Sunday, April 19, 2015

German Warships

The most important German combatants are discussed in the following entries: cruiser, destroyer, and submarine. Of these, the most important German warship in World War II was the submarine. Other significant German naval combatants include battleships, escort craft (in addition to destroyers), and certain coastal craft. 

The provisions of the Treaty of Versailles put severe tonnage limits on German naval vessels. For this reason, German naval architects developed the so-called Pocket Battleship, of which the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were prime examples. By the provisions of the treaty, they were supposed to displace no more than 26,000 tons, although, as built, the ships actually displaced 32,000 tons standard and 38,900 tons under full load. Originally, four ships of the Scharnhorst Class were to be built, but only the Gneisenau was completed in addition to the Scharnhorst. The length of these vessels was 770 feet 8 inches, beam 98 feet 5 inches, and draft 29 feet 10 inches. Three steam turbines delivered 160,000 shp for a top speed of 32 knots. The ships were armed with nine 11-inch guns, twelve 150 mm guns, fourteen 105 mm AA guns, and sixteen 37 mm AA guns, as well as six 21-inch torpedo tubes. Two Arado floatplanes could be accommodated, and the ships were crewed by 1,840 officers and men.

Bismarck. One of the most famous—or infamous— ships of World War II, Bismarck was Germany’s first post–World War I full-size battleship. It displaced 41,676 tons standard and 50,153 tons with full load. The ship was 823.5 feet long with a 118-foot beam. Draft was 30 feet 7 inches. Three steam turbines delivered 138,000 shp for a top speed of 29 knots. The ship had eight 15-inch guns, 12 150 mm guns, 16 105 mm AA guns, 16 37 mm AA guns, and 12 20 mm AA guns. It could accommodate two Arado floatplanes and carried a crew of 2,192. Launched early in 1939 and commissioned in August 1940, Bismarck sailed on its first combat mission in May 1941. On the 24th, it encountered the British battlecruiser Hood and battleship Prince of Wales. In the ensuing battle— the Battle of the Denmark Strait—Hood was sunk and the Prince of Wales seriously damaged. Bismarck was also damaged and was on its way to France for repair when it was sunk by a British task force on May 27 with the loss of all but 110 hands. The loss of Bismarck prompted Adolf Hitler to curtail all operations of the German surface fleet.

Tirpitz. Launched in April 1939, Tirpitz was similar to its sister ship, Bismarck. It displaced 42,900 tons standard and 52,600 tons under load. She was 821 feet 10 inches in length, had a 118-foot beam, and a 36-foot draft. Three steam turbines delivered 138,000 shp for a top speed of 29 knots. It was armed with eight 15-inch guns, 12 150 mm guns, 16 105 mm AA guns, and eight 21-inch torpedo tubes. The Tirpitz could accommodate four Arado floatplanes and was crewed by 2,530 officers and men. It was sunk on November 12, 1944, in Norwegian waters by British air attack with the loss of 1,000 of its crew.

Germany did not rely on convoys to the extent that Britain did, so it developed few escort vessels. The Wolf and M√∂we classes were in effect light destroyers tasked with protecting Germany’s coastal merchant traffic. The six Wolf Class ships displaced 933 tons standard and 1,320 under full load. They were 305 feet long with a beam of 28.5 feet and a draft of 9.2 feet. Two steam turbines delivered 23,000 shp for a top speed of 33 knots. Armament consisted of three 105 mm guns or three 5-inch guns and four single 20 mm AA guns as well as two triple 21-inch torpedo tubes. The ships were crewed by 129 officers and men.

Another type of coastal escort craft was the Geleitboote, of which 10 (F1 through F10) were built. In addition to performing escort duty, they were used as minelayers. The ships displaced 712 tons standard and 833 tons under full load. They were 249.3 feet long with a beam of 28.9 feet and a draft of 8.2 feet. Two steam turbines delivered 14,000 shp for a top speed of 28 knots. Each shp carried two single 105 mm guns and two twin 37 mm AA and four single 20 mm AA guns. Ship’s complement was 121 officers and men.

German light coastal craft included, most importantly, the Leicht Schnellboat—light fast boat, or LS; the Raumboot (R-Boot), a minesweeper, minelayer, and coastal escort; and the Schnellboot (S-Boot), which the British called an E-boat, used as a light, fast torpedo boat.

LS. These boats displaced 11.5 tons and were 41 feet long. They were 10.83 feet in the beam, with a draft of 2.5 feet. Equipped with an aircraft-type engine, they could attain a top speed of 42.5 knots. Armament consisted of a pair of 17.7-inch torpedoes and a 20 mm cannon. Complement was nine officers and men.

R-Boot. The standard R-Boot displaced 140 tons and was 131.23 feet long. Its beam was 18.37 feet, with a draft of 4.75 feet. Two diesel engines made 2,550 bhp for a top speed of 20.5 knots. Crewed by 38 officers and men, the boats were equipped with a 37 mm cannon and six 20 mm cannon.

S-Boot. These torpedo craft were speedy at 39.5 knots and carried two 21-inch torpedo tubes with four torpedoes. They were also equipped with a pair of 20 mm cannon. Displacement was 93 tons standard and 115 under full load. Length was 114.67 feet, beam 16.73 feet, and draft 4.6 feet. Three diesel engines produced 6,000 bhp. The crew complement was 21 officers and men.

Further reading: Jackson, Robert. Kriegsmarine: The Illustrated History of the German Navy in World War II. Osceola, Wis.: MBI Publishing, 2001; Showell, J. P. German Navy in World War Two: An Illustrated Guide to the Kriegsmarine, 1920–1945. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1979; Showell, J. P. The German Navy in World War Two: A Reference Guide to the Kriegsmarine, 1935–1945. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1979; Stern, Robert C. Kriegsmarine: A Pictorial History of the German Navy, 1935–1945. Carrollton, Tex.: Squadron/ Signal Publications, 1979; Tarrant, V. E. The Last Year of the Kriegsmarine: May 1944–May 1945. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1994.

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