily since they themselves had no life boats to use and it was November in the chilly Atlantic. Scheer stopped and took on the 76 crew members as prisoners before destroying the Mopan, this becoming the Scheer’s first kill. The decision on the part of the Mopan took an approximately an hour, giving the rest of the convoy more time to react and less daylight for the Scheer to operate in. With daylight running out, Captain Kranckes ordered full speed ahead.

Scheer's problem now was that it was late afternoon and it would be ever more difficult to find additional targets after dark. Captain Fegen of the Jervis Bay also knew the convoy needed time to escape and made the decision to attack the Scheer directly. Jervis Bay dropped smoke floats as she closed the range between her and the pocket battleship. Jervis fired but all her initial volley shots fell short and soon the 11 inch shells from Scheer started to find the Jarvis Bay. Without deck armor, casualties proved heavy. Captain Fegen was on the bridge when it was hit and lost an arm in the ensuing actions. He continued to give orders, trying to close the range, but was subsequently killed when another shell hit the bridge. The destruction of the bridge and its crew included the lost of gunnery control. In this 24 minute battle at sea, most of the Jarvis Bay officers were killed and, with the ship ablaze stem to stern, the order was given to abandon. 198 men were lost in this one-sided battle. The Swedish freighter Stureholm found and saved the remaining 65 crewmen. Captain Fegen was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for Valor.

Scheer steamed past the Jervis Bay, still looking for the convoy. SS Kenbane Head of 5,225 tons was sunk with 24 hands being lost. SS Beaverford of 10,042 tons attempted to defend the convoy with minimal armament on board. The battle lasted for some time with Scheer firing on multiple targets. However, Beaverford went down with all 77 hands aboard. Scheer started using star shells to locate other ships in the dark and found the SS Maiden of 7,908 tons. She was sunk with all 91 hands aboard. Soon after, the SS Trewellard of 5,201 tons came into range and was sunk with one 11-inch shell, taking 16 merchant seamen with her to the bottom. In the distance Scheer spotted the SS Fresno City of 6,500 tons with a cargo of maise. Though this vessel almost slipped away, she was downed by the Scheer with all hands. Captain Kranckes was becoming concerned that the British screen from England could appear at any moment in the darkness. The Royal Navy had sent out several ships to trap the Admiral Scheer, but before they arrived, the Scheer slipped away to rendezvous with his oiler Nordmark. During the next two months, he found and sunk four more ships, capturing supplies, three ships and transferring the prisoners to the oiler Nordmark . Making a foray into the Indian Ocean in February of 1941, he sunk two more ships. Before they were sunk, however, a distress signal was sent out and picked up by British cruisers. The next day, Scheer sank a coal ship and followed up with an escaped back into the Atlantic. Captain Krancke sailed northwards and reached Kiel on April 1, 1941 - sailing over 46,000 nautical miles (85,000 km) at voyage's end.

Admiral Scheer stayed in the port of Kiel until early July 1942, trying to find and sink Arctic Convoy PQ-17. Thirty-six merchant ships left Reykjavik, Iceland and two made it thru with 34 ships sunk by German U-boats and aircraft. None were sunk by the Scheer, however, so in August 1942 he sailed into the Arctic Ocean to hunt convoys and establish a German presence in the USSR's Arctic region. This operation in the arctic was known as "Unternehmen Wunderland" in German and proved to be a large sortie.

In the ensuing action, Scheer damaged two Soviet patrol boats, bombarded and destroyed an Soviet meteorological station and sank an armed ice breaker Aleksandr Sibiryakov. Before the icebreaker sank, the crew sent a signal to the next station that the Scheer was heading to destroy - the Novy Dikson. Arriving at the harbor, he moved in to shell the ships and shore installations. The garrison there used a field howitzer against him, causing minor damage. He, in turn, badly damaged the two ships in the harbor and shelled the troops at the garrison, then returning to Narvik without finding any allied convoys in the Kara Sea.

Hitler's anger at the failings of the Kriegsmarine and his pocket battle ships to do any reasonable damage against the Allied convoys supplying the Soviet Union culminated. Its commander-in-chief, Admiral Raeder, was replaced by Admiral Donitz and the German surface fleet stayed in port from then on.

In 1944, Admiral Scheer provided artillery support for retreating German army units on the Sorve Peninsula. In January and February of 1945, he was again engaged in coastal bombardment operations, but with constant firing his gun barrels were worn out by March and he returned to Kiel. On the night of April 9th, 1945, a 300-strong RAF bombing raid on the dockyard critically struck the Scheer and he capsized while still tied up at the dock. Only 32 sailors were killed with most of the crew on shore leave.

In all of World War 2, the Admiral Scheer under Captain Theodor Krancke was by far the most successful capital ship commerce raider of the conflict, particularly in his foray into the Indian Ocean. After the war, his hull was scrapped and the dock was filled in to make a parking lot.

Ships sunk and captured by the KMS Scheer.

5 November 1940 - SS Mopan, British, 5,389tons - SUNK
5 November 1940 - HMS Jervis Bay, British, 14,164tons - SUNK IN COMBAT
5 November 1940 - SS Maidan, British, 7,908tons - SUNK
5 November 1940 - SS Trewellard, British, 5,201tons - SUNK
5 November 1940 - SS Kenbane Head, British, 5,225tons - SUNK
5 November 1940 - SS Beaverford, British, 10,142tons - SUNK
5 November 1940 - SS Fresno City, British, 4,995tons - SUNK
24 November 1940 - SS Port Hobart, British, 7,448tons - SUNK
1 December 1940 - SS Tribesman, British, 6,242tons - SUNK
17 December 1940 - SS Duquesa, British, 8,652tons - CAPTURED
17 January 1941 - SS Sandefjord, Norwegian, 8,083tons - CAPTURED
20 January 1941 - SS Barneveld, Dutch, 5,597tons - SUNK
20 January 1941 - SS Stanpark, British, 5,103tons - SUNK
20 February 1941 - SS British Advocate, British, 6,994tons - CAPTURED
20 February 1941 - SS Grigorios C., Greek, 2,546tons - SUNK
21 February 1941 - SS Canadian Cruiser, British, 6,992tons - SUNK
22 February 1941 - SS Rantau Pandjang, Dutch, 2,542tons - SUNK
25 August 1942 - SS Aleksandr Sibiryakov, Soviet, 1,384tons - SUNK IN COMBAT

KMS Tirpitz

The German KMS Tirpitz was the sister-ship to the mythical KMS Bismarck battleship of World War 2.

By 1935, Germany - now under the firm control of Adolph Hitler - backed out of the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty was put in place following the cessation of hostilities in World War 1, to which Germany was saddled with much of the blame for, and limited much of the war-making capability of the once-proud global power. Like all other facets of the German military leading up to World War2, the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) was ramping up efforts to go to war and had been planning two 35,000-ton battleships (or "Schlachtschiff") as the (F) "Bismarck" and (G) "Tirpitz". The Tirpitz became the second ship of the two-strong Bismarck-class and was named after Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz - the father of the German Grand Fleet of World War 1.

The KMS Tirpitz Joins the KMS Bismarck
When completed, Tirpitz was the largest and final battleship to be built by the Germans - even longer and heavier than the well-known KMS Bismarck. Discussions surrounding her design included an increase to overall displacement to 37,200 tons. However, Admiral Erich Johann Albert Raeder (1876-1960) instructed the designers not to exceed the original 35,000-ton design as the hull size needed to conform to existing locks as well as comply with the available harbor depths at the German dock facilities. The Kriegsmarine Planning Office felt the ship's design could not be reduced below a 37,200 ton range due to the normal construction methods that always seemed to increase the weight of any ship being built. Reluctantly, Raeder agreed to the extra tonnage but this being allocated to weapons. Meanwhile, the Construction Office was investigating four different main propulsion arrangements to power the Tirpitz. They were as follows: 1) High pressure steam geared turbines with 12 x boilers in 6 x boiler rooms forward of the turbine rooms, 2) Same as (1) but with all 12 x boilers in 3 x boiler rooms forward of the turbine rooms, 3) Same as (2) but with one boiler between the forward turbine rooms and 4) a Turbo-electric drive.

The Construction Office decided that (2) was the best propulsion arrangement for the new vessel. There were some in the ranks that wanted (4) but the excessive weight of the turbo drive was a major concern to the design. A conference was held on June 6th, 1935 to review the ships secondary armament and, once again, the design team brought up the main propulsion discussion. New encouraging results concerning the turbo-electric drive were brought to Admiral Raeder’s attention. The machinery, being built by Lloyd Liner Scharnhorst, had reopened the consideration of this propulsion method even though the turbo drive weighed 600-tons more than the conventional geared turbines to be used. The German Navy Construction Office still had reservations about the turbo-electric drive weight and considered housing the secondary guns in casements instead of turrets to save on tonnage. Raeder disagreed that protection should be sacrificed around the secondary guns and instructed the Planning Office to look elsewhere and save the required weight before the intriguing turbo-electric drive would be considered.

The Construction Office provided Raeder with a new plan in August of 1935 designated as "A13". The report outlined improvements and included a sketch of a three-shaft, turbo-electric drive. Raeder reviewed the plan and agreed to allow the changes to be made to his Tirpitz. This decision created a lot of planning concerns related to armor thickness, the reduction of the citadel length and even the positioning of living spaces within the hull. By June of 1936, difficulties in the weight reduction phase forced the Planning Department into the decision that the turbo-electric drive installation should be cancelled and geared turbines be adopted for Germany's battleship instead.

Of course Raeder felt much time had been lost by the Planning Department’s indecision to this point and now the construction drawings would have to be redone. With conventional turbines being adopted, Raeder took the opportunity to reverse the initial reduction of the main armor belt from 300mm back up to 320mm thickness. Additional savings in weight changes were made using welded armor decking instead of rivets and this allowed for armor increases above the main magazines - increasing from 95mm to 100mm - and slopped areas from 110mm to 120mm. By 1936, armor thickness could not be changed because rolled armor construction had begun on the ship. The belt was 145mm (5.709 in) to a maximum of 320mm (12.598 in). The decks ranged from 50mm (1.569 in) to 120mm (4,724 in) and Bulk heads were a consistent 220mm (8.661 in). The anti-aircraft barbettes - a compilation of 16 x 30mm AA guns, 16 x 37mm AA guns, 92 x 20mm AA guns - were protected by 342mm (13.465-inches). All secondary 12 x 5.9 inch guns had 130mm (5.709 in) and the main 8 x 15 inch gun turrets were given 360mm (14.173 in) armor. After the superstructure and armaments were added, Tirpitz would displace 53,500-tons loaded and had an overall running length of 832 feet. Her maximum speed was 30.8 knots and she had a range of 8,870 nautical miles at 19 knots.

Installed were two quadruple banks of 21-inch torpedo tubes on the main deck just aft of the aircraft launch catapults. The ship was fitted for up to six floatplane aircraft used for spotting "over-the-horizon" targets of opportunity and enemy scouts. These aircraft were launched via 1 x fixed, double-ended catapults fitted amidships, the aircraft being recovered by crane after landing alongside the vessel by their integral floats. Abreast of the funnel were two single hangers while under the mainmast was a larger hanger. The ship could support four to six Arado Ar 196 floatplane aircraft as needed.

The finalized main steam plant was comprised of 12 x 2 pairs of boilers in six boiler rooms fitted fore and aft. The boilers were built by Blohm & Voss at Deschimag for Tirpitz (Blohm und Voss would also become known throughout the war for their many large flying boat designs). The geared turbine installation was a three-shaft layout with the center turbine room furthest aft and the side turbines in separate compartments aft of the boiler rooms. Normal full power rating was 265rpm per shaft providing 38,300 shaft horsepower with 46,000 shaft horsepower at maximum power. Electric power was supplied by four main generator rooms on the lower platform deck. Number 1 was starboard and Number 2 was on the port side with each housing four generator sets of 500kW. Number 3 and 4 generator spaces were similarly arraigned with three 690kW turbo generators each. Oil bunkerage capacity for Tirpitz was 8,297 tons but only 7,780 tons were able to be pumped. Endurance figures were estimated at 8,600nm @15kts, 8,150nm @ 21kts, and 3,750nm @ 30kts. However, wartime figures could not be estimated due to unknown - and ever changing - factors.

The 380mm SKC/34 main guns were a new design of the Krupp Company, weighing 112kg, and fired an 800kg projectile. The Tirpitz carried 130 projectiles per gun. Munitions carried onboard for the other guns varied. The design plan called for 12 x 105 rounds for the 150mm, 16 x 400 rounds for the 37mm cannons and 16 x 2,000 rounds for the 37mm.

The fire control system had three main gunnery control positions. The forward position occupied half of the conning tower on the navigation bridge. Another was on top of the foremast tower, and the third was located aft of the superstructure deck. The forward position was equipped with a 7m base stereoscopic range finder and the others with 10m pattern units. For control of night actions, two positions - one forward and one aft - were equipped with two Zeilsaule C38’s and a star shell director. Two main gyro rooms provided stable data to the control stations. Two 3m base night rangefinding systems were fitted in the "wings" of the Admiral‘s bridge. Seven 150cm Siemens searchlights were also fitted, one on the forward face of the conning tower, four on the funnel platform and two abreast of Flack Tower C.

Tirpitz is Launched
Tirpitz was launched on April 1st, 1939 with the intention that she would be deployed as a commerce raider against Allied merchant shipping in the North Atlantic. Hitler had been an infantryman during World War 1 and thusly had no prior direct naval experience on which to go by. Hitler did listen to his Admirals and Generals but made most of the war planning decisions under his own instincts - a fatal flaw to be sure.

Capital ships such as the Tirpitz represented the naval power of the day and German battleships were necessary to counter the British Royal Navy. With the fabled KMS Bismarck being sunk in May of 1941, Hitler lost complete confidence in the commerce raider mission plan. Tirpitz was ready to be deployed and concern about the mission was evident with her sea trials being held in the protected waters of the Baltic Sea. German spies learned that the British Admiralty had sent orders that an attack on Tirpitz would need at least two King George V-type battleships and an aircraft carrier. It was obvious that the British were concerned about the threat that Tirpitz represented and were willing to commit several major naval assets to counter her and her escorts.

In September of 1941, Tirpitz was serving as the flagship of the Baltic Fleet supported by the heavy cruiser KMS Admiral Scheer and the light cruisers KMS Koln, KMS Nuremberg, KMS Emden and KMS Leipzig. The fleet was stationed off Aaland Island to counter sorties from the Soviet fleet based at Leningrad. Hitler felt that when the invasion of Europe happened it would come through Norway instead of the costal fortifications of France. The decision was made to use Tirpitz as a threat to Atlantic and Arctic convoys and to provide protection against the expected invasion. On the night of January 14th, 1942, Tirpitz left Wilhelmshaven for Trondheim escorted by destroyers KMS Richard Beitzen, KMS Paul Jacobi, KMS Bruno Heinemann and KMS Z-29. The sortie was via the Kiel Canal so the Swedish Coast Guard would not spot the flotilla slipping out.

The British Royal Navy was soon alerted and understood the danger of the Tirpitz breakout and, without the capital ships in the area, launched air sorties on January 30th, 194,1from northern Scotland with nine Handley Page Halifax bombers from 76th Squadron and seven Short Stirlings of the 15th Squadron. The sorties failed to locate the target. Hitler sent Vice Admiral Otto Ciliax to take command of the German naval force as Commander-in-Chief of battleships. German submarines spotted the British convoy PQ-12 sailing to Russia with convoy PQ-8 sailing back from Murmansk. PQ-12 held a total of 31 ships massing near Iceland - sailing to Russia in the Arctic to deliver critical Lend-Lease supplies. Admiral Ciliax receiving the convoy report and subsequently prepared "Operation Sportpalast". Tirpitz and the destroyers Z-25, Hermann Schoemann and Paul Jacobi left Faettenfjord, Trondeim under the command of Ciliax on March 3rd, 1942.

A British submarine spotted the enemy formation and informed the Home Fleet who, in turn, sent the battleships HMS King George V and HMS Duke of York along with the battlecruiser HMS Renown, the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious, a heavy cruiser and twelve destroyers to counter Tirpitz. Bad weather saved the convoys from being spotted by the Germans and saved the German force from the superior British fleet en route. Finding themselves only miles apart on March 9th the weather had cleared just enough to allow the Victorious to launch twelve torpedo-laden Albacore aircraft against the German ships. The aircraft made torpedo attacks but luck - and Tirpitz’s inherent speed - allowed her to dodge all the torpedoes while shooting down two of the attacking aircraft on her return to Trondeim.

New Strategy for the Tirpitz
Upon receiving the after-action report, Raeder reported to Hitler with the results of Operation Sportpalast with only one conclusion being clear - Tirpitz was vulnerable to attack. Hitler was gun shy after having lost the Bismarck and ordered Admiral Raeder to issue orders to Ciliax that Tirpitz would only attack convoys if the battleship had Luftwaffe air support and knowledge of the opposing naval forces. Hitler’s confining order effectively removed Tirpitz as a major threat to allied shipping in the Atlantic and elsewhere though the order was unknown to the British Home Fleet. Keeping Tirpitz out of the Atlantic meant she did not need as much fuel so on March 10th Tirpitz transferred 1,722 tons of fuel oil to destroyers KMS Schoemann, KMS Friedrich Ihn and KMS Z-25 along with torpedo boats T-5 and T-12.

The Tirpitz was sent to northern Norwegian waters using the fjords, mostly at Kåfjord, a branch of the Altafjord, as a base. She acted mainly a threat that tied up Royal Navy and US Navy resources. On June 27, 1942, word of convoy PQ-17 was received by German intelligence and an attack plan was formulated to counter the flotilla Tirpitz and nine destroyers. KMS Admiral Hipper, KMS Admiral Scheer and KMS Lützow assembled at Altenfjord when the convoy was detected. On July 1st, Tirpitz and the escorts left Trondheim and, soon after, a British submarine observed the sortie and notified the British Admiralty. So concerned about Tirpitz upon receiving the information that a decision was made to scatter the convoy, leaving the merchant ships without protection. When PQ-17 scattered, German submarines were able to sink 24 ships over the next 10 days. On July 5th Tirpitz made a brief sortie and, after being sighted, was ordered back to port without firing a shot. However, the fear of Tirpitz lead to the convoy being destroyed by other elements. From July 8th to September 1943 Tirpitz was dry-docked for repairs at Trondheim Narvik, Norway. After repairs, German troops landed on the Spitsbergen islands in September 1943. Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and nine destroyers were assigned to support the landing as offshore bombardment. This became the first and only operation in which Tirpitz fired her guns on enemy targets.

Later that month, British X-class midget submarines attacked Tirpitz as part of "Operation Source". The British started the attack with six X-craft but, during the 1,000 mile tow from England, three craft were lost due to mechanical reasons - these being X-8, X-9, and X-10. The remaining three craft - X-5, X-6 and X-7 - went through minefields and, under darkness, through enemy lines. Their mission resulted in the placing of 4 x 2 ton amatol charges under the hull of Tirpitz. The X-craft then quietly moved away and detonated the charges. The force of the blast lifted Tirpitz some six feet. The attack resulted in some damage to the Tirpitz but, as a ruse, the ship was quietly maintained as had nothing happened for six months while she was being repaired. The British were fooled by the non-action on the part of the Germans and felt Tirpitz was still seaworthy and a threat to Atlantic operations. Thusly, they continued to commit massive resources to her containment.

More Attacks
The Royal Navy then launched another attack on Tirpitz in April 1944, this with a large fleet of surface ships accompanied by aircraft. Seven aircraft carriers, two battleships, two cruisers, and sixteen destroyers took part. This was to be an air attack unless Tirpitz decided to break out - only then would the British battleships and cruisers be called into play. Tirpitz was attack by the British fleet’s air arm using armor-piercing bombs and anti-submarine bombs that could detonate underwater, causing shock damage to the hull. Royal Navy aircraft strafed her decks and lost three planes while the Tirpitz lost 122 of her crew with another 300 wounded. The damage was such that she was out of commission for two months. From April through July, additional air attacks were planned but ultimately cancelled due to adverse weather. "Operation Mascot" then failed as Tirpitz had warning and produced a smoke screen, obscuring her from the attacking British warplanes.

In August 1944, Tirpitz left the protection of the fiord for sea trials which resulted in additional enemy air attacks but these having no success. Tirpitz underwent sea trials in early August 1944. Three weeks later, the Fleet Air Arm launched operations Goodwill I, II, and III with little success, having just one 500lb bomb land on the Tirpitz. However, during the attack, the escort carrier HMS Nabob was torpedoed adding to the Royal Navy’s fear of the Tirpitz. Attacks by the British 617th and 9th Squadrons on September 15, 1944 dropped five-ton "Tallboy" bombs and underwater mine bombs on Tirpitz, these hitting her bow and making the battleship unseaworthy. The German High Command knew they could not get her back to drydock for repair. If the Royal Navy had known the extent of the damage, they could have left her to sit out the rest of the war but continued assets were used to counter the German "tiger" in the fiord. She was towed to Tromso to be used as a floating gun platform to counter Hitler’s expected Invasion of Norway by the Allies. However, Allied air forces stationed in Scotland could now reach her.

End of the KMS Tirpitz
"Operation Catechism" was enacted on November 12th, 1944, by 9th Squadron and 617th Squadron flying Avro Lancaster heavy bombers loaded with "Tallboy" bombs. Coming in from the east, the ship was struck by three Tallboys - two of which pierced the ship's armor and blew a 200-foot (61 m) hole in her port side. Fires set off a magazine used for C turret, blowing it completely off the ship. Within eleven minutes after the first hit, Tirpitz capsized with over 1,000 men below her decks. After the attack, access holes were cut in the exposed hull allowing 82 men from below decks to be saved. Tirpitz sank with 971 of her crew aboard.

The destruction of Tirpitz removed a major surface threat for the Allies, freeing many of their all-important capital ships used to counter her, relocating them to other fleet operations in the Indian Ocean and the Far East. After the war, the ship was cut up and sold as scrap except for a sizeable portion of her bow which remains today. The Norwegians saved her electrical generators and used them to produce power for a local fishing company. The Tallboy bombs that landed onshore produced artificial lakes that were subsequently used by fisherman. Armor plating from Tirpitz is still being utilized by the Norwegian Road Authority for temporary road work.

The Norwegians named her the "Lonely Queen of the North" ("Den ensomme Nordens Dronning") and Winston Churchill often referred to the Tirpitz as "The Beast".

KMS Admiral Graf Spee

The Admiral Graf Spee was scuttled off the coast of Montevideo in the 1939 Battle of the River Plate.

The Admiral Graf Spee was a pre-war vessel of the Deutschland-class of German ships. Designed and built during a time when Germany somewhat still heeded the limitations of the Treaty of Versailles, a treaty stating that no signing nation could produce a warship with a displacement exceeding 10,000 tons, the Admiral Graf Spee was a product of both rule-bending and outright disregard. The Deutschland-class was committed to see by the KMS Deutschland, the first ship in the class. This vessel was followed by the Admiral Scheer and, finally, the Admiral Graf Spee - a vessel named after World War 1 German Admiral Maximilian von Spee, killed in combat during the conflict.

Though all three ships would easily exceed the allowed tonnage of 10,000 tons (the Graf Spee topped 16,000 at construction's end) they were never truly of battleship caliber vessels. Selected machinery came in the shape of eight MAN-brand diesel engines producing 56,000 shaft horsepower to two shafts. This came at the benefit of speed and light weight allowing for attention to be paid to the overall protection of the vessel through armor and, consequently, the armament. Construction consisted of electric welding which further saved weight as opposed to utilizing riveting, a traditional ship-building method.

What the German designers had in fact produced was more of a "tweener" design - neither battleship nor true cruiser. In the end, the vessel sported battleship-like armament and armor though it was faster than most and took on the capabilities of a true cruiser. To this end, the design became known to the Allies as a "pocket battleship" and the name took for the type since. The Graf Spee was also further set apart from her contemporaries in that the type took on an early form of shipborne radar known as Seetakt.

The Graf Spee was armed with 6 x 11" main guns mounted in two turrets - three guns to a turret - with one system forward and one held aft. This was augmented by the addition of 8 x 5.9" guns and further strengthened by 6 x 105mm, 8 x 37mm and 10 x 20mm cannons throughout. Additionally, the vessel was given true ship-killing capabilities in the form of 8 x 533mm torpedo tubes. Two Arado Ar 196 floatplane aircraft were also carried aboard and launched from a catapult held amidships behind the bridge superstructure. The type's profile was characterized by its single funnel midship and tall ranging mast. A crew of 1,150 officers and sailors operated the vessel, which could achieve a top speed in excess of 28 knots.

The Graf Spee is best known for her ultimate action at the Battle of River Plate in the South Atlantic, taking on British Royal Navy ships. Shells were exchanged in anger between the two sides with the Graf Spee more or less earning the respect. The HMS Exeter was turned from the battle with successive hits from the Graf Spee. Her main guns were truly a match for the lighter armored British vessels but she was not invincible as enough damage was incurred (some reports state up to 60 direct hits on her surface) to make the German cruiser find a safe port for repair.

Upon leaving port on December 17th, 1939, British ships ripped into her once more. The damaged sustained from the earlier fighting was weighing heavily on the vessel, now taking on more punishment. The decision was made to scuttle the vessel. Her crew were taken prisoner but her captain (Langsdorff) elected to kill himself in macabre honorary fashion some three days after the Graf Spee's last voyage.

The Admiral Graf Spee was laid down in 1932 and launched in 1934. She was officially commissioned in 1936. All of the Deutschland-class ships were eventually lost to action in World War 2. The original Deutschland was renamed to the Lutzow.

KMS Bismarck

When commissioned in 1940, the battleship Bismarck was the largest ship of her type in the world.

 The KMS Bismarck is undoubtedly one of the most famous sea-going vessels of the 20th Century. The Germany super battleship was single-handedly responsible for tying a good portion of the British Royal Navy who dedicated themselves and their available resources to the hunting down and sinking of Hitler's most powerful symbol of supremacy. Packed with an astounding array of guns and armored to the core, the Bismarck took a good licking before succumbing to her damages in 1941. The design was in some ways a throw-back to the designs of the First World War and were highly based on the "pocket battleship" design lessons taken from that conflict.

The KMS Bismarck - a product of Blohm & Voss in Hamburg, Germany - was a giant leap forward in the rebuilding of the Germany Navy following the tight restrictions set forth on military build up following the First World War (of which Germany was the loser). With Adolph Hitler's finagling of the Versailles Treaty, the KMS Bismarck was born (along with her sister ship, the KMS Tirpitz) as a 50,000 ton monster - well above the treaty's limitations. Though strangely in tune with the preceding war's design methodology, no expense was spared in making this class a truly potent force on the high seas.

Of particular note were her massive batteries of 15" guns of which eight were positioned in four heavily armored turrets - two guns to a turret. Two turret emplacements were positioned forward while the remaining two were held aft. Assisting the main guns were a collection of 12 x 5.9" cannons positioned around the midship superstructure, three turrets per side with two guns each. The guns were aptly named Anton, Bruno, Caesar and Dora from front to rear. 105mm and 37mm cannons complimented the main gun array and anti-aircraft defense was augmented by a plethora of 20mm quadruple and single-mounted cannons. The midship section was of a wide berth area containing the superstructure, masts, communications equipment, life boats and a two-way catapult. The Bismarck also carried up to four Arado-type Ar 196 floatplanes for reconnaissance and patrol duties though a full load of six aircraft could be carried if need be.

Armor was the key to the Bismarck's survival. Such attention was dedicated to the component that nearly half of the vessels overall weight constituted protection of the vital areas from shelling, bombing and torpedo hits. Vast amounts of armor were devoted to the belt and decks along with the hull and the aforementioned turret assemblies. The armor was a step behind her contemporaries serving in the American and British navies but was formidable by sheer thickness.

Power for the massive ship was derived from Blohm & Voss 3-shaft geared steam turbines generating an impressive 138,000 to 150,000 shaft horsepower. The Bismarck had a listed top speed of 31 knots from its three massive shafts which spun three-blade propellers. The turbines were fed by no fewer than 12 x Wagner brand high-pressure steam-heated boilers which were set amidships for maximum protection and were fitted into six watertight compartments as an added measure.

The Bismarck was unleashed onto the Atlantic after a lengthy eight month training period in the Baltic. On May 23, 1941, British ships attempted to intercept the mighty Bismarck and the heavy cruiser KMS Prinz Eugen on their way to Bergen. The two Royal Navy vessels, the HMS Prince of Wales and the HMS Hood were quick to respond though the German guns closed in quicker. As a result, the Hood suffered a catastrophic fire leading to an explosion thanks to the shells landed on her by the Prinz Eugen. The Prince of Wales suffers a direct hit to her bridge from the guns of the Bismarck. With the odds in Germany's favor, the British vessels were called off.

Seeing very little standing in their way, the Bismarck proceeded to enter the Atlantic playground until it was noticed that her lower structure took a hit and the system was leaking fuel. In an attempt to rectify the problem before the damage got out of hand, the captain of the Bismarck changed course for Brest and the fate of the Bismarck was sealed.

Despite eluding contact with British forces, several attacks were launched against the Bismarck when it was spotted, though these would lead to very little in the way of damage, allowing the Bismarck to live another day. Day in and day out, the Bismarck swam the waters towards safety until a transmission from her was intercepted by British forces, in effect allowing enemy forces to circle in on her position. On the night of May 26th, Fairey Swordfish torpedo aircraft struck the mighty ship again and delivered two direct hits, damaging the her steering.

The crippled vessel continued on despite the damage though her speed was severely limited and she couldn't turn whatsoever. At dawn the next day, the HMS Rodney and HMS King George V appeared and opened fire on the crippled ship and in as little as 30 minutes, the KMS Bismarck was no longer returning fire. By now, the Bismarck was a shell of the ship she was when she had left port, managing only to score a single hit on the Rodney in the process. A final torpedo from the HSM Dorsetshire finally sunk (no doubt aided by the German's own efforts to sink her than to be captured) the greatest battleship of the European Theater at 10:40 AM. Hitler's pride of the seas had finally been put in her place.

Differing reports of the account have surfaced leading most to believe in the notion that the sinking was attributed more to the German effort to sink their own ship. Research has backed this theory up to the extent that very little critical damage appears under the waterline of the vessel from torpedo damage though heavy damage to the superstructure is apparent. These findings would indicate that the Bismarck was in fact sunk by her owners than on any direct action of the Royal Navy - though one can imaging the ferocity of the shelling involved on their part. In any case, one can suppose the torpedo sinking of the greatest German battleship still remains a romantic scene than giving the Germans the last laugh.

The KMS Bismarck was crewed by nearly 2,200 personnel consisting of over 100 officers. The vessel was ordered in 1935, laid down in 1936, launched in 1939 and officially commissioned in 1940. Today, the Bismarck rests some 15,700 feet below the ocean's surface off the coast of Brest, France. The wreckage was discovered by Dr. Robert Ballard of Titanic fame in 1989. The battleship was the focus of the Hollywood motion picture Sink the Bismarck! in 1960.

KMS Deutschland / Lutzow

To curtail Hitlers fear of losing such a grand-named ship, the Deutschland was renamed the Lutzow and went on to serve through most of World War 2.

KMS Deutschland (later becoming the KMS Lutzow) was the lead ship of her class first ordered in 1928 and serving in the German Kriegsmarine before and during World War 2. Her original planning teams went in two directions - the class would be a heavy-armed monitor used for coastal defenses or as a fast cruiser-type ship with long range, and less armor. At this time France was seen as the most probable enemy so the second version was decided upon to inevitably prey on her merchant shipping.

The size and characteristics of an armored ship were limited by the Treaty of Versailles signed after World War 1, severely restricting Germany's war-making capabilities. The German Navy was therefore limited to 15,000 men, 6 battleships (each with a 10,000 ton displacement limit), 6 cruisers, 6 destroyers and no submarines. The British initially named this new class of ship as "pocket battleships" (Westentaschen-Schlachtschiffe), since they were essentially equal to cruisers of the day but notably outgunned these vessels.

A number of technical innovations, including the use of welding instead of rivets, were used in construction of these new German vessels. This construction technique proved beneficial for it reduced the type's weight. The use of new diesel engines instead of heavy oil engines made the hull even lighter. Deutschland was designed from the outset to be overweight despite the treaty limitations set forth. The German government made a habit of always falsifying new-build specifications, in this case indicating the vessel was only weighing 10,000 tons - just at the treaty's allowable limit. The Kriegsmarine reclassified this new breed of ship as heavy cruisers in February 1940. The concept behind this approach provided for a ship that was faster and more powerful than would-be enemy ships she would face such as like the HMS Hood, HMS Renown and HMS Repulse and more powerful than faster ship classes like light and heavy cruisers of the day. In a sense, this was a sound tactic in 1930.

At the Deutsche Werke shipyard in Kiel, construction began in 1929 and in 1931, she was officially launched with President von Hindenburg in attendance. Taking her maiden voyage in May 1932, Deutschland became the lead ship of her class but lacked the distinctive high conning tower, bridge, and masts of contemporary ships of the era. Between 1936 and 1939, during the Spanish Civil War, Deutschland was deployed to the Spanish coast in support of Franco's Nationalists. During one of these deployments in May 1937, Deutschland was attacked by two Republican bombers with 31 German sailors killed and 101 wounded. The dead German sailors were first taken to Gibraltar and buried on Spanish soil but, on Hitler's orders, these bodies were exhumed, loaded onto the Deutschland, and brought back to Germany for a publicized military funeral.

After the start of World War II, Adolf Hitler feared that the loss of a ship with the grand name of "Deutschland" would have a considerably negative impact on the German people's morale so the ship was renamed Lützow after a Prussian Lieutenant General, this occurring in November of 1939. In April of that year, Lutzow participated in the invasion of Norway where she followed the cruiser Blucher into the Oslofjord for the purpose to capture the Norwegian King and his government. At the Battle of Drobak Sound, the small German fleet had to sail past the aging fortress battery of guns (each some forty years old) leading the Germans to disregard their defensive value. Unknown to the Germans, however, was a torpedo battery buried within the fortress. As the Blucher passed the fortress defenses the Norwegians fired their torpedoes, sinking a cruiser. This action saved the Norwegian king and government from being taken captive in the first hours of the invasion until they could enact their escape to Britain. While Lutzow made her escape, the fortress managed to score three hits against her, knocking out the aft Bruno 28-centimetre (11 in) gun turret. After the German squadron had retreated out of Oscarsborg's range, Lutzow used her forward Anton turret to bombard the defenders from a range of 11 kilometers. The fortress was then bombed for good measure by the Luftwaffe on the same day, though no Norwegian casualties were reported.

Lutzow then returned to Germany for repairs and a refitting before leaving on a raiding mission into the Atlantic Ocean. Before she could make her scheduled run she was torpedoed by the British submarine HMS Spearfish in the Skagerrak north of Denmark. The torpedo struck the stern behind the torpedo blister protection nearly ripping off her entire stern. She was forced to Germany once again for repairs - keeping her out of action until the spring of 1941.

Patrolling in the northern Atlantic in June Lutzow was once again torpedoed - this time by an RAF Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber - resulting in major damage and forcing yet another return to the port of Kiel in Germany for repairs. In December, she was present at the Battle of the Barents Sea. The battle was what Lutzow was built for in the "stronger-than-faster" ship concept. The German force was strong with the heavy cruiser KMS Admiral Hipper and pocket battleship Lutzow. The quarry was the Allied convoy JW51B on its way to deliver supplies to the USSR and protected by now fewer than six British destroyers. Hitler saw the battle of the surface raiders in the Barents Sea as the perfect mission for success. The battle took place in the Polar night with both sides reportedly having difficulty in recognizing one another. Each side, fearing torpedo attacks, continually broke off their attacks until the Germans retreated for good. British Force R shadowed the German ships as they carried on back to port. Upon the news, Hitler was infuriated at the outcome of the battle and decided not to increase the surface fleet, instead choosing to boost his fleet of U-boat submarines and make them his main threat to enemy shipping.

Lutzow took part in a variety of minor encounters during the next year. In September of 1944 in the Baltic Sea, she fired upon land targets in support of the retreating German Wehrmacht, a service she would continue to provide for several more months. Near Swinemünde, Germany in April 1945, Lutzow was again attacked by the RAF. RAF elements dropped a number of six-ton "Tallboy" bombs with three hitting Lutzow while she was still moored. After several enormous explosions, she sank to the bottom. Despite her damage, Lutzow was raised and repaired. From then on, she continued to provide artillery support for the German army as a mobile off-shore gun platform. KMS Lutzow was finally scuttled by her crew on May 4th, 1945 - quite the major disappointment to the ego and morale of the Kriegsmarine.

After the war, the Soviet Navy raised her and used her as a target ship. She was sunk for the last time in the Baltic Sea in 1949 by this action.


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