Deutschland class battleships

Deutschland class battleships

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Deutschland class battleships

The Deutschland class battleships were the last pre-Dreadnought type battleships to be built in Germany. They were very similar to the previous Braunschweig (Brunswick) class, with the addition of two extra 88mm guns, and slightly thicker belt armour.

Although the first members of the class were launched in 1904, two years before the Dreadnought, they were criticized even then for their mixed gun armament. By the time the last of the class was completed, in 1908, they were effectively obsolete. Of course the same was true of the British Lord Nelson class, but only two of them were built, compared to the five Deutschlands. Tirpitz’s decision to build these ships was probably inspired by an unwillingness to fund the widening of the Kiel canal – the first German dreadnoughts would be 15 feet wider than the Deutschland class. After the construction of the Deutschland class there was a gap of three years before the appearance of the next class of battleships.

The five Deutschland class ships served together in the 2nd Battle Squadron of the High Seas Fleet (with the Braunschweig class ship Hessen). They were the only pre-dreadnought battleships to be present at the battle of Jutland, where Pommern was the only battleship to be sunk on either side.

At the end of 1916 they were withdrawn from the front line, and on 15 August 1917 were retired from active service. Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein both survived into the Second World War. Schleswig-Holstein fired the first shots of the war, before being bombed in 1944. Schlesien was a cadet training ship for most of the war but was forced into service in the last desperate days of 1945.



Top Speed


Armour – belt



418ft 8in


Four 280mm (11in)
Fourteen 170mm (6.7in)
Twenty 88mm (3.4in)
Four machine guns
Six 450mm (17.7in) torpedo tubes

Crew complement






Ships in class

SMS Deutschland
SMS Hannover
SMS Pommern
SMS Schlesien
SMS Schleswig-Holstein

Books on the First World War |Subject Index: First World War

SMS Deutschland (1904)

SMS Deutschland (His Majesty's Ship Germany) [a] was the first of five Deutschland-class pre-dreadnought battleships built for the German Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial Navy). The ship was armed with a main battery of four 28 cm (11 in) guns in two twin turrets. She was built at the Germaniawerft shipyard in Kiel, where she was laid down in June 1903 and launched in November 1904. She was commissioned on 3 August 1906, a few months ahead of HMS Dreadnought. The latter, armed with ten large-caliber guns, was the first of a revolutionary new standard of "all-big-gun" battleships that rendered Deutschland and the rest of her class obsolete.

    : 13,191 t (12,983 long tons) : 14,218 t (13,993 long tons)
  • 15,781 ihp (11,768 kW)
  • 12 × Scotch marine boilers
  • 35 officers
  • 708 enlisted men
  • 4 × 28 cm (11 in) SK L/40 guns
  • 14 × 17 cm (6.7 in) SK L/40 guns
  • 22 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/45 naval guns
  • 6 × 45 cm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes
    : 140 to 225 mm (5.5 to 8.9 in) : 280 mm (11 in) : 40 mm (1.6 in)

Deutschland served as the flagship of the High Seas Fleet until 1913, when she was transferred to II Battle Squadron. With the outbreak of World War I in July 1914, she and her sister ships were tasked with defending the mouth of the Elbe and the German Bight from possible British incursions. Deutschland and the other ships of II Battle Squadron participated in most of the large-scale fleet operations in the first two years of the war, culminating in the Battle of Jutland on 31 May – 1 June 1916. Late on the first day of the battle, Deutschland and the other pre-dreadnoughts briefly engaged several British battlecruisers before retreating.

After the battle, in which pre-dreadnoughts proved too vulnerable against more modern battleships, Deutschland and her three surviving sisters were assigned to coastal defense duties. By 1917, they had been withdrawn from combat service completely, disarmed, and tasked with auxiliary roles. Deutschland was used as a barracks ship in Wilhelmshaven until the end of the war. She was struck from the naval register on 25 January 1920, sold to ship breakers that year, and broken up for scrap by 1922.

The First Online Warship Museum

What it is about ?

Naval Encyclopedia is the first online warship museum. Dedicated to the history of all ships of the industrial era, roughly since 1820 to this day. Although the main scope is about the XXth century through four main eras (WW1 and second world war, cold war and modern-day fleets), the website also covers (and will cover) civilian liners, first steamers, ships from the age of sail from the ancient ships of classical antiquity to medieval ships and renaissance vessels up to the enlightenment era ships which ambition also to cover most main types of ships of the time and famous examples.

Naval History is indeed quite old and warships has been a constant evolution, just as tactics which adapted to existing sources of power. The wind and human power (rows) and from the XIXth century, steam power and the rule of fossil fuels, up to the dominance of nuclear energy for the most valuable assets. There has been path of divergence and convergence also between civilian ships and their navy counterparts, like the famous Galleons of the XVI-XVIIth century that blended the role of cargo and warship. This survived well into the twentieth on civilian ships, first as a precaution (like fake ports) then as a tradition on mixed and tall ships.

Nowadays the most complex hand-built moving crafts ever designed by mankind, arguably, are nuclear submarines. Specialization and optimization helped global trade in the last XXth century, and especially the XXIth one frequently called “globalized”, based on the consumer society. The challenges world’s fleets are facing are huge, traducing like always the shifting weight of nations in geopolitics. The rise of the Chinese Navy is a perfect example of this.

A bit of history:

Naval Encyclopedia was born in 2010, by the same creator as tanks encyclopedia. For long, it has been a dependency of, dedicated to the age of sail, as its industrial era expansion. Now traduced in English, with navistory’s contents ported too, it is mirroring tanks encyclopedia for everything related to warships…

But not only. Civilian ships has always been an interesting part of naval history, almost as exciting when thinking of huge container ships, race boats, clippers or the romance of blue ribbon luxury liners. Tanks and aviation emerged in 1915, whereas warships were already there in the Bronze age, empires makers, and are still to this day the largest, costliest, mightiest, and sometimes most complex vehicles ever designed.


The Deutschland-class varied slightly in dimensions, although all reached 181.70 meters (596.1 ft) long at the waterline and 186 m (610 ft 3 in) overall. Deutschland and Admiral Scheer had limited “clipper” bows installed in 1940–1941 so to reach 187.90 m (616 ft 6 in). The beam varied from 20.69 m (67 ft 11 in) on Deutschland to 21.34 m (70 ft 0 in) (Scheer) and the “fattest”, 21.65 m (71 ft 0 in) Graf Spee. Deutschland and Scheer draft in standard was 5.78 m (19 ft 0 in), 7.25 m (23 ft 9 in) FL while Admiral Graf Spee was slightly deeper at 5.80 m and 7.34 m FL. Displacement also diverged, and in addition, increased over time, from 10,600 long tons (10,800 t) on the lead ship to 11,550 long tons on Scheer and 12,340 long tons on Graf Spee, no less than two thousand tonnes more, mostly explained by their beam. Fully loaded it was 14,290, 13,660, 16,020 long tons. Indeed from 1933 Hitler took little care of sparing the allies and allowed to blatantly ignore Versailles limitations for the next two ships. This was confirmed anyway after the London treaty of 1935. Officially, still, as published in international specialized publications, all where stated to be 10,000 long tons standard.

Their hulls were constructed with transverse steel frames and like light cruisers, 90% were assembled by using welding, saving 15% weight. This allowed both more for armament and armor. As designbed their normal peacetime crew comprised 33 officers and 586 ratings. From 1935 it was increased to 30 officers and 921 to 1,040 sailors and as squadron flagship, 17 more officers and 85 sailors went on board. These ships carried boats installed between the main bridge and funnel, two picket boats, two barges, one launch, one pinnace, and two dinghies.

Sketch of “Panzerschiff A” – src Pocket Battleships of the Deustchland class, Koop & Schmolke – Seaforth Publishing > scribd

Main features

Close view of the Graf Spee’s bridge. The last two of the class had this particular bridge instead of the simpler structure of Deustchland, dictated by weight savings


Sun Tse allegedly said “be like the water, fight the weak, flee the strong”. The Deutschland class was very much inspired by this concept. It needed to be more powerful than any cruiser, yet fast enough to distance any battleship. That was also the essence of battlecruisers. This made them perfect commerce raiders, as it was rare to protect convoys with battleships. And as commerce raiders, the most important was not speed, but range. It was the main reason of their adoption of diesel engines. They were more frugal than steam turbines.

Their machinery spaces housed four sets of 9-cylinder, double-acting, two-stroke diesel from MAN. This choice was a radical innovation, contributing as well as welding to save weight. Each set was connected to a transmission built by AG Vulcan. Two diesels were paired on two propeller shafts. At the end of these, three-bladed propellers 4.40 m (14 ft 5 in) in diameter. Initially 3.70 m (12 ft 2 in) propellers were intended, but replaced soon before lauch. Total output for all diesels was 54,000 metric horsepower (53,261.3 shp 39,716.9 kW). This resulting in a top speed of 26 knots (48 km/h 30 mph) on paper. It was less than cruisers of the time, capable of 30 knots, the main tradeoff of diesel engines. Output figures on trials happened to be weaker than expected, but they exceeded nevertheless their design speeds. Total output achieved was 48,390 PS (47,730 shp 35,590 kW) for the lead ship, 52,050 PS/28.3 knots for Scheer, and 29.5 knots as recorded for Graf Spee.

Chancellor Adolf Hitler onboard “Deutschland”, on the roof of the officer’s mess, taking part in exercises with Erich Raeder nearby, April 1934.

Various details of the ships

Autonomy was permitted thanks to 2,750 t (2,710 long tons) of fuel oil carried, enabling a top range of 17,400 nautical miles (32,200 km 20,000 mi) at 13 knots. At 20 knots (37 km/h 23 mph), it fell to 10,000 nmi. Admiral Scheer carried less fuel, at 2,410 t for range of 9,100 nmi at 20 kn. Graf Spee carried not much at 2,500 t for even less, 8,900 nmi. Electric output came from four Siemens electric generators rated at 220 volts, powered by diesels. Total output was 2,160 kW (Deutschland), 2,800 kW (Admiral Scheer), 3,360 kW (Admiral Graf Spee).
On trials, they revealed themselves as good sea boats, with just a slight roll caused by their slender hull. They were wet in rough sea however, especially the low stern, although mitigated by the adjunction of a clipper bow in 1940–1941. They were very agile despite having a single, but large rectangular rudder, helped by the diesel engines, as half could be reversed, ensuring very tight turns. They heeled over up only to 13 degrees in a hard over turn, not affecting much their aiming.


Main armament:

Rear triple 280mm turret of the Lützow

Certainly the trump card of the design: They carried as much firepower as three pre-dreadnoughts, by having no less than six 28 cm guns. To reach this level, this main battery of of SK C/28 guns was mounted into just two turrets but triple mounts (with independent elevation). They were mounted for and aft, and to make room for the large barbette yet keeping slender hull lines, the latter was sloped downwards. These turrets of the Drh LC/28 type allowed an elevation of 40°, and a depression to −8°, providing a top range of 36,475 m (39,890 yd). For comparison, the County class cruisers’s own 8-in guns -their probable adversaries- were limited to 28 km. So they were completely out-ranged. This was even better than the Queen Elisabeth’s own BL 15 in guns, at 33,550 yards (30,680 m), and only for the Mk XVIIB/Mk XXII streamlined shell. These figures improved even for the next Scharnhorst class. These guns fired a 300 kg (660 lb) AP shell at 910 meters per second (3,000 ft/s) and 630 rounds were stored in peacetime, later raised to 720 shells during WW2.

Secondary armament:

There was a battery of eight 15 cm SK C/28 guns: They were fitted in single MPLC/28 mounts due to the lack of space for twin turrets, and arranged amidships along the superstructure. Elevation was 35°, depression −10°, range 25,700 m (28,100 yd) and a total of 800 rounds of ammunition were carried in peacetime, yet again raised during the war to 1,200 rounds. These were HE shell weighing 45.3 kg (100 lb), existing the barrel at 875 m/s (2,870 ft/s).

Tertiary armament:

The anti-aircraft battery originally comprised three 8.8 cm SK L/45 AA guns in single mounts, the classic solution retained by all previous German ships. Obsolete, thet were replaced in 1935 by six 8.8 cm SK C/31 guns, this time in twin mounts.
Graf Spee and Deutschland were rearmed in 1938 and 1940 with six 10.5 cm L/65 guns in twin mounts, one amidship on platforms at roof superstructure level, one aft on the centerline on the quarterdeck roof, and four 3.7 cm SK C/30 guns, completed by ten single 2 cm Flak guns. On Deutschland the latter were augmented to 28 during the war, whereas Admiral Scheer was only rearmed by 1945, with six single 4 cm (1.6 in) guns and eight 3.7 cm guns (four twin) plus thirty-three 2 cm FLAK guns.
As an argument also to destroy some of their targets, all three vessels were provided two quadruple 53.3 cm (21.0 in) torpedo tubes banks, placed at the stern. In heavy weather, their use was downright dangerous, as they could impact after launch a wave and detonate prematurely.

Armour Protection

The weaker part of the design, constrained by the treaty. Fortunately the choice of diesels and welding reduced their toll on the displacement, allowing to increase protection figures. Here are the detailed figures of the design, nearly identical for all three ships*:
-Main armored belt, sloped: 80 mm (3.1 in) amidships, tapered down to 60 mm (2.4 in) beyond the citadel.
-The bow and stern: unarmored.
-Longitudinal splinter bulkhead: 20 mm (0.79 in).
-Upper deck: 17-18 mm (0.6-0.7 in)
-Forward conning tower: 150 mm (5.9 in) walls, 50 mm (2.0 in) roof,
-Aft conning tower: 50 mm walls, 20 mm (0.79 in) roof.
-Main battery turrets: 140 mm (5.5 in) faces, 85 mm (3.3 in) sides, 85-105 mm (3.3 to 4.1 in) roofs
-Barbettes: 100 mm walls over the deck
-15 cm guns shields: 10 mm (0.39 in) gun shields.
-Torpedo bulkheads: 40-45 mm (1.8 in).

*The upper edge of the belt on the first two ships was at the level of the armored deck but on Graf Spee it was one deck higher. Also the lead ship had 45 mm bulkheads but 40 mm on Admiral Scheer and Graf Spee. They also had and armoured deck reduced to 17 mm (0.67 in) in thickness, intermediate decks ranging from 17 to 45 mm. On the first two its did not extend over the entire width but it was the case on Admiral Graf Spee. Torpedo bulkheads also for the first two stopped at the double-bottom but for Admiral Graf Spee, it extended to the outer hull.

Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee had some improvements in armor thickness. Deutschland’s barbettes of 100 mm were of 125 mm for her sisters. Admiral Graf Spee had a 100 mm belt and its main armored deck was reinforced by strays of 70 mm in some place. So she was arguably the one with the best armour characteristics, able to mitigate or stop 8-in rounds.
On all three ships, the hull was divided into twelve watertight compartments and below their double bottom extended on 92% of the hull’s total lenght.

Evolution of the Deutschland, to Lützow (the blueprints)

Evolution of the Admiral Scheer (the BP)

Construction and fate

RMS Deutschland was laid down at the Deutsche Werke shipyard, Kiel in February 1929 and her contract name was “Panzerschiff A”, nominally replacing the old Preussen and in the yard, known as construction number 219. Launched on 19 May 1931, she was christened by German Chancellor Heinrich Brüning but accidentally started sliding down during his speech. Sea trials started in November 1932 and she was commission on 1 April 1933. Despite of this, political opposition grew to such a point the Admiral Scheer narrowly escaped cancellation The Social Democrats indeed abstained from voting, leaving the communists alone. “Panzerschiff B” was nevertheless delayed until 1931 despite the yard was available at Wilhelmshaven. Scheer replaced Lothringen, and she was laid on 25 June 1931 (construction number 123), launched on 1 April 1933, christened by Marianne Besserer (daughter of Admiral Scheer), completed on 12 November 1934, and commissioned the same day.
Lastly, the third sister ship was authorized this time without much fuss, but from the same yard, waiting the basing to be free. She was known under the contract name “Panzerschiff C”, replacing Braunschweig. Laid on 1 October 1932, under construction number 125, launched on 30 June 1934, she was christened by the daughter of Maximilian von Spee, and completed on 6 January 1936, commissioned the same day.

By late January 1943, commerce raiding had proved a failure and Hitler wanted the two remaining ships to be scrapped. The admiralty preferred to have them converted as light fleet aircraft carriers instead. Admiral Raeder ordered plans to be prepared. For this, their the hulls were to be lengthened by 20 meters (66 ft) and many more modifications made, using 2,000 tons of steel while it was estimated a two years work. They would have shared many characteristics with the KMS Seydlitz, also converted from 1942, but the overall cost and duration of this project meant it was dropped and both ships spent the rest of their career idle in port.

KMS Graf Spee at the May 1937 Spithead coronation review

Deutschland class battleships - History

The Deutschland Class "Pocket Battleships"

RM Admiral Graf Spee in 1936. Photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, London.

The Deutschland (later renamed Lutzow ) and her sisters Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee are an interesting class of ships. These "pocket battleships" (or, more accurately, "pocket battlecruisers") were essentially armored cruisers optimized for raiding on the high seas in the years before the proliferation of ship and airborne radar, long range maritime patrol bombers and escort aircraft carriers.

The romance of a lone raider on the high seas in wartime has always fascinated me, and many others. A truly great adventure, although dangerous in the extreme. ("Suicide by battleship," as one associate put it.)

The Deutschlands were a direct result of the Versailles Treaty prohibition against German capital ships larger than 10,000 tons. The intention was to limit Germany to coastal defense ships along the lines of the Swedish Sverige class, which would be limited to Baltic Sea and coastal North Sea operations. However, many senior officers in the new German Navy, who had served in the Kaiser's High Seas Fleet, wanted blue water ships.

The design of Germany's first post-WWI capital ships was actively and bitterly debated within the Kriegsmarine. Some wanted a relatively slow, "balanced" coast defense battleship with 12 inch guns and appropriate armor protection. Some favored what would later be termed a heavy cruiser type with 8.26 inch guns. Others favored a blend of fast capital ship and commerce raider characteristics, which of necessity would be lightly armored to keep the displacement somewhere near 10,000 tons. The latter type was ultimately accepted and became the Deutschland class.

The decision in favor of an 11 inch (28cm) main battery was mostly a political compromise. A big gun was considered politically necessary and 11 inches was the largest gun it was felt would not upset the Allies. A minimum of six main battery guns was desired, so the big guns were disposed in two triple turrets, one forward and one aft. This layout was adopted to save weight, although it was understood that three twin turrets would have been a more versatile arrangement.

In another attempt to avoid antagonizing the Allies, the new capital ships were not rated as battlecruisers, although with their big guns, light armor and high speed (for the time), they could have been considered as such. Instead, they were simply called Armored Ships (Panzerschiff). The Allied press coined the moniker "pocket battleship," which stuck.

The formula adopted was six 11 inch guns in two triple turrets on a cruiser size hull with cruiser level protection and diesel propulsion for extended range. Long range was critical, as Germany had no overseas bases.

The desired top speed was to be faster than contemporary battleships, all of which had a heavier armament, to allow the new ship to evade an unequal combat. It was felt that her 11 inch guns would allow her to out shoot the enemy cruisers that were fast enough to catch her. (The idea of a warship that could out run stronger types and out shoot faster types was certainly not new.)

Overall, it was a very clever design and state of the art at the time. They were the first of the third generation capital ships, the first to have electrically welded hulls to save weight and the first capital ships with diesel main machinery. Even so, the class wound up roughly 20% overweight.

The only ships in service at the time the Deutschland was commissioned that could both run her down and out-gun her were three, much larger, British battlecruisers. However, nothing could be done about that on 10,000 tons. Up to eight panzerschiff were planned, but rapid changes in both the national and international political climate resulted in only three being completed.

The first of the class, Deutschland , was authorized in 1928, laid down in 1929 and commissioned in 1933. Scheer was laid down in 1931 and commissioned in 1934. Graf Spee was laid down in 1932 and commissioned in 1936. Each ship grew a bit and differed in certain details, including the forward superstructure and fighting top. Recognition of the individual ships was therefore possible.

RM Admiral Scheer characteristics. US Dept. of Naval Intelligence data sheet.

Specifications as Commissioned (from German Capitol Ships of World War II by M.J. Whitley)

  • Standard Displacement: 11,700 tons (Deutschland, Scheer) 12,100 tons (Graf Spee)
  • Full Load: 15,200 tons (Deutschland) 15,900 tons (Scheer 16,200 tons (Graf Spee)
  • Length Overall: 186.0m
  • Beam: 20.7m (Deutschland) 21.4m (Scheer) 21.7m (Graf Spee)
  • Full Load Draught: 7.25m (Deutschland, Scheer) 7.43m (Graf Spee)
  • Main Machinery: 8 MAN two-stroke diesels, 4/shaft 41,500-44,200 HP
  • Service Speed: 26 kts. (Deutschland) 27 kts. (Scheer, Graf Spee)
  • Max Trials Speed: 28.5 kts. (Graf Spee)
  • Range: 18,650nm at 15 kts. (Deutschland) 17,460nm at 15 kts. (Scheer, Graf Spee)
  • Main Battery: 6-28cm (2x3)
  • Secondary Battery: 8-15cm (8x1)
  • DP Battery: 6-88mm (3x2) Deutschland, Scheer 6-105mm (3x2) Graf Spee
  • AA Battery: 8-37mm (4x2), 10-20mm MG (10x1)
  • Torpedo Tubes: 8-53.3cm (2x4)
  • Armor, Belt: 80mm (Deutschland, Scheer) 100mm (Graf Spee)
  • Armor, Deck: 45mm (Deutschland, Graf Spee) 40mm (Scheer)
  • Armor, CT: 150mm (Deutschland, Scheer) 140mm (Graf Spee)
  • Armor, Turrets: 140mm
  • Aircraft: 2 (1 catapult)
  • Complement: about 619

The Graf Spee entered service in 1936 and was sunk very early in the war, in late 1939, so modifications were few. The other two survived into April 1945, finally being dispatched in port by British heavy bombers armed with "tallboy" bombs. Both were modified throughout the war. They received raked (Atlantic) bows, large funnel caps were fitted, radar was added and the AA armament was progressively increased. The 88mm (3.46 inch) high angle guns were replaced with 105mm (4.1 inch) guns. The wartime complement increased to a maximum of about 1150 officers and men.

These ships were recognized as a serious threat to merchant shipping throughout the 1930s. Early in WWII, all three were employed as commerce raiders, achieving varying degrees of success.

The Deutschland briefly raided in the North Atlantic at the beginning of the war in 1939, but sank only two ships totaling 6,962 tons before suffering storm damage from heavy seas and returning to Germany. After the loss of the Graf Spee , Hitler approved renaming the ship to avoid the loss of a ship named "Germany." Her name was therefore changed to Lutzow in February 1940.

The Graf Spee conducted a longer and much more famous cruise in the South Atlantic at the beginning of the war, sinking nine ships for a total of 50,089 tons. This ended in a battle with a British hunter/killer force of three cruisers (1-CA and 2-CL) that damaged the Graf Spee and caused her Captain to seek shelter in the neutral port of Montevideo, Uruguay. A few days later, on 17 Dec 1939, the Graf Spee was scuttled in the mouth of the River Plate to avoid internment. She was the only panzerschiff to be lost while raiding.

On 15 Feb 1940, the two remaining panzerschiff, Lutzow and Scheer , were reclassified as heavy cruisers (CA). Although the former panzerschiff were similar is size and protection to heavy cruisers, their 11 inch guns technically disqualified them from this classification. By international agreement, heavy cruisers were limited to guns no larger than 8 inches. In addition, the panzerschiff were not designed to achieve the high speed (over 30 knots) of contemporary cruisers.

The USN classified their massive 12 inch gun cruisers of the Alaska class "large cruisers" (CB). The Alaskas were actually full size battlecruisers (CC) and the panzerschiff were essentially light battlecruisers ("CCL," to coin a designation).

The Admiral Scheer conducted the longest wartime raiding cruise and had the most successful career of the three. She departed occupied Norway late on 28 Oct 1940 and cruised through the North Atlantic to the South Atlantic and Indian oceans, not returning to Germany until 1 Apr 1941. She had cruised 46,419nm and sunk or captured 16 Allied ships totaling 137,223 tons.

In reality, a similar size ship with 8 inch main guns and a couple of knots more speed could have done the same job, there being no significant difference between an 11 inch battery and an 8 inch battery to a merchant ship. As members of wartime task forces, the panzerschiff proved less useful than conventional heavy cruisers, principally due to their inferior speed. The later German heavy ships were capable of 30-32.5 knots and high speed was seen as critical to evade superior Allied task forces.

The Deutschlands were certainly under-armored or over-gunned, depending on how you look at it. The only way a ship of that size with 11 inch guns could be "balanced" would be if it were a coastal defense ship, as the Allies intended. The type of ship the Kriegsmarine, I believe wisely, decided against.

My biggest complaint about the design is only two main battery turrets. I would have accepted smaller bore guns (if necessary) and the cruiser level armor scheme if I could have my six main guns in three twin turrets. Weight could have been saved by eliminating the heavily armored conning tower and replacing the 5.9 inch secondary battery with dual-purpose 4.1 inch guns. The latter would also simplify the ammunition supply and handling. Of course, the Kriegsmarine staff realized the flaw in a two turret design and there was immediate pressure for a three turret ship that eventually resulted in the Scharnhorst class.

The later Hipper class heavy cruisers were better balanced ships of similar size, but they were not capital ships and did not cause as much consternation to the world's major sea powers as did the Deutschlands when they were introduced. In that sense, the Deutschland design was politically very successful. It announced to the world that the German Navy refused to be limited to coastal operations.

When criticizing the panzerschiff, one must remember their design (hampered by the hated Treaty of Versailles) was approved in 1928 and the last of the three ships, the Graf Spee , was laid down in 1932. They were designed for the type of naval operations envisioned at that time.

When introduced, they were very advanced ships. Yes, they were under-armored and they were not as fast as many of the subsequent third generation capital ships they inspired, such as the Scharnhorst and the French Dunkerque. However, as the 1940-41 cruise of the Admiral Scheer demonstrated, when employed correctly and given a little luck, they could perform effectively.

Construction [ edit | edit source ]

Four ships of the class were ordered, under the provisional names Ersatz Siegfried (Helgoland), Ersatz Oldenburg (Ostfriesland), Ersatz Beowulf (Thüringen), and Ersatz Frithjof (Oldenburg), as replacements for three of the coastal defense ships of the Siegfried-class, and the unique coastal defense ship SMS Oldenburg. SMS Helgoland was built at Howaldtswerke, Kiel. She was laid down on 24 December 1908, launched 25 August 1909, and commissioned nearly two years later on 23 August 1911.

SMS Ostfriesland was built at Kaiserliche Werft Wilhelmshaven. She was laid down 19 October 1908, launched five days after her sister Helgoland, on 30 August 1909, and commissioned 1 August 1911. SMS Thüringen was built by AG Weser in Bremen. She was laid down on 7 November 1908, launched on 27 November 1909, and commissioned on 10 September 1911. SMS Oldenburg, the final vessel, was built by Schichau in Danzig she was laid down 1 March 1909, launched 30 June 1910, and commissioned on 1 May 1912. ΐ] ⎘]

Construction [ edit | edit source ]

A member of the Brandenburg class

Ordered as battleship A, Γ] [lower-alpha 2] Brandenburg was laid down at the AG Vulcan shipyard in Stettin in 1890. She was launched on 21 September 1891. Fitting out work, which included the installation of the ship's armament, lasted until 19 November 1893 when she was commissioned into the German navy. ⎗] Wörth was ordered as battleship B, Γ] and was laid down at Germaniawerft in Kiel also in 1890. Initial work on the ship proceeded the slowest of all four vessels of the class she was launched on 6 August 1892. Fitting out work proceeded quickly, and she was commissioned on 31 October 1893, the first ship of the class to enter active duty. ⎗] Weissenburg, ordered as battleship "C", was also laid down at the AG Vulcan shipyard in 1890 and launched on 14 December 1891. She was the last ship of the class to enter active service, when she was commissioned on 5 June 1894. ⎗] Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm was the fourth and final ship of the class. She was ordered as battleship D, Γ] and was laid down at the Kaiserliche Werft Wilhelmshaven in 1890. She was the first ship of the class to be launched, on 30 June 1891. She was commissioned into the fleet the same day as her sister Brandenburg. ⎗]

Shortly after the turn of the century, the ships were all taken into the drydocks at the Kaiserliche Werft Wilhelmshaven for a major reconstruction. Wörth was the first to do so, starting in 1901. Weissenburg followed in 1902, Brandenburg in 1903, and Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm entered the shipyard in 1904. Γ] During the modernization, a second conning tower was added in the aft superstructure, along with a gangway. ⎘] The ships had their boilers replaced with newer models, and also had the hamper amidships reduced. ΐ] The modifications resulted in a weight decrease of between 500 t (490 long tons 550 short tons) and 700 t (690 long tons 770 short tons) depending on the ship. ⎘]

The Pocket Battleship: Definition of Function over Form

The advent of National Socialist control of the government in 1933 had the effect of expanding the size of the vessels so that they clearly defied the Versailles Treaty, but not so much as to provoke a military response. Their displacement ballooned to up to 12,000 tons, and at their launches in the early 1930’s they were the primary ships of the line for the new Kriegsmarine - at least until the Scharnhorst class battlecruisers and Bismarck class battleships could come online.

They were, and remain, unique vessels even at first glance. A vast amount of fuel, engine horsepower, and gunnery was packed into a hull that was as long as some older battleships yet as light as many contemporary cruisers. The Deutschland class pocket battleships even looked more like battleships than cruisers, sporting large triple barrel turrets and a disproportionately tall superstructure relative to their size. Of course, these quirks design were meant to create tactical advantages in combat, not to adhere to any aesthetic of naval vessel design. The three sisters that comprised the class - Graf Spee, Admiral Scheer, and Deutschland (whose name was later changed to Lutzow) were meant to carry heavy guns far into the Atlantic where they could be used to break apart convoys bound for Britain.

The Hochseeflotte in action

How was used this formidable weapon, the most powerful ever fielded by any continental European country before the Soviet Navy in the 1960-1990s ? Already the very night of the hostilities starting in august with declaration of war, major estuaries were mined in a pretty bold and very risky move by converted auxiliary cruiser Königin Luise.

German pre-Dreadnought Battleship SMS pommern.

In the Mediterranean, the Goeben and the Breslau had to escape the combined patrold of the Royal Navy, French and Italian navies. Gibraltar controlling access to the Atlantic, Admiral Souchon, Goeben’s commander and its brand new large battle cruiser had no hope to force its way to the Atlantic and back to Germany from Port Said (Egypt). For Egypt and the Suez Canal were also locked and any attempt to rally Von Spee through the Indian Ocean and the Pacific was doomed. Only remains desperate solutions, either fight or find refuge in friendly waters thos of allied Ottoman Empire. What was hailed as a feat later saw the Goeben escaping her pursuer and entering the Bosphorus to rally the Black Sea and Constantinople harbour. There, the two ships swapped flag, the Goeben officially renamed Yavuz Sultan Selim until the end of the war.

SMS Hindenbug scuttled at Scapa Flow, 1919.

Eventually the German Pacific fleet in Tsing Tao, under the command of Admiral Von Spee, also secured his men’s salvation by ordering a hasty departure from the base, under the threat of combined Japanese, Russian and British fleets. Von Spee in addition had relatively old ships at his disposal but nevertheless masterfully used them, gaining success by decimating the Falklands squadron (admiral Cradock) before succumbing to superior British forces (2nd battle of Coronel). The Emden separated from the squadron to lead a memorable corsair war, diverting pursuers (a true Odysseus). In Africa, the port of Dar-el-Salaam was an advanced base for German colonization, under the sword of Damocles of the Allied forces. The Königsberg will also lead a privateer war, with less success than in the Pacific.

Pocket Battleships of the Deutschland Class

The warships of the World War II era German Navy are among the most popular subject in naval history with an almost uncountable number of books devoted to them. However, for a concise but authoritative summary of the design history and careers of the major surface ships it is difficult to beat a series of six volumes written by Gerhard Koop and illustrated by Klaus-Peter Schmolke. Each contains an account of the development of a particular class, a detailed description of the ships, with full technical details, and an outline of their service, heavily illustrated with plans, battle maps and a substantial collection of photographs. These have been out of print for ten years or more and are now much sought after by enthusiasts and collectors, so this new modestly priced reprint of the series will be widely welcomed.

This volume covers the three ships of a design so revolutionary that it defied conventional categories. Deutschland (later renamed Lützow), Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee were simply termed panzerschiffe (armoured ships) by the Germans, but they were known to their opponents by the far more evocative term Pocket Battleships.

Watch the video: Deutschland class 1930 - Guide 074