Hipper class cruisers

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
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.

Source:
Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.

KMS Hipper specifications

Dimensions 205,90 x 21.30 x 7.90 m (207,70 m x 21,50 m x 7,20 m Prinz Eugen)
Displacement 14 000/18 200t FL (17 000/19 000t Prinz Eugen)
Crew 1600
Propulsion 3 screws, 3 Blohm & Voss turbines, 12 Lamont boilers 132,000 hp
Speed 32,5 knots (xx km/h; xx mph) Radius ?? Nautical Miles
Armament 8(4×2)x 203 mm, 6×2 105 mm, 6×2 37mm AA, 12(4×3) TT 533 mm, 2 planes
Armor Belt: 85 mm (), Deck: 38 mm (), Turrets 162 mm, Conning tower: 152 mm ()


KMS Hipper


KMS Prinz Eugen


KMS Admiral Hipper recoignition plate