- Bismarck class
- Deutschland class Battleships (1931)
- German Commerce Raiders
- German Destroyers of WW2
- German mini-subs and human torpedoes
- Hipper class cruisers
- KMS Graf Zeppelin (1939)
- Königsberg class cruisers
- Leipzig class cruisers
- Manta (paper project)
- Scharnhorst class battleships
- Type II Class submarine
The world war two Kriegsmarine (“war navy”) inherited the Hochseeflotte (“High Seas Fleet”) of 1914. The appellation of the latter was intended to mark the difference with “Old Navy” created from the Bismarck era in 1871, a patchwork of made up vessels mustered from ancient kingdoms (Prussia, Schlewig-Holstein, the confederation of states of northern Germany and Bavaria and other southern states). In 1885, the Imperial German Navy was still third rate one, laying well behind the French and British fleets. But in 1895 it had increased considerably and the real breakthrough came in 1905 with a massive plan initiated and supported fervently by the new emperor William II (in fact it was his pet project), tailored to fight all major naval powers and to be an instrument for the constitution a German colonial empire.
The Hochseeflotte did well in the Great War, even isolated units or squadrons like Von Spee fought very effectively, excelling as Corsairs, but at home the Hochseeflotte stayed confined in the Baltic, skirmishing and delaying the general confrontation, despite the excellent morale of the crew, constant training and general quality of the ships. The Royal Navy indeed essentially “locked the way” to the Atlantic. In May 1916, eventually the long awaited great naval battle of the war came as a result of a bold plan: It was Jutland, in May 1916. Revendicated afterwards as a success by both parties (although indecisive), it is seen now by historians more as German victory when studying the losses inflicted on the opponent.
However on the strategic plan it was a disaster, and the German Navy found itself again in inaction, and moreover Germany was blockaded. Meanwhile, the German submarines were rapidly expanded both in numbers and range, and became essential to isolate the British Isles. But the “unrestricted submarine warfare” once decreed, nothing can stop the sinking of the Lusitania and the USA entering the war as a consequence (it was an element in a serie of events). The weight of the USA navy in the Atlantic will be enough then, with the measures taken by the British fleet to counter the U-boat perile, and campaigning against German trade allies. Then came the armistice, which saw according to the treaty of Versailles the transfer of the entire fleet, then strengthened new and even more formidable battleships (like the Baden class, the Hindenburg). The largely intact Hochseeflotte, humiliated, was forced to follow the Royal Navy in its enclosure in the far north, at Scapa Flow. There, crews undermined by communism and inaction eventually forced by their officers to scuttle the ships fearing a seizure by the Royal Navy. The Admiralty indeed saw with some apprehensions very dim red flags go up the masts, June 21, 1919.
KMS Bayern, sunk in 1919 in the Firth of Forth.
The Treaty of Versailles had caused a drastic disarmament of Germany, saw the overthrow of the Emperor and the establishment of the Weimar Republic, while what was left of the German Navy was deprived of most of his strength. Disorder and debt, corruption, and a sense of humiliation, undermined reconstruction efforts. The Allies had forbidden any submersible, but the Reichsmarine was allowed to retain and build some 12 destroyers and 12 torpedo-boats to bolster its coastal defense.
The “Vorläufige Reichsmarine” (Interim Navy)
The Vorläufige Reichsmarine had a disparate naval force composed of obsolete and generally small ships, commanded by Vice Admiral Von Trotha, pending new construction. Crews returned from Scotland were often acquired in the communist cause and constituted revolutionary paramilitary militias, a fact that did not help to establish discipline. The Erhardt Brigade among others, composed of sailors and even some junior officers participated in these troubled times, taking action in the many clashes and riots that bring down the government, and finally obtained to replace Von Trotha by the more “tolerant” counter Admiral Paul Benhke.
Under the command of Paul Benkhe,and despite apparent sympathies for the “reds”, a new generation of apolitical officers gradually took control of new crews and planned the introduction of news ships whose construction was launched in the late twenties. The coastal defense was bolstered, monitoring and protection of trade routes and fisheries, oceanography and hydrographic surveys even gave the navy more positive, less offensive aspects that suited to the circumstances and allies. In 1921, the interim navy was replaced by the Reichsmarine, in the wake of the overhaul of the Reichswehr (the Ministry of War). Soon the new Socialist government opposed any output beyond the narrow limits of the Treaty of Versailles. In case of war with France it was only envisioned a “privateer war.”
The tragic end of the Hochseeflotte, as seen with the battlecruiser Derfflinger sinking. With in the background the communist threat and possible seizure or offensive action by the Royal Navy, the second naval force in Europe is scuttled. Some recent battleships like the Bayern already foreshadowed the future Bismarck 1939. Others like the Hindenburg were so well armoured and designed that they pioneered the “fast battleship” type and raised curiosity years later, as being examined in detail by an official commission of engineers to the crown in 1927. Some mishaps dating back from the battle of Jutland where understand.
The Reichsmarine in 1929
Ships of the line:
Ships normally in reserve already by 1914: 8 “pre-dreadnought” type battleships, 5 of the Braunschweig class 3 of Deustchland class, dating from 1903 to 1906. Due to the effective restriction to 15,000 men, only six were maintained on active duty. The Preussen and Lothringen were placed in reserve, and later removed from the lists in 1929-1931 after being used as target, and later scrapped. The Braunschweig and Elsass were removed from the lists in 1931. The latter was used as radio-controlled target from 1936 to 1946. In 1935 the Hannover, Schliesen and Schleswig-Holstein were still active. The first was mothballed shortly after and remained inactive until 1944. The Schleswig-Holstein became a training ship from 1932 and served, as Schliesen, as a coastal defense ship. Both were modernized in 1936 and the Schleswig-Holstein famously fired the first shells of the Second World War, bombing the Polish arsenals of Westerplatte.
The old cruisers Gazelle (Bremen class-1900-1903) were the only ones still in service. Niobe was sold to Yugoslavia in 1925, and seven ships remained afterwards on the lists, all as training vessels. They were modernized and rearmed, but remained 3rd-rate ships. Only the recently built in Emden (launched 1925) formed the tipping point of this force. It was based on the last class cruisers class of the great war (1917-1918) and therefore constituted the flagship of the Navy armistice until better days.
Destroyers and torpedo boats
The Reichsmarine was authorize to retain 12 destroyers and 12 torpedo-boats as defined in the Treaty of Versailles. Thus, redundant ships were stored to be cannibalized and constitute parts reserves. The destroyers were old (1911-1913), with questionable offshore capabilities, which led to their reclassification as torped-boats later. The torpedo-boats were even older and remained in reserve. The destroyers of the 1910-1911 tranche were on active duty, only limited by the lack of crews and resources. Reichsmarine later received two squadrons of 12 brand new destroyers (class Möwe and Wolf 1926-1929) replacing the “destroyers” then promptly reclassified. The “Möwe” and “Wolf” in turn, were reclassified as torpedo boats when the first class of 1936 type destroyers entered service.
37 minesweepers (M-klasse) from the end of the war (1917-1919) were also in service, the others being scrapped or resold. There was no limitation at this level, the minesweepers being considered “passive” not offensive ships.
The submersible were clearly banned, forcing their supporters to do illegal search. From 1926, Germans engineers secretly devised ships for export abroad: For Sweden, Norway, the Soviet Union, Spain, Finland, Turkey. Valuable experience was gained, later put to good use from 1937.
In the late 30s, Reichsmarine was undermined by “Phoebus affair” (embezzlement and fictitious accounts) the name of the contractor who supplied the arsenals. Paul Benkhe, discredited, was replaced by a young, dynamic and authoritative officer, Erich Raeder. His second in command, Von Trotha, was the author of a book on the operations of the German surface privateers during the last war and wanted to improve the new Reichsmarine. An ambitious program still respectful of the Versailles treaty was launched.
The first concept to emerge from Von Trotha’s mind was the “Panzerschiff”, the famous “pocket battleship” Deustchland class. The Reichstag did approved two ships in 1932 and 1933. In fact these ships were even below the 10,000 tonnes allowed while having a firepower worthy of a battleship (with 2×3 280 mm pieces). However coming after the rearmament plan of 1930 to 1936, one more secret targeting 1936-1943, far more more ambitious, was established. Its specific researches need expatriation of some of the best naval engineers abroad, in Sweden and the Netherlands, with a generous budget and screen companies in these countries.
The Geneva disarmament treaty (1932) was Germany’s last gesture of goodwill, as the following year Adolf Hitler’s NSDAP won the elections. Hitler had never hidden his desire to break free of the hated Treaty of Versailles, and was in that actively supported by almost all the officers of the regular army, but in the meantime the moderately progressive plan Raeder was maintained, not to cause reaction from the allies. In 1935, an Anglo-German Naval Agreement came as an unexpected appeasement gesture, authorizing the Third Reich to have a comfortable equivalent of 35% of the tonnage of the Royal Navy. The agreement however was to be repudiated in 1939 to make way to the new secret naval construction plan, covering the 1940 to 1946 tranches. However both the composition and realism imposed by the deadlines had this future, very ambitious kriegsmarine set aside in favor of more practical raider’s naval stategy. Indeed, both Scharnhorst class battlecruisers were already clever intermediate between battle cruisers and battleships, trading protection for speed with one more turret than the previous Deutschland, whereas the Bismarck and her sister ships, were to be the first true German fast battleships to be launched (1940 and 1941), way ahead in tonnage and capabilities compared to any ship in the Royal Navy.
Kriegsmarine in 1939
The two old pre-dreadnoughts being relegated to inferior roles, the first entries of Raeder’s plan included ships to conduct a privateer war, until 1944-1946 when Germany could carry on enough of the new battleships to be in par with the Royal Navy for major naval engagements. In 1929, three “Panzerschiff” of the Deustchland class would form the backbone of the Reichsmarine. The head of class was commissioned in 1933, and the Admiral Scheer and Graf Spee, in 1934 and 1936 respectively. These are fast ships (as cruisers and battlecruisers) with a very potent artillery: Just like battlecruisers they have to deal with convoy protecting cruisers and evade battleships. As a result they are only protected against cruisers shells (152 to 203 mm).
The second generation (after Hitler came to power) are classified as battlecruisers to the criteria of the time. These are still very fast units and even better armed (9 main guns) but still poorly protected, although one step above that the three “Panzerschiffs”. The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were possible thanks to the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935 (which authorized a tonnage above 10,000 tonnes) entering service in 1938 and 1939. However after this, The Bismarck class will exceed any treaty.
The third and latest generation of German battleships bypasses the Treaty of Washington, of Versailles and even the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935. The Bismarck class was designed to outperform any warship afloat. Their “official” tonnage remained within the limits of the Washington Treaty (35,000 tonnes) but the actual unofficial tonnage was over 50,000. Although initially designed to be used for an extended privateer war, they had to deal with all their opponents, and represented the vanguard of even more massive ships for the “new fleet” dear to Hitler. Their main artillery (4×2 380mm) although lower than the international maximum authorized caliber (406 mm) actually masked a formidable range and fire control precision. Demonstration was obvious with the first engagement of the Bismarck in 1941. Bismarck was commissioned in 1940 and her sister ship Tirpitz in 1941.
The “Z plan” Prepared by Raeder and approved by Hitler (who knew little about sea warfare) gave the Kriegsmarine in 1946, the equivalent tonnage of the Royal Navy, with no less than 13 battleships of the Bismarck class (and superior), 4 aircaft carriers (the first was the “Graf Zeppelin”), 15 “Panzerschiff” for the trade war, 23 heavy cruisers, and 23 light cruisers of the “Spähkreuzer” type (actually “super-destroyers”). With destroyers, submarines, and minesweepers/minelayers, tankers, supply and training ships, it had a total of 800 warships that would have mobilized 200,000 men with a pharaonic budget of 33 billion Reichsmarks.
The Z plan six battleships Class H (62 000 tonnes full loaded) had 8 pieces of 406 mm. Expected for commission in 1943 and initiated in July-August 1939. To support and replace the Scharnhorst class three new battle cruisers of the P class were to be armed this time with three turrets, for 6 x380 mm cannons. None of these ships was completed, has hostilities saw diverting material and labor from arsenals like Kiel on other priorities. Ultimately these projects were mere appetizers compared to the 1946-50 slice plan, much “Wagnerian” in scope with truly Giant battleships of 80,000 tons, armed with 457 mm caliber cannons, ready to take on the US fleet if need be.
Besides the light cruiser Emden, the German Navy in 1933 was a small naval force limited a handful of obsolete ships too light to enter this category. Assigned to subordinate roles like training, minelayers, or depot ships for spare spare parts, these ships had to be replaced. Raeder’s plan foresaw radically new designs and thus were launched the three Köln 1927-28, then Leipzig in 1929 and eventually the Nürnberg in 1934. All shared a three triple turrets configuration, of which only one was forward. An additional class of 6 Class M ships was scheduled for 1941-42, none of which was ever launched.
Heavy cruisers were initially to be limited by Washington treaty 10 000 tonnes/8 x203 mm standard, but once Hitler came to power, these prove to be well above said tonnage: The first Hipper class (Hipper and Blücher) were 18,200 tonnes fully loaded, well beyond that limit, while the third, the Seydlitz class was 19,000 tonnes, almost double. Only the Prinz Eugen from this class was completed, whereas the Lützow and Seydlitz remained unfinished for the duration of the war. The three cruisers almost never had the opportunity to confront their counterparts. In terms of protection and firepower, they outclass every cruiser of the time. Their large size was tailored for a prolongated raider’s war, with considerable autonomy.
Destroyers and torpedo boats
Reichsmarine was left with 12 destroyers and 12 torpedo-boats, reclassified to the lower rank when new ships were commissionned. The former destroyers became torpedo-boats while the latter were simply scrapped. The first 1935 plan slice saw 12 new torpedo-boats launched in 1938-1939,
with “flush-deck” hulls, bigger crew and much larger tonnage. The following series were derived in, torpedo construction ended at the beginning of the war. The new naval rearmament plan included however “real” destroyers, inspired by the D106 class of 1918. The first plan slice of 1934 was followed by five others. The plan ended in 1944. All ships were prefixed “Z” for “Zestorer” (destroyer), followed by a number and often the name of a politician or officer. The Z1 Leberecht Maas (launched 1935) was followed by three sister ships that served as prototypes for all others series to come. The 1934A class comprised twelve units, 1936 class, six units, and 1936A six more, others being scheduled for 1939-1946. All had a powerful armament, range, speed, and a robustness well suited to the North Sea.
A very important chapter in the new German navy rearmament was almost hidden from view fro years.
Already U-boats were one of the export strengths of the German Navy in 1936, under cover of foreign firms and thanks to foreign orders, testing and research on submersible successfully evaded allies scrutiny. From the Anglo-German Agreement of 1935, it was clear now that coastal submersibles like the series II were to be now tolerated. But ocean-capable vessels were nonetheless quickly produced. The firs were inspired by 1918-19 generation ones, as basically their configuration remains the same: Mostly cruising at the surface with diesel, diving and then navigate for some time at low speed on electric batteries in case of attack or to evade a surface threat. Admiral Raeder had considered these for the use en masse for a privateer war very similar to that used in 1917, which had given excellent results. A former submarine officer, Karl Doenitz, which had his own personal tactical visions for their use (He was a sort of “Guderian of subs”) entered Raeder’s staff, and later given the failure of the surface fleet, replaced Raeder, even becoming the ultimate leader of the Third Reich.
U-Boat development (1922-1939)
Japan was the first country to benefit from the expertise of German engineers working under the cover of a foreign company. In 1922 the Hague bureau (Netherlands), under the command of officers Blum and Techel, received the mission to design new models, development of the types UBIII and coastal UCIII for export. In 1926 Turkey and Finland in 1930 and later Spain purchased officially these innovative “Dutch” subs. Finland subsequently commanded two improved models of type IIA precursors. By 1933 while the Treaty of Versailles was contested no formal program of submersible has existed, not to cause a provocation. Besides the two units oceanic types Type IA advertised as prototypes and the series of coastal IIA and IIB, the famous type VII went out shortly after 1936 (with the Anglo-German Naval Treaty) announcing the grand standard, mature oceanic submersible of the war. When the Third Reich attacked Poland, total of submersibles in service were 72 units: The U25 and U26 (IA Series), six coastal IIA series nineteen IIB series (1936), seven Type IIC (1938), fifteen Type IID (1940), but also eleven ocean-type VIIA, and some VIIB series plus seven great oceanic IXA class (1938), so a total of 47 coastal submersibles and 25 oceanic. Ocean submersibles conventional means of type VII that will become legendary performing regular 30-day cruises in the Atlantic in packs, while the immense type IX would extend the raids on the seven seas.