These two impressive vessels outside purely technical aspects, perfectly embodied the British naval supremacy as navigating symbols, both in quantity and quality. Real military ships, they were in fact retrospectively regarded as of “great white elephants”. Their construction at Vickers, Barrow in Furness and J&G Thompson, Clydebank cost around £740,000 in 1894–98. These were to answer the two impressive Russian cruisers Rossia and Rurik, then certainly among the largest warships afloat. In fact, upon completion in 1897 and 1898 (with a construction span of 4-5 years), they took over the torch of largest warships in the world. Tellingly named “Powerful” and “Terrible”, their displacement was double of previous cruisers, Edgar class, and accordingly cost twice. Their crew was nearing 900, giving them a more expensive maintenance.
Design of the Powerfuls
Technically, they were the first ships of this size to employ water tube boilers of the Belleville type, which raised concerns about their development and accumulated teething problems. Despite this, their machines gave them a satisfactory rate, keeping them efficient steamers throughout their length of service. After testings, their four chimneys (a first in the Royal Navy) appeared too short and therefore had to raise to five meters to avoid clouding the observation points. Their roomy configuration with three bridges made them much more livable quarters, although their weapons distribution remained classic: They had only two 152 mm cannons, but two twin 234 mm in turrets rather than protected by shields, and for the first part the 152 mm were barbettes spread among two levels. All their artillery was thus perfectly protected. For the rest, their size did not asked for only a similar armament to previous ships, and in 1904, four 152 mm cannons were added to the upper deck. Their speed was higher by 3 knots than previous ships, and because of a 3000 tons of coal surplus, their autonomy was also much higher. Not quite agile due to their very long, high and buoyant hulls, there were however recognized as good sailors and walkers.
HMS Powerful naval Brasseys diagram
The Powerfuls in action
Early in their careers, the two ships were based in China, then rallied South Africa to carry troops and support infantry companies. In 1899, they made the big titles of newspapers when landing vanguard troops to support Ladysmith during the Boer War. In 1902-1904 they were the subject of a small redesign and were set aside as being considered too expensive for service. Only in 1915 HMS Terrible was reactivated, used as a troop transport. She rallied the Mediterranean, then returned in reserve at Portsmouth, reclassed as an utility ship at anchor until 1920. Renowned Fisgard III she then served as a training ship until 1932. The HMS Powerful came out of the reserve in 1915 to serve as a training ship in Devonport. Her vast dimensions made it well predestined for this new duty. She continued this service from 1919 under the name Impregnable II until 1929, before being stricken, sold off and later broken up.
The Foudre in still well remembered from, studied, and related upon as an interesting experiment and pioneering ship at the fall of the XIXth century. The Foudre “Lightning” was originally a pure product of the Jeune Ecole (“Young School”). It was a singular ship, however not unique as the Royal Navy developed the HMS Vulcan at the same time, defined as a torpedo boat carrier. The Foudre was started at Chantiers de la Gironde (near Bordeaux, Aquitaine), launched in 1895 and completed in 1897.
La Foudre as a torpedo boat carrier
This concept dated from the beginning of the application of torpedo boats, as it was answered the problem of limited range for these small ships. Therefore, just like modern aircraft carrier, the striking power of these TBs was extended thanks to the use of a cruiser that can be part of a fleet organically and provide a “torpedo cover”. However after being built and tried, a problem appeared soon with the seaworthiness of these very small, 18 meters TBs, too light and cramped to be effective.
Indeed, in order to fit a squadron of eight TBs on board the cruiser (four front, four rear) with rolling cranes, cross hoists to lift and put these at sea, compromises were taken. I addition to their poor seaworthiness which imposed ideal meteorologic conditions for their operation, thy only embarked two torpedo tubes rather that 4-5 on regular TBs. The British on their part arrived at the same conclusion with the Vulcan and also dropped the idea.
La Foudre tending a 18 m torpedo boat
Second life: As an seaplane carrier
The concept was abandoned in the late 1890s, so the Lightning was taken in hand for a minelayer conversion. In 1912, it was against converted as a seaplane carrier after a new redesign of its bridge. This second part of this carrer is quite interesting as the Foudre was the first seaplane carrier ever put into service.
In this duty, she was fitted with a rear hangar to house 4 Canard Voisin seaplanes, and intensive tactical trials took place until 1914. As intended the Foudre can project “eyes” for the fleet well beyond the horizon. New foldable Nieuport were added to the mix and at some point during these large scale exercises, the Foudre operated no less than 11 pilots.
La Foudre operating a Caudron floatplane
Most flights were performed from the bay of Saint-Raphaël in the French Riveria. By the middle of 1913, in one of these opposing fleet wargames, a Nieuport used for observations again foiled a “surprise attack” by a group of warships. By November 1913 the Foudre tested a 10-meter flying-off deck at the front, to launch a Caudron G.3 seaplane, which successfully lifted off on May 8, 1914. The platform was dismantled and other experiments postponed. During the war all were replaced by much faster Caudron seaplanes.
The Foudre was based during the war in Port Saïd, then Mudros (near the Gallipoli landings area) served in 1917 as a seaplane carrier, depot ship and tender for submarines, but also HQ and training ships before being decommissioned in 1921.
The three ships of this class, Casabianca, Cassini and Iberville were put into service between 1894 and 1896. They came a few years after the two Lévrier 1891, but differed in all. Larger and nearly twice as heavy, they had a forecastle and raised poop, and a more consistent and better distributed artillery. The D’Iberville was the only one fitted with 6 Torpedo Tubes (TT), the other two having three, but in 1899, the first had them all disembarked, followed later by the others.
The Casabianca and Cassini were rebuilt in 1911-12 as minelayers, but showed little brillance in this role and were replaced by Pluto and Cerberus in 1913. Nonetheless the fleet kept them in service in 1914, for patrols. Casabianca struck a mine off Smyrna in June 1915 and the Cassini was torpedoed by a U-boat in February 1917 in the Strait of Bonifacio. The D’Iberville was on duty in the harbor of Penang, witnessed the destruction of Jemtchug by Emden but believing it was an accident she left the German cruiser unscaved, the latter being largely superior in all directions anyway. She then patrolled the Algerian coast until late 1917 but was withdrawn from service in 1922.
Casabianca in the 1900s. Shorter chimneys and masts, no TTs.
The Torpedo Cruiser was a development of the controversial Jeune École (“Young school”) a strategic naval concept that argued that the large ironclad battleships then being built in Europe could be easily and cheaply defeated by small torpedo-armed warships. Most nations including UK would built some in the 1880-1890s but the concept proved ill-fated and most of these ships were used for other tasks in 1914.
Dunois in 1914
The Dunois class
Dunois and La Hire, named after two famous knights who fought alongside with Joan of Arc, followed the class of d’Iberville, but differed in that they adopted reversed bridges in their design, bottom front and rear. They were lighter, but despite more power (hp 7500 against 5000), failed to exceed 22 knots. Wrongly classified as TB destroyers as being too slow, they were none the less neither really destroyers of cruisers, as they did not possessed Torpedo tubes.
Lahire in 1914
Dunois spend the most of the great war as a gunboat, offering an artillery support to the British troops from Dunkirk. She was removed from the lists in 1920. Lahire, assigned as a gunnery training ship in Toulon made patrols throughout the Mediterranean. In 1918, a short overhaul saw her equipped with two 100 mm Model 1917 guns and six recent QF 47 mm plus deep charge racks. She will be removed from service, stricken and paid off in 1922.
Nazi Germany (1937)
Heavy Cruisers: Hipper, Blücher, Prinz Eugen, Seydlitz, Lützow
Cruisers to rule them all
The first heavy cruisers of the Kriegsmarine were separated from their only possible ancestors by nearly 40 years, the last two Scharnhorst 1906 class armoured cruisers, which served Admiral Von Spee well. They had been succeeded only by “leichtes kreuzer”, Armed with 150 mm pieces. Any study on this subject was impossible under the Reichsmarine, Versailles prohibiting anything but eight light cruisers of less than 6,000 tons. The Anglo-German Treaty of 1935 however de facto recognized the harshness of it and allowed a capacity to produce “Washington” cruisers (10,000 tons, 8 pieces of 203 mm), but not before 1943.
However with the arrival of Hitler, all these limitations would soon goes by the drain. Under the advice of Raeder and based on the experience of the latest light cruisers, a new ambitious program was set up with the same idea of individual superiority to compensate for numbers. Therefore the new German cruisers of the Hipper class would just mockingly outclass limits by more than a safe margin: At full load, in battle order, the Hipper of the second sub-class of 1940 were nearing 20,000 tons, so double Washington’s limits ! Only the American Des Moines Class in service in 1948 would me these. Despite of this the armament stayed inside the limits
but the size and choice of propulsion were a direct result of a design meant to be the ultimate, long range commerce raider.
KMS Admiral Hipper
While the design was barely sketched in 1935, Russia announced its intention to produce heavy cruisers armed with 180 mm pieces. In addition, the new class had to respond to the French heavy cruisers of the Algeria class, and Italian Zara class. The Hipper were in fact the first five Schwerer kreuzer of Plan Z. Two sister-ships of the following “subclass” (often separated according to sources), included the Prinz Eugen (in tribute to the defunct Austro-Hungarian fleet), the Seydlitz, and the Lützow. Started in 1936-37, they were significantly larger and heavier.
The project was therefore revised on the express order of Hitler, and the ships put on hold according to the new plans, much more ambitious. Their width had been carefully restrained to fit the panama canal. Unlike previous generation, the largest part of the ship, including the hull, was riveted and reinforced. Construction took place from 1935 to 1937 for the Hipper (in service in 1939), and from 1936 to 1939 for the Blücher, the first two.
105 mm mount on the Prinz Eugen
Both had very sophisticated gunnery control systems, sights, radars, a powerful anti-aircraft battery, but lacked range due to the lack of diesels for the revised commerce raiding duties. They had instead highly sophisticated and somewhat capricious high-pressure turbines creating constant mechanical problems in service. Their silhouette recalled the Scharnhorst battleships in reduction, but still at launch they were the most powerful cruisers in the world. The Hipper saw its prow rebuilt in 1942 as an Atlantic clipper style.
The Hipper in action
The Hipper made two raid cruises in 1939, totaling 60,000 tons of merchant vessels. She took part in the Norwegian campaign (Weserübung), and off Trondheim badly damaged the destroyer HMS Glowworm. The latter managed however to maneuver just before sinking, ramming the Hipper, which left a deep hull depression and significant internal damage. However, this did not prevented Hipper’s landing party to erect the Nazi flag on Kristiansand, taking all the city’s organs (Telecommunication, energy, etc.) without the inhabitants noticing. The Hipper than departed and patrolled along the Norwegian coast accompanied by the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, then returned to Kiel for repair.
KMS Prinz Eugen launch at Kiel, 22 August 1938
Two new raids in the Atlantic has been later canceled due to turbine failures. From December she returned to the Atlantic, undetected, and from Brest, made some sorties against British trade, notably against convoy WS-5A in December 1940 and SLS64 in February 1941. She then joined Kiel for minor improvements and the addition of additional oil tanks, and returned to Norway. She remained there to operate against the Arctic convoys. She was severely damaged during an attack of one of These convoys in December 1942. After returning to Wilhelmshaven for repair, she remained there, set aside by Hitler’s order, completely disillusioned with surface ships. In January 1945 her partial repairs served her to evacuate civilians and troops from the ports of East Prussia, from the fury of the Russian troops (Operation Hannibal). She was broken up in Kiel in May 1945.
KMS Blücher heavy cruisers
The Blücher in action
The Blücher had a power plant slightly different from its twin, but unchanged speed. She took part in the attack on Norway (Weserübung), as flagship of naval group 5 (including Lützow, Emden, three torpedo boats and 8 minesweepers under Oskar Kummetz), intended to land troops and men of the Gestapo destined to take organs of communication and power in Oslo. As she advanced by night in the fjord, her weapons remained perfectly aligned in a gesture of disdain against Norwegian fortifications, but she was nevertheless surprised by the patrol boat Pol III just before midnight. The latter raised the alarm, and Oscarborg battery’s gunners, although inexperienced and having only old 280 mm Krupp guns dating back from 1890, fired at 1600-1800 meters, seriously damaging the cruiser, who then could not reply. As a result, this first blood was followed by practically firing pieces of the coast, even minor ones.
Prinz Eugen through Panama Canal in 1946
Blücher was rapidly in flames, and sunk later at point-blank range by the Dröbak fjord batteries, 280 mm from Oscarborg and 150 mm from the Kopas battery, completed by torpedoes from Kaholm fort (old Austro-Hungarian Whitehead models from 1895). Nevertheless, and despite the icy waters, there were few victims, the banks being close. During the same event, the pocket battleship Lützow (former Deutschland) was also severely damaged and had to retreat. Oslo was saved, allowing the Royal family to leave the country. The Blücher still lies at 90 meters in the middle of the fjord, an attraction for divers. In 1994 an operation was carried out to extract the oil escaping from its rusting tanks. That gave an opportunity to retrieve an anchor, now exposed to Aker Brygge, and an Arado seaplane, now exposed in Stavanger Museum.
Unfinished Lützow being transferred to USSR, 1940
KMS Prinz Eugen
The Prinz Eugen, named after Prince Eugene of Savoy (in honor of the Austrian part of the new third Reich) was nicknamed the “lucky”. Launched in 1938, her construction had costed some 104 million Reichsmarks. She was to participate in the operations in Norway but was not yet ready for service. On 2 July 1940 she was attacked and damaged by the RAF. On 23 April 1941 after substantial repairs, she was again put out of action by a magnetic mine. On 24 May, 1941 she was ready for Operation Rheinübung in the company of Bismarck.
This was her most famous action. Opening fire against the Hood, at maximum angle, it is very possible that her shells set fire to the rear boats deck (spreading into more vital parts of the ship, that blew her up). Then she was ordered to concentrate fire on the HMS Prince of Wales (which the Germans had taken for HMS King George V), scoring four hits. When the Bismarck was defeated, PE had to divert to France, to continue her mission against British trade. On her first sortie she was to find the tanker Spichern, but turned back on 29 May because of turbine failures. Anchored in Brest, she was the target of constant attacks by the RAF. On the night of July, 1st, she was severely damaged by a bomb hitting the rear artillery control center, killing 60. On 11-12 February after repair, she escorted the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau through the channel, to the Baltic (operation Cerberus) with success. In February she went back to Trondheim Fjord.
Soviet Tallinn (ex-Lutzow) at Leningrad circa 1949, still unfinished.
In another raid she was torpedoed by HMS Trident, lost her stern and remained almost a year in repair at Kiel, only back into service in January 1943. Because of her troublesome turbines however she could not join Norway and spent the remainder of her service time in the Baltic, as an escort vessel and training ship. From October 1944 she assisted troops in East Prussia with her artillery, and later helped evacuating troops and civilians during the siege of Danzig in 1945. On October 15, by foggy weather, she collided with the KMS Leipzig, and was sent to Gdynia (Gotenhafen) for repairs. After a final evacuation, she went to Copenhagen on 20 April.
KMS Seydlitz being launched
KMS Prinz Eugen remained in Denmark due to lack of fuel. She was captured by the British on May 8, and after the war was attributed to the US Navy, renamed USS Prinz Eugen/IX300, and thoroughly examined by engineers. Her sonar was recovered and tested on a submersible, her magnetic amplifiers were reverse-engineered. She was eventually sent into the Pacific, through the Panama Canal. Stationed in the Bikini atoll for Operation Crossroads, she was badly irradiated by two nuclear explosions (tests Abel and Baker). In September 1946, he was towed and sunk in the Kwajalein atoll where she remains. Her bell is currently exposed in the Washington DC Museum, and her propeller was repatriated in 1978, and is currently exposed in Laboe, Germany.
Unfinished business: Seydlitz and Lützow
Both heavy cruisers were sister-ships of the Prinz Eugen, larger than the first Hipper. They were built at the Deutsche Schiff und Maschinenbau of Bremen, laid down in 29 December 1936 and 2 August 1937, launched in January and August 1939.
Seydlitz‘s construction was approximately 95 percent complete when halted. In March 1942 it was decided to convert her into an aircraft carrier. She was renamed Weser, and conversion work began in May 1942: All superstructures were erased (about 2400 tons), and a hangar was started, which could have housed ten Bf 109 fighters and ten Ju 87 dive-bombers. AA artillery was to comprise 10x 10.5 cm SK C/33 guns in dual mounts, 10x 3.7 cm SK C/30 guns also in dual mounts, plus 24x 2 cm Flak 38 guns in quad-mounts. Work was halted again in June 1943, she was towed to Königsberg and stayed there unfinished, only to be scuttled in January 1945. Briefly seized by the advancing Soviet Army she was later sold for scrap.
The Lützow was the object of intense negotiations between the 3rd Reich and the USSR from October 1939 to February 1940, that thought to acquire her. Concluded, the transfer took place in April, but then she lacked half her battery and most of ther superstructure was missing. renamed Petropavlovsk she was to be completed by a German-advised Soviet shipyard in Leningrad. After Operation Barbarossa began of course all was halted, and the ship took part in the defense of Leningrad, before being silenced by German heavy artillery. Sunk, then raised again in September 1942 she was repaired as Tallinn, and took part in the operations for taking back the city in 1944. After the war she served as floating barracks until broken up from 1953.
Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.
KMS Hipper specifications
205,90 x 21.30 x 7.90 m (207,70 m x 21,50 m x 7,20 m Prinz Eugen)
Nazi Germany (1936)
Light Cruisers: Leipzig, Nürnberg
The last light German cruisers
Started in 1927 on behalf of the Reichsmarine in Whilelmshaven, the Leipzig was an improved version of the previous “K” class, while keeping the essential, but also the flaws. The main part of its structure, especially the hull, was persevered, resulting in structural weaknesses and a “limiting” stability of the width of the hull. The chimneys were grouped together in a single structure, and the superstructure of the forecastle prolonged, the triple turrets rearranged in the axis, and the bow of “classical” again, for a longer length and an increased width.
The Nuremberg, on the other hand, was attacked for the Kriegsmarine, and the frontiers of the Treaty of Versailles were freed. It resulted in an increase in size, protection, and weight… Moreover its bridge superstructure was revised, more massive and better protected. His diesels were a new, more economical model. At the end of Nürnberg was the only really successful cruiser of this series of “Leichte Kreuzer”.
Before the conflict, the two ships participated in the naval blockade of arms to Spain (1936-39). At the time of the war, Leipzig was involved in mine clearance operations off the coast of England when it was torpedoed by British submarine HMS Salmon, along with its “twin”, the Nürnberg. The Leipzig returned to Germany and was converted into a training vessel, in particular two boilers were replaced to make chambers and its speed had fallen to 27 knots.
She returned to service on the occasion of Operation Barbarossa (June 1941), bombing Russian advanced bases in the Baltic. He then remained in the Baltic for training, and entered during an outing in foggy weather in collision with the Prinz Eugen. Repaired, but suffering from problems, he was less and less active. In 1945, he was serving as a dock ship and DCA support at Whilelmshaven. Then he operated off Gdynia to try to slow down the Russian lead. He eventually surrendered to the British. It was scuttled in the North Sea in 1946.
Cruiser Leipzig seen from the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal
The Nuremberg, on the other hand, also torpedoed by the Salmon when it was wetting its mines, missed the operations in Norway. However, he gained a fjord for operations launched against the convoys of the great north, and alternated these missions with those in the Baltic. He eventually surrendered to the allies in Copenhagen in 1945 and was attributed to the USSR as a war-warrant, renamed Admiral Makharov. He retired from service in 1959, the only surviving German cruiser.
Nürnberg surrendering to the allies in 1945
Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.
KMS Nürnberg specifications
177 x 16.30 x 5.65 m
6200 t/8380 t FL
2 screws, 2 Brown-Boveri turbines, 66,000 hp, 2 MAN diesels 12 400 hp
32/19 knots (xx km/h; xx mph) Radius 5700 Nautical Miles
9(3×3)x 152 mm, 6x 88 mm AA, 8x 37mm AA, 12(4×3) TT 533 mm, 120 mines, 2 planes
Belt: 30 mm (), Deck: 25 mm (), Turrets 30mm, Conning tower: 30 mm ()
Nazi Germany (1936)
Battleships: Scharnhorst, Gneisenau
Battleships, Battlecruisers, or what?
The two Scharnhorst class somewhat escape classifications. They were in essence a German answer to the French since the 1935 naval agreement with the British, the latter being even more likely than before, enemies. Ordered in February 1934 to Kiel, and named after the famous generals of the Napoleonic armies, taken from the famous cruiser-battleships of Admiral Von Spee who defeated Admiral Cradock’s squadron at Coronel in 1914 Not far from the Malvinas Islands), these two “twins” who practiced practically all the time together, presented themselves as improved derivatives of the previous Deutschland. They also had to respond to the two French “Dunkerque” recently begun.
KMS Schanhorst – Bundesarchiv
Carrying a faster artillery, better garnished (especially the DCA) and especially carried now three turrets, they were equally destined to carry out a race war. This artillery of 280 mm was superior to that of the vast majority of heavy cruisers, but insufficient in front of the 380 mm and 406 mm guns deployed by modern battleships, not to mention their protection, totally ineffective against heavy projectiles. Like the old battle-cruisers, their speed remained an excellent protection, now imperiled by the release of the first “super-dreadnoughts” in 1939-1940.
They had planned a variant equipped with 380 mm pieces, but this caliber was still experimental and was reserved for the Bismarck class. This scan, though smaller than the original standard for battleships (406 mm or 16 inches), had a range significantly greater than the British Admiralty’s 406 mm. When the German 280 mm, they were fast and outclassed in range and velocity the 203 mm of the cruisers. Some countries like the USA with their “Alaska”, briefly renewed with this kind of building. But the loss of the Hood and the disaffection for the surface classic fights to the prefect of the aeronautical threat would condemn them.
Scharnhorst’s 280mm turrets
In 1938-39, their right prow was covered in Atlantic type clipper, better suited to the northern Atlantic, and their length increased to 235 meters overall. The catapult of the rear turret on the Scharnhorts was dismantled, and its mast moved and rebuilt in tripod. Both ships received 20 mm AA artillery, the Scharnhorst two triple benches of 533 mm torpedo tubes (coming from Nurnberg) to meet the threat of the destroyers. In October 1939, the twins (“zwillig”) attack convoys in the North Atlantic.
The British auxiliary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi, courageously defending the convoy, faces the two ships, and with its 150 mm artillery, tries to keep them at a distance as the convoy moves away, and it is sunk. In 1940, in Norway, the Gneisenau fought only the HMS Renown, another battle cruiser (1917) whose artillery was superior, undergoing severe damage. In 1940 he was forced to return to Kiel because of the severe damage suffered by touching a magnetic mine.
Scharnhorst in Port
On June 8, 1940, off the northern Atlantic, the “twins” surprised a squadron bringing in British troops, and managed to sink the Glorious aircraft carrier, two destroyers and two escorts and damage other buildings. The Gneisenau will be torpedoed at the end of the month and thus again immobilized. From January to March 1942, they set out against the convoys (Operation Berlin) and sank 22 ships. Based in Brest, they are repeatedly attacked by the RAF.
In Brest, the two buildings were under constant threat from the RAF, unlike submersibles, well protected under heavy concrete bunkers. The Führer, who no longer believed in their use in the fight against the Atlantic convoys, ordered them to be transferred to Norway to fight Russian sea supplies (convoys from the far north), anchored in Fjords well protected by their geographical configuration. This was Operation Cerberus. Rising in a short time, it was the bold attempt to cross the sleeve to return to the North Sea. This meant passing a few coastlines of the English coast, under a flawless radar cover, the RAF, the Coastal Command and of course the Royal Navy still on the alert.
In spite of all expectations, on February 12, 1942, the two twins escorted by a heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and a squadron of a Me 109 fighter sail across the Calais, in broad daylight, to the nose and beard of the British. A series of misfortunes. Their only desperate attempt was the sending of swordfish torpedo biplanes, all of which were shot down. The success of the Kriegsmarine, however, was short-lived: destroyers attempted to torpedo the buildings, and heavy weather prevented them, the HMS Worcester being Even severely damaged by a fired shot of the two fleeing ships. The Gneisenau in view of the Strait of Skagerrak later leaped on a magnetic mine. He even had to stop completely for thirty minutes for repair, and went off to Heligoland for brief repairs before.
Finally at Kiel for further repairs, the RAF found the Gneisenau trace. A heavy bomber attack on the night of 26 February severely damaged it: A bomb penetrated the rear ammunition bunker, causing a huge explosion, missing to completely destroy the building and causing more than 112 victims. The repairs were postponed, and it was envisaged to replace the three triple turrets with 380 mm duplicates of the same model as the Bismarck, which would have greatly increased his chances of survival in a duel at sea (which was initially foreseen).
Gneisenau after her second bow refit in 1942
It was also planned to replace its prow, destroyed by the explosion, by a longer one, intended to compensate the weight of the new turret back. The original turrets were later transported to Norway, where they were used to defend the Tirpitz and Scharnhorst anchorage, which had returned to Norway in the meantime. In February 1943, after the latter’s loss at the Battle of the Barentz Sea, Hitler decided to stop work on his sister ship. The Gneisenau remained in Gotenhafen for the rest of the war, deprived of its artillery, and was scuttled in March 1945 in the entrance to the port.
In the North Sea, the Scharnhorst has a reclusive existence, made of too few exits against convoys, well protected by the Royal Navy, and sometimes even the US Navy. The hour of glory of the Scharnhorst will arrive with the battle of the North Cape (Sea of Barentz). On December 22, 1943, an important convoy (JW55) was reported with defenses plagued as weak by luftwaffe and submersibles. The Scharnhorst, without the Tirpitz under repair, was escorted by five destroyers and commanded by Rear Admiral Erich Bey. He was to face the three cruisers of Admiral Burnett’s 10th Squadron (Belfast, Sheffield, Norfolk).
Only the last one benefits from “heavy” pieces (203 mm), the other two have a reduced range with their 152 mm. Nevertheless, the Scharnhorst, counting on his speed, withdrew from the fight after a brief pass of arms. His first objective remaining the convoy, he resumed the road due north. The weather is big and visibility abysmal, and the building is wasting time trying to locate the convoy. Meanwhile, the 10th Squadron now joined by the destroyers of 36th Division, guided by the powerful Norfolk radar, finds the building and engages in combat. This time the pass of arms is more fierce, but Bey decides once again, without protection and fault to find the convoy, to withdraw further south, which sends him on the road of the HMS Duke of York, joined By the King Georges V.
This time it is 20 pieces of 356 mm opposed to the 6 of 280 mm of the Scharnhorst (the British “bar T”) classic tactical maneuver which gives them a whole flank to oppose to the front parts of the German ship. Even though this last maneuver to present its flank, the range and precision of the British firings partially blunder its direction of fire and destroy two front turrets. Thanks to his superior speed, Bey once again breaks the fight, but too late: One of the sides of the Duke of York enters the engine compartment, destroys the chimney and boilers. With his speed no longer allowing him to escape, Bey sends a last message announcing to Hitler his intention to “fight until the last shell”. The ensuing artillery duel is a real execution, the British pounding the building, which will receive nearly 2000 projectiles and will be completed by destroyers torpedoes, once silenced. 36 survivors will be recovered.
Scharnhorst firing against HMS Glorious
Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.
KMS Deutschland specifications
155.10 x14.30 x6.60 m
3 screws, 3 diesels 9-cyl MAN, 54 000 hp
28 knots (42 km/h; 20 mph)
6(2×3)x 280 mm, 8x 150 mm, 6(2×3)x 105 mm AA, 16(8×2)x 37mm AA, 6(2×3) TT 533 mm
Belt: 76 mm (), Deck: 38 mm (), Turrets 140mm, Conning tower: 152 mm ()
KMS Gneisenau in november 1943, in the “Norway” pattern.
Nazi Germany (1931)
Deutschland, Graf Spee, Scheer
Compromised ships for the Interim Navy
The three units of the Deustchland class (Deustchland, Admiral Scheer, Admiral Graf Spee), incorrectly called “panzerschiff”, from which allies despised their protection were not battleships but rather small battle cruisers.
Compromises indeed were made in the face of the limitations of the Treaty of Versailles: 10 000 tonnes (tonnage of a heavy cruiser). In order to remain within this limit while possibly having any military value as battleships, they were the first products of the tactical conceptions of Erich Raeder, a champion of commerce raiding warfare. Thus these ships were designed to attack trade and facing all kind of escorting vessels in two ways: Fight the weak (cruisers), with a superior fire power, range, and equal protection, or flee the strong (true battleships) thanks a cruiser’s speed, 30 knots instead of 20-25.
The Deutschland did not take yet into account a largely paper-borne generation of rapid battleships still blocked by Washington’s moratory. They would eventually make this class vulnerable. These interwar limitations were perfectly demonstrated during the events of the Graf Spee and the Battle of the Rio de la Plata in 1939, soon throwing a veil of suspicion over the concept of these ships and surface raiders as a whole in the eyes of Hitler.
KMS Admiral Scheer before the war
Designed to deliver a privateer’s war to merchant traffic, these vessels had large holds to receive the captured crews, and were to receive the assistance of a supply ship. For the Graf Spee, it was the famous Altmark. The Graf Spee commander, Hans Langsdorff, played at the start of the cat and mouse war with the French and British allied fleets, successfully attacking the trade (he sank 50,000 tons of ships) Southern hemisphere (see the story about it).
The Deustchland, for its part, sank 7,000 tons and the Scheer 137,223 tons. After the misfortune of the Graf Spee, Hitler ordered that the Deustchland be renamed in Lützow, for an obvious question of national prestige in case of similar fate… The Admiral Scheer and the Lützow participated in the attack of the convoys of the North Atlantic from their Norwegian fjords. They were eventually wiped out by the “Tall Boy” bombs of the RAF lancaster in 1945, and also came out of the Tirpitz.
Note: This is essentially a translation of a former work, this post will be completed later
KMS Graf Spee before the war
Rear triple 280mm turret of the Lützow
KMS Deutschland in 1939, with the early superstructure design
Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.
KMS Deutschland specifications
155.10 x14.30 x6.60 m
3 screws, 3 diesels 9-cyl MAN, 54 000 hp
28 knots (42 km/h; 20 mph)
6(2×3)x 280 mm, 8x 150 mm, 6(2×3)x 105 mm AA, 16(8×2)x 37mm AA, 6(2×3) TT 533 mm
Belt: 76 mm (), Deck: 38 mm (), Turrets 140mm, Conning tower: 152 mm ()
KMS Graf Spee in 1939, with its superstructures-only green camouflage
KMS Lützow en 1944 (former Deutschland) with the standard straight pattern, shades of gray and blue of the Northern Sea.
The Magdeburg class marked a new milestone in the design of German cruisers. Significantly larger than the Kolberg (5600 tons against 4900 PC), they focused also on a range of significant improvements (see later). These four ships (Magdeburg, Breslau, Strassburg, Stralsund) were completed in August-December 1912 and had a quite significant and active carrer.
They were the first to have a belt nickel current of 80% of the waterline, welded to the hull itself, as part of its structure. Hull prop up one using a technique of longitudinal frames, and hydrodynamic features had it been reworked extensively, as evidenced by the clipper bow. Abandoning the quarterdeck was the other a necessity to give these ships a capacity to lay mines.
These ships had different turbines, and admitted speeds between 27.5 and 28.2 knots. 1915-16, the Strassburg et Stralsund were rearmed with 7 parts of 150 mm 2 88 AA and two additional TLT on deck. Breslau ft rearmed with two pieces of 150 mm in 1916 and 8 in 1917.
Diagram of the Breslau.
The SMS Magdeburg was on a minelaying raid in the Baltic, August 26, 1914 when she ran aground on a reef of the island Odensholm and was then pounded into submission by a Russian cruiser. The latter made its crew prisoner and retrieved the secret code book of the Hochseeflotte which was transmitted to the British intelligence service. Breslau was the sailor of Goeben, the other half of Mediterranean squadron of Rear-Admiral Souchon. It took refuge in Constantinople, and was officially acquired by the Turkish navy, renamed later Midilli. It sank 20 January 1918 because of mines off Imbros. The SMS Strassburg survived the war and was transferred to the Italians, becoming the Taranto. The SMS Stralsund experienced a similar fate and was offered to France, renamed Mulhouse and paid off and sold for scrap in 1935 in Brest.
On 2 August 1914, the declaration of war was taking aback all the German units stationed outside the metropolis. The battlecruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau then formed the Mediterranean squadron, usually stationed in Port Said, controlling strategic roadways from the Red Sea to the Suez Canal. However the Goeben, freshly introduced into service since 1912 accumulated after trials a few teething problems with its boiler tubes. She could not reach 18 knots for safety reasons and had to be replaced in October 1914 by its sister ship Moltke upon return to Germany for further changes.
So far her role in peacetime was to escort the Kaiser when cruising on his yacht the Hohenzollern to his summer residence in Corfu. Just after the attack in Sarajevo, the Goeben was at Pola and Breslau in Durazzo (Austria-Hungary, south of Montenegro). Killing time, sailors of Breslau disputed a friendly party of water polo with fellow men of the battleship King Edward VII anchored right next to them.
SMS Goeben, rear view, colorized photo.
That’s when the fateful messages fell by wireless telegraph. Hostilities were imminent. Rear-Admiral Wilhelm Souchon was leaning over a large map of the Mediterranean. Several options were open to him, notwithstanding the orders that could come from Tirpitz.
There was one certainty indeed: If he remains in Pola, he would be locked up in the Adriatic and probably subject to the decisions of the Austro-Hungarian Admiralty, judged too timorous. He could try to rally the Hochseeflotte, but this required to run throughout western Mediterranean and especially pass Gibraltar where the Royal Navy in force was blocking the way, not to mention the French fleet, the bulk of which was within range from Toulon and the entire North African coast.
Souchon was to play all his thinking to go unnoticed, perhaps showing a Russian flag for example, or a false smokestack and canvas to disguise his silhouette. Moreover, once out on the Atlantic, he still had to join the motherland through either the Arctic Circle and bypassing Great Britain by the northwest, which also bring his ships “within range” of Scapa Flow. He could also attempt launch a raiding party across the Atlantic, even attempting to join Von Spee squadron in the south… By August 2, Germany was likely to be at war against France shortly, still not against England. It would therefore pragmatically decide initially to attack convoys of French North Africa. Thus he sailed after completing his preparations hastily and sailed to Algeria by midnight.
The Goeben at full speed
Leaving the Adriatic, the Goeben was joined by the Breslau. On 3 August, Souchon was traveling nearby Bonifacio, but changed course at 20 knots, to rampage the Algerian coast. French Admiral Augustin Boué Lapeyrière, French Commander of the Naval Forces in the Mediterranean, was aware of the departure of the Germans ships. He had only one obsession, protect his convoys. He was to sail from Toulon in three line towards Philippeville, Bone and Bougie. In total 89 ships carrying 49,000 men and 11,800 horses. At 18:45 a new message came down from the staff: The war was officially declared this time; But Lapeyrère was not informed. The English Admiral Milne knew, but there was no communication code between French and English fleets.
Still, Admiral Milne send his subordinate Troubridge in the Adriatic with two armoured cruisers while reaching himself Malta, hoisting his mark on the HMS Inflexible. He received at 12:45 a Churchill order to follow the two Germans ships. Meanwhile, they had forced the pace. Contrary to Admial Bouré de Lapeyrière fears, the German ships had neither the scope nor the speed to intercept the French, so all the convoys passed safely. But Souchon went also unnoticed. By August 3, at the evening 8:30 PM, Milne sent HMS Indefatigable and Indomitable in Gibraltar.
The night of August 4, at 5 am, Souchon was off Philippeville, passing through the berths. His gunners gave all their heart to the task and comprehensively pounded the harbor, one hour after the Breslau who had separated from the Goeben evening, and had won Bône to believe they moved westward. The Goeben received meantime an urgent message by wireless telegraphy from Berlin for more: “Alliance concluded with Turkey, Join Constantinople, stop.” Souchon therefore first sailed northwest to fool observers from the coast. He had passed through the French fleet, but the Royal Navy was now on full alert, and he had to re-cross the entire Mediterranean in the opposite direction! On his way he transmitted his orders to Breslau and then headed for Messina to complete its provision of coal. Breslau however side was heading directly east.
North of Goeben position at around 100 kilometers was sailing the first French squadron. Meanwhile the British battlecruisers were coming from the east at full speed, accompanied by the light cruiser HMS Dublin. The Goeben veered east at 6:30. At that time, the first French squadron commander believed on the basis of coastal observations that the German ship rallied Algiers and divided his forces into two wings, one heading west with the big battleships, while the other continued southeast with three armoured cruisers, Jules Michelet, Ernest Renan and Edgar Quinet.
French Armoured Cruiser Jules Michelet. It would need bad coordination between allies, official hostilities dates release, and Turkish alliance to avoid the Goeben be cornered and sunk.
At 8:00 am, the weather was execrable and reduced visibility, but French ships were just 40 nautic miles (74 km) from the Goeben. The latter spotted them, but it was not mutual. When the British battlecruisers saw in turn the German battlecruiser steaming full speed eastward they changed headings and started a hot chase. The Goeben now catch in the open was making hell of its machines to reach nominal 24.5 knots, gradually seeing the English ships approaching at 9000 meters, well within gun range, although UK was still not officially at war, but Milne was unable to contact his French counterpart to close the trap. Only HMS Dublin followed Goeben to Sicily, then veered course is 21:50. Both English battle cruisers already had abandoned pursuit since 7:05 p.m due to their lack of coil. Although UK was now officially at war since 21:00, the Dublin also started to run out of fuel and could anyway not face the battle cruiser, and breaks off. Breslau arrived at Messina before the Goeben.
Rear-Admiral Souchon was annoyed to see that since the cruiser arrived supplies operations still were not started. Kettner, Breslau Commander, then claimed that the Italians had categorically refused to tap into their reserves, claiming neutrality. Souchon then requisitioned by authority all Germans steamers present in the bay, asking their captains to give their stocks of coal, laboriously transported with barges, boats, man’s backs and arms strength. At dawn, the operation was still ongoing. All sailors were committed into the task.
Rare photo of the Yavuz (Ex-Goeben) in drydock
Few had slept for 48 hours. This transfer to feed the steel ogre took 36 hours in total, well above the regulatory 24-hour presence of belligerent ships in neutral ports, which raised official protests from the Italian ambassador in Berlin. Authorities of the port in the morning signaled the government’s presence in the port of the two Germans ships, but it was only 18 hours later on August 5, that the Italian Ambassador in London informed the naval British attaché.
Messina harbour, circa 1914.
At the dawn of August 6, the laborious refuelling/coiling had ended. While many sailors, exhausted, collapsed in corridors, Souchon, also tired, met Kettner and Doenitz (later Admiral of the Kriegsmarine but then a mere lieutenant in the Breslau) to decide the way forward. He suspected that the English, who remained quietly outside Italian territorial waters, waiting for them. The orders from Berlin were to reach Constantinople and avoid confrontation but Souchon could not see any way off. At 17 hours, the two ships lifted anchor and headed for the pier, and then steamed full speed.
The Goeben ad Breslau entering the Dardanelles
There were first tracked at reasonable distance (out of reach of the 280 mm guns of Goeben) by HMS Gloucester. She promply signalled: “Incoming!”. Again, Souchon had to speed up his pace. The Gloucester clung knowing that Admiral Troubridge came from the east with the HMS Defence, three other armoured cruisers and 8 destroyers, but he arrived too late to intercept the German ships. He finally understood that the final destination of Souchon was probably Turkey and veered north, starting the pursuit.
But it was Dublin that took the first hit. The Germans ships arrived off Malta rapidly. Two destroyers and HMS Gloucester closed in, the destroyers trying to launch their torpedoes, but were greeted with precise volleys and had to break off their approach. The Goucester, commanded by Capt. Kelly, then engaged the Breslau.
A 11,300 meters, at 12:35, she opened fire. Breslau had already requested Souchon if he could attack the English cruiser, but Souchon refused, preferring not to waste time. When the German cruiser took a 150 mm hit, she replied anyway, scoring two on Gloucester in reply. The latter was preparing his next salvo, but watchers saw the Goeben closed in with the Breslau, therefore having the British Cruiser within range. Kelly therefore decided to leave safely.
British Cruiser HMS Gloucester
Now nothing could stand in the way of the Mediterranean squadron. Both ships anchored August 7, in the bay of Denusa Island, at the entrance to the Dardanelles, under protection of Turkish Forts and waiting for instructions or authorization from Berlin. Both ships were still on high alert, waiting for a possible fight against the Royal Navy, but nothing came. August 10, Souchon was allowed to proceed at the entrance of the strait. A Turkish destroyer approached and the Goeben signalled in morse “I want a pilot.” The captain of the Turkish torpedo boat replied “follow me.” Both ships then crossed the nets, mines, under the reassuring shadow of the many forts and batteries posted along the high cliffs.
The Turkish navy back then had a rather poor navy, but they had fortified the Dardanelles in order to make the only access to Constantinople and the Black Sea unassailable. But the British did not gave up: The close ships, the cruiser HMS Weymouth, burst at the entrance to the Dardanelles, determined to follow the Germans ships. But the Turks, although still officially neutral, barred his way with several destroyers.
On the evening of 10 August, two German ships anchored safely in Constantinople. Berlin, to show its good will to the “Sublime Door”, donated the squadron to the Turkish government. The German pavilion was downed and changed for the crescent on purple, and Souchon, wearing the fez, was appointed by the Sultan “Commander of the Ottoman Navy”. It was the beginning of the “triple alliance”, and opening of a third front in the middle East.
Postcard of the Turkish Fleet in 1914
The Story of the Goeben and Breslau did not stop there however. Their rampage against the Russians will see them for the duration of the war raiding the coast and attacking convoys throughout the black sea. The Goeben will be eventually after the war renamed Yavuz Sultan Selim and stayed in service not only in the interwar, but also world war two and even until the late 1950s. It is a shame that such ships was not preserved, as it would be today the sole example of a German Battlecruiser, and even the sole ship of this type preserved anywhere. The Breslau was renamed Midilli.
Battlecruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim, Turkish flagship until the 1950s (here in 1945).