German WW2 Torpedo Boats

Kriegsmarine Torpedoboote

Germany (1924-45) – 36 (90 planned)+ 49 TB Ausland (TA), total 84

Why German Torpedo Boats in WW2 ?

The simultaneous christening ceremony of the 4 new German “destroyers” Tiger, Luchs, Jaguar and Leopard at the Wilhelmshaven shipyard, presided by Vice Admiral Bauer. Later they would be reclassidied a torpedo boats, but proved quite capable in their new role

Before WW2, only four nations signatory of the Washington Treaty considered the torpedo boats as a way to go around some limitations in tonnage for destroyers, although this category was largely seen as obsolete after the great war. This “revival” concerned in order of importance given to the category, Italy, Germany, Japan and France*. And these were only the large fleets. Alongside them, a cohort of other nations still had torpedo boats in their inventory. They were cheaper than submersibles, and still usable for narrow waters point defence. The Scandinavian Nations for example still relied on them and built some up to WW2, although motor torpedo boats were also considered and sometimes took their place.

G7/T107, one of the numerous vintage WWI hochseetorpedoboote of the Kaiserlichesmarine modernized in the Reichsmarine. They were still active in WW2.

*Italy had a proficience in this time, with many modern designs and reclassed WWI destroyers to boot, to compensate for destroyer tonnage seen as unsufficient, Japan had only the Tomozuru and Otori class built in 1933-37, but replaced by escorts later, while France only developed the Melpomène (1935) and Le Fier class (1940, never completed). Both countries scrapped their torpedo boats to free tonnage or just through obsolescence. Both Japan and France stopped building torpedo boats were destroyers became the standard anyway, well before WWI. This also made sense in terms of maritime strategy. Both had either an Empire or were building one, and rather wanted a coherent fleet, priority being given to fleet destroyers.

The case of the Reichsmarine

Reichsmarine's torpedo boat prior to 1935
Reichsmarine’s torpedo boat prior to 1935. On top, the torpedo boats and newly built destroyers in service

Now, of the two nations most proficient in torpedo boats, Italy was the only nation of the future axis that was bound by the Washington treaty. The allied powers which submitted Germany to the Versailles Treaty which authorized the Reichsmarine some leeway in this category since it was mostly seen as defensive, not to project power. The Versailles Treaty nevertheless restricted the new Reichsmarine by treaty to twelve torpedo boats and twelve destroyers, nothing more, with a possible replacement of vintage WW1 units plus extra decommissioned ships for cannibalization.

The first replacement programme was in reality a newly designed “destroyer” under severe tonnage limitations, the Type 1923 and Type 1924 better known as the “Raubvögel” and “Raubtiere” based on their names, birds of prey and predators. They were the first “zerstörer” laid down since 1918, and based by default on a mix of features of late WWI designs. They were however classed in the Reicshmarine Book as “torpedo boote” anyway, knowing that they were too small to compete with any contemporary designs. Naturally they were reclassed as Torpedoboote in 1935, when the first of the 1934 type destroyer was launched. The latter had twice their tonnage.

Birth of the Kriegsmarine’s T-Boote (1933-34)

1935-37 naval staff discussions

It’s with the arrival at power of Hitler and more serious funding was given to the Kriegsmarine, then the tonnage increase obtained with the Anglo-German treaty of London redefined priorities. In any case in 1935, albitious programmes were launched in several catgories: Destroyers, Cruisers, the first battleships and aicraft carriers, and a new generations or torpedo boats, of two types, the fleet torpedo boats and coastal ones. The second are essentially motor torpedo boats, the S-Boote. The first type is the object of this article. Where these ships really useful ?

The 1935 debate in the Reichsmarine, soon to be renamed Kriegsmarine and reorganized, procuring or not torpedo boats was put into consideration. The Anglo-German treaty was not signed yet, but de facto would impose on Germany the Washington Treaty conditions. Therefore, tonnage caps were imposed on destroyers, qualitative and quantitative. The 1930 London Naval Treaty had a clause that ships below 600 long tons standard displacement did not count against national tonnage limits.

This was enough for the Kriegsmarine to attempt a design a high-speed, ocean-going torpedo boat based on this 600 long tons. Italy was doing the same since 1933. And both soon realized the same: This proved to be impossible based on high-speed requirement. This forced the use of (troubesome) high-pressure boilers, half the numbers used on a regular Type 1934 destroyer for better standardization. Maintenance problems were exacerbated an even crampier machinery.

the whole concept, with the benefit of hindsight, must be considered a gross waste of men and materials, for these torpedo boats were rarely employed in their designed role.
naval historian M. J. Whitley

So Just like Italy, it was felt torpedo boats were cheap enough to be built in large quantities and perform tasks in restricted seas (in the Baltic in particular) which could free fleet destroyers for their main tasks. Destroyers were to act more agressively as screen vessels and seek combat, while torpedo boats would inherit two other roles: Convoy escort and patrol, still with the possibility of longer range attacks compared to S-Boote. Even within that frame, the Kriegsmarine still ordered a serie of dedicated “escorts”, the “F” class, also launched in 1935. They lacked torpedoes, had the same light main armament but greater emphasis on ASW weapons.

This was a standalone class as soon as it was understood the nimbler and faster R-Bootes could take at the same time the role of coastal minesweepers, minelayers and ASW vessels. The other was self-evident as submarine threat was limited, as the need of escorts. After all, Germany was nearly self-sufficient and apart communicating with Norway for the famous “steel road”, its lines of communications were not as bloated and extensive as Great Britain or France. Thus, torpedo boats being seen as more versatile to attack, and still procure the benefit of an escort, were a good in-between.

Plan Z’ torpedo Boat programme

The new torpedo boats built in the Kriegsmarine were based on Plan Z: The latter planned no less than 90 torpedo boats to be built until 1950. As stated above, they were a kind of escorts, freeing destroyers for more fleet important tasks, but keeping an attack capability. Soon, other tasks were found for them and they were equipped to lay mines, but no consideration was given at any point to ASW defence: From the 1935 to the 1941 types, none had depth charges. More emphasis was put on AA however.

The construction plan was gradual and incremental, following finances and the capabilities of German yards: From the 800-tonnes 1935 type, of which twelve vessels launched 1938-39 were just ready on time for the Norwegian campaign. The expansion was fast, as the 1939 Type reached 1,700 and 1941 type 2,000 tonnes. The latter was still conventional but now to the size of a “small” destroyer (only in comparison to German destroyer standards). The 1940 type however were complete oddballs that can’t be regarded in the this context: They were ordered in the Netherlands and reaching 2,500 tonnes fully loaded, reusing the machinery of gutted destroyers of the Tjerk Hiddes class, with a total of twelve ordered, to be fitted out in Germany. Their design was closer to standard destroyers with a forecastle and generous artillery in superfiring positions.

The first true T-Boote: 1935/37 Types

The 1935 and 1937 Types were very close in design, and formed a coherent force of 21 ships in completion when WW2 started. The initial 1935 design was as narrow and light as possible to “fit the bill” of a 600-tonner, but it was soon judged impossible to meet requirements and revised in 1936, the bar raised to 800 tonnes. By default at the time, little consideration was given to allied inspection on these programmes.

In Italy, the Spica class however realized the impossible by achieving a 600+ tonnes design, but at great sacrifice. It soon showed its limits, notably in terms of sturdiness, seaworthiness and stability. The Mediterranean has relatively comparable conditions to the Baltic, but since the German designs were supposed to go out in the north sea to attack British lines of communications from the Jade, a sturdied hull was needed, yet while trying to find any ways to reduce tonnage.

Thus, the most distinctive design point of German WW2 torpedo boats, unique compared to all other designs of the time, was the choice of a flush-deck hull.
Italian, French, Japanese torpedo boats all had a forecastle and mimicked a destroyer in many ways.
The hull had a particular shape with a renforced prow, relatively large, and slanted hull, clipper bow, to battle large waves in winter. The hull shape was a way to rationalize construction and gain weight. Still, they had a low silhouette and were pretty “wet” in most conditions.

The particular semi-transom stern of T35, a Type 39.

Another particular was their armament: Main armament was standard, revolving around the 100 mm caliber, but just a single one aft, which was highly unusual, and unlike Italian designs they carried standard 21-inches (533 mm) torpedoes, for the maximal hitting power whereas armament was purely defensive. The accent was on first strike capabilities above all else, which contradicted their escort capabilities (the task they performed eventually).
Why lacking a forward gun ? It seems that due to their low freeboard, and despite their flare, a forward gun would be just sprayed to such point of being unusable. The lessons on the USN with their “flush-deckers” built in 1918-1921 was well understood.

The new wartime standard: 1939/41 Types

The design of the Type 1935/37 was definitely more suited to escort than attack, and thus, a mich larger type, reflecting the upscaling of German destroyers at the time, with some armed with 6-in guns, an enlarged and faster Type 1937 was sought after, soon called the Type 1939. They really fit the bill of Plan Z and were intended for long range operations. They were the brainchild of Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, CiC of the Kriegsmarine at the time, and not pleased with the too modest 1938B-class destroyer ordered in 1939. To compensate he wanted a 1,265 metric ton and 95-meter-long (311 ft 8 in) all-purpose torpedo boat, which specifications were written on 8 July. The idea that it could be built in larger quantities than proper destroyers. By September 1939 the shipbuilding program was reevaluated, the Type 1938B cacelled and the Type 1936A-class destroyer ordered instead. The Type 39 torpedo boat was far larger that previous types and the same high-pressure boilers but arranged into separate units (for safety, also giving them two funnels). They were alsmot equivalments to the 1938B design between their 102.5 meters (336 ft 3 in) overall, for 1,318t standard/ 1,780 metric tons deeply load and their hull was divided into 13 watertight compartments and double bottom. They ended as excellent, agile seaboats.

Hull shape and structure model, Type 1939

-The Type 1941 Type were a completely different matter: As the war started, Yards were soon starved of resources and personal, diverted to active army units and the Luftwaffe. One immediate effect was the outright cancellation of the Type 39 TBs with only 15 ships ordered, many never completed. It was decided later to create an enlarged version with a better propulsion machinery to reach 34 knots and adding another twin FLAK 37mm. They were, like the Type 1939, intended to take the pklace of sunken destroyers and assumed relatively similar roles.
In the end, on the 15 planned only a few were launched: T37–T42 in Schichau and later T43–T48, then T49–T51. The yeard being located in East Prussia the planned completion in 1945, soon fell through between labor shortages and the Soviet advance. All work ceased on 22 January and only three were towed further west for completion in Deschimag and Kiel but they were all captured.

Near-destroyers: 1940 Types

The transition towards a more ocean-going type saw some maturation in the concept. However they were very different:
-The Type 1940 was in all effect, practical destroyers ordered… in the Netherlands for the Dutch Navy in 1938. When the country fell in May 1940, the Germans soon captured all yards and vessels under construction were examined, documentation seized by the Kriegsmarine. These four Gerard Callenburgh class destroyers were now deprived of HNLMS Isaac Sweers, towed to be completed in UK, but Gerard Callenburgh was completed as ZH1. Philips van Almonde and Tjerk Hiddes were BU, but mist of their propulsion machinery was intact as well as some equipments, so the Kriegsmarine decided to design a ship tailored to be built in the Netherlands while recycling this now surplus material. If they were classed as torpedo boats, the Type 40 design were effectively destroyers in shape and tonnage.

In fact, using both Dutch yards and forced skilled workforce, which lacked in Germany, ambitious plans were to built no less 24 of these Type 1940, reclassed officially as Flottentorpedoboot and tasked to take the place of regular destroyers now in short supply.
However as the war went on, the enterprise looked grimer by the day and 12 were cancelled, and between sabotages and generally uncooperative workforce, and then shortages of all kind, none of these were completed before D-Day. The first three, most complete, were towed to Germany to be completed, one sank en route by Allied fighter-bombers and the last pair never completed. The remaining ones were BU in 1946.

Specifics of German WW2 Torpedo Boats

Main Guns:

12.8 cm SK/L45 C34:

These German guns were a fairly common models, internationally classed as 5-in (127 mm) but of slighlty larger caliber. They equipped the Type 34, Type 36 and Type 36B destroyers and other vessels, but also the Leopard and Luchs after conversion. For what we are concerned they were to equip the Dutch-built Type 1940. 15–18 rpm; mv 830 mps (2,700 ft/s); range 17,400 m (19,000 yd).

105 mm (or 10.5 cm) SK/L45 C16:

These equipped the vintage but modernized T107 group and T139 group. But also the Type 1923/24 “destroyers”. These WWI vintage guns were first developed for the first generation of German dreadnoughts like the Nassau class in 1907. The late C16 type was a single pedestal mounts in open half-shield version. The wartime modification was the one use, since there were still many in storage. They elevated −10° to +30 and hard a ax range of 17.6 km (10.9 mi). They were replaced by C28 or C32 during their 1936 refit and thus the model was no longer in use but on the T107 group and older TBs.

10.5 cm SK/L55 C28:

Use on the 1923/1924 types. Some were bored out to become the 12.7 cm/45 (5″) SK C/34 used on the Leopard and Luchs only. Firing the HE – 32.4 lbs. (14.7 kg), elevating -10 +30°, range 18,860 yards (17,250 m), mv 3,035 fps (925 mps), ROF 15 rpm.

10.5 cm SK/L45 C34:

Adopted for the 1935/37 Type and Type 1939. In their improved (nR, “nachgebohrte Rorhe” or “improved drilled barrel”) version they had better performances. ROF 15 rpm, firing the HE L/4,4: 53.4 lbs. (24.2 kg) Illumination round L/4,1: 50.0 lbs. (22.7 kg). Range 16,600 yards (15,175 m), hand-operated.

10.5 cm SK/L45 L44B:

Dual purpose models adopted for the never completed Type 1941 and Type 1944. On the latter, in two twin mounts located fore and aft. These elevated up to +75° and fired 15.5-or-17-kilogram (34 or 37 lb) shell at 835 or 785 m/s (2,740 or 2,580 ft/s) depending of the type. The 17-kgs shell could land at 19,000 meters (21,000 yd) from +48°. Rate of fire was 12–14 rounds per minute and 400 rounds were carried per gun. Added to the generous lighter AA, radar warning and radar-guided FCS, both the Type 1941 and especially the Type 1944 had a considerably better AA capability for escort.

Anti-aircraft artillery:

In standard, the 1923/24 types had two single 20 mm Rheinmetall guns. Not changed in the 1936 refit, but augmented to seven in all, in a Flakvierling (quad) mount and three single in 1944.
The Type 1935/37 had a more substantial AA when completed, with a single 37mm L83 C33 and fice to eight single 20mm C38 in various locations. A bow sponson extra 37 mm C33 was added on their bow in wartime, and some even had two 40mm L70 Bofors guns in place of their aft TT bank.
As completed the larger Type 1939 had four 37mm M42 AA (two twin mounts) and seven to twelve 20 mm AA guns, most likely with one or two Flakvierling and the rest in single mounts.
The planned, Dutch-built 1940 type had two twin 37mm as standard and two Flakvierling. The planned type 1941 had the same for 37 mm but only one Flakvierling and two twin 20 mm C38.

Torpedo Tubes

This was a mix in the interwar due to the origin of the vintage TBs from 1906 to 1913. They had still in the interwar the two twin ortiginal 450 mm TTs based of remaining WWI stocks. The 1923-24 type destroyers (later TBs) had 500 mm torpedo tubes. Possibly derived from the 50 cm (19.7″) G7 in service from 1913 on capital ships and some U-Boat types. Completely obsolete they were replaced by the standard 533 mm (21 in) during their 1936 refit. Conways says 1931, but the model was not in service yet (1935).
53.3 cm (21″) G7a T1: Standard for all types in WW2, two triple banks for the 1923/24, 1935/37, 1939/41 types but quadruple on the Type 1940.
Weight: 1,528 kg (3,369 lbs)
Overall Length: 7.186 m (23 ft. 7 in)
Warhead: 280 kg (617 lbs.) Hexanite
Settings: 6,000 m/44 kts, 8,000 m/40 kts, 14,000 m/30 kts
Powerplant: Decahydronaphthalene (Decalin) Wet-Heater
The German TBs also carried mines, but the type is unspecified. It can be the same model used by R-Bootes. They are not showing depht charge racks but the Type 39 were the only ones carrying four depht charge throwers and carrying a S-Gerät sonar. Both the 1941 and 1944 types were more AA escorts.

Organisation & Tactics

Z24 and T24 under aerial attack on 25 August 1944
Z24 and T24 under aerial attack on 25 August 1944. A good way to show that German TBs ended often in the same escort missions as destroyers despite their obvious limitations.

German torpedo boats were administratively grouped into several torpedo-boat flotillas (TBFs).

Flotilla Formed Assigned vessels Primary Class
1. Torpedobootsflottille 1935 T1, T2, T3, T4, T9, T10 Type 35 torpedo boat
2. Torpedobootsflottille T5, T6, T7, T8, T11, T12
3. Torpedobootsflottille 1937 T13, T14, T15, T16, T17, T18, T19, T20, T21 Type 37 torpedo boat
4. Torpedobootsflottille T22, T23, T24, T25, T26, T27 Elbing-class torpedo boat
5. Torpedobootsflottille 1938 TB Albatross, TB Greif, TB Falke, TB Kondor, TB Möwe Type 23 torpedo boat
TB Tiger (ex-Thor) Sleipner-class destroyer
T34, T35, T36 Elbing-class torpedo boat
6. Torpedobootsflottille 1937 T28, T29, T30, T31, T32, T33
7. Torpedobootsflottille 1940 TB Panther (Ex-Odin), TB Löwe (ex-Gyller) Sleipner-class destroyer
TB Leopard Type 24 torpedo boat
9. Torpedobootsflottille 1943 TA14, TA15, TA16, TA17, TA18, TA19, TA37, TA38, TA39 Torpedoboot Ausland
10. Torpedobootsflottille 1944 TA23, TA24, TA27, TA28, TA29, TA30, TA31, TA32, TA33

As for tactics, operational examples shows some clues on how they were used. In the interwar, they were supposed to enemy communication lines and avoid combat in which classic destroyers were at ease. The latter indeed were assigned to the fleet as escorts with the task of deterring other destroyers or cruisers. Thus, TBs were dispensed on paper of these fleet escorting and screening tasks, having neither the range or armament to face enemy destroyers. Oustide preying on enemy trade in relative proxmity, they were to be used for escorting convoys as they did during the early phase of the war, off Poland and Norway. Each flotilla could be used as an entire entity, but in reality they were spread in wartime and depending of assignations.
The 1935/1937 Type had only a single aft gun, giving clues that they were supposed to arrive fast, and in a stealthy way, launch a full torpedo broadside and retreat under enemy fire, again possibly under smoke. The 1939/41 types were more rounded with artillery and AA and thus were closer to “substitute destroyers” in their roles, with tactics closer to standard destroyers flotillas.

In wartime indeed they were tasked of the following:
-Escort: Troopship or transport convoys but also fleet escort (ie with destroyers, of cruisers and even capital ships) in many occasions and for relatively short trips.
-Minelaying: Not only they replaced destroyers when escorting minelayers and participating themselves in minelaying operations.
-Attack: They rarely had the occasion of preting on allied lines of communications but in the gulf of gascony and channel, and were only occasionally used in this role, such as the Normandy landing night raids. They were easy prey for patrolling allied destroyers.
-Evacuation: A last resort used forced by the events, notably Operation Hannibal in 1945.

Operations: Three examples

To illustrated the operating side, since space is lackng on this post to dwelve into the career of each and every of the 36 torpedo boats concerned (they were be seen in due time on individual class posts), here is three career examples, three picked-up among all those in service from three classes among the most remarkable ships to illustrate what their wartime career felt like. All in all, 12 (the totality) of the 1923/24 early types were lost in action during WW2. They were soon made “maids of all work” in the Kriesgmarine, and saw heavy action from the campaign of Norway (Albatros by fortified batteries of Olsofjord in 1940), Seeadler by MTBs, and the remainder by air raids. The 1924 type had more diverse fate: Collision, mine, torpedo (2), and air raids. The torpeding by British Submersibles of such shallow draft, fast vessels was no small feat.
As for the Type 1935 and 1937, the majority were sunk also by air raids, with a few suviving to end was Soviet and French reparations. The 1939 Type had a longer range and thus, could be operated on ports less under direct reach by the RAF. Three were claimed by German mines during a navigation error, two after a fatal encounter with British cruisers (Glasgow and Enteprise), one by cruisers and destroyers, one by Soviet MTBs, one mined and bombed. Those which survived were attributed to the US and Britain and soon handed over back to France and USSR, seeing some service in the 1950s after alterations.

Seeadler of the 1923 Type

Leopard of the 1924 type. Can’t find any photo of Seeadler but this one on alamy.
KMS Leopard was commissioned on 15 May 1928. She spent her time with the baltic fleet, and by the end of 1936 served with the 2nd Torpedo Boat Flotilla, deployed off Spain during the Civil War. She ran aground while leaving Cadiz in November 1936 and was towed back for repairs by Albatros. KMS Deutschland was hit by two Republican aircraft bombs on 29 May 1937, abd Adolf Hitler ordered Admiral Scheer to shell Almería in retaliation and on 31 May, joined by the 2nd Flotilla, notably silencing coastal artillery by Seeadler and Albatros. In June 1938, she was transferred to the 4th TB Flotilla (TBF).
Her unit was disbanded in 1939, and she joined the 6th TBD escorting the North Sea mining operations from 3 September. On 13 and 18-19 November, escort by two light cruisers they escorted back destroyers off the English coast. They patrolled the Skagerrak, inspecting neutral shipping. In December, Seeadler and Jaguar controlled six ships. In retaliation for the loss of Altmark in neutral Norwegian waters on 16 February, Operation Nordmark was mounted and Seeadler searched for Allied merchant shipping in the North Sea, up to the Shetland Islands. The 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, Seeadler and Luchs escorted Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper on 18 February and returned to the Skaggerak.

She took part in the Invasion of Norway in April 1940, in Group 4 (Kapitän Friedrich Rieve), escorted KMS Karlsruhe, to Kristiansand., departing on 8 April, arriving in heavy fog. Coast-defense guns at Odderøya Fortress fired on Karlsruhe at 05:32 and Seeadler and Luchs returned fire. Rieve turned away under a smoke screen at 05:45 though. But soon He 111 bombers exploded an ammunition dump next to the fortress and Rieve came back at 05:55 to provide them better Accuracy, but he withdrew again at 06:23, then trying to bombard the fortress at long range from 06:50, ordering Seeadler and Luchs to take the narrows until stopped by the fog. Rieve withdrew for good at 07:30, and came back at 09:00 as the fog lifted but withdrew again. Troops were moved to four E-boats to storm the harbor and the Norwegians spotted the Seeadler and Luchs approaching with the four E-boats, reporting them, but mistaking them for Allied, failing to open fire, making the landing and occupation successful at 10:45.

Underway back to Kiel at 18:00 Karlruhe proceeded with Seeadler, Greif and Luchs when torpedoed by the ambushung British submarine HMS Truant. Luchs evaded the other nine torpedoes and tracked the launcher, depht-charging Truant for the next several hours with the other TBs. Truant was damaged but survived. Rieve ordered the TBs to evacuate his crew and Greif to finish off ship. Lützow being also hit by a British submarine on 11 April, the three TBs were soon there to assist her too. On 18 April, Seeadler, Möwe, Greif, Wolf escorted minelayers in the Kattegat. She was later refitted at Wesermünde in May-August and moved to a Frenche port, freshly acquired, assigned to the 5th Flotilla with Greif, Falke, Kondor. They started minelaying the English Channel on 30 September to 1 October. With Wolf and Jaguar, they sortied without results off the Isle of Wight on 8–9 October. In their 11–12 October sortie they sank two Free French submarine chasers, two British armed trawlers. The 5th Flotilla was moved to St. Nazaire and they laid a minefield off Dover (3–4 December) and the Channel (21–22 December).

With Iltis and the Z4 Richard Beitzen they escorted another minelaying mission at the northern entrance to the Channel (23–24 January 1941). After another refit in Rotterdam in March-May 1941 she returned to the Skagerrak, on convoy escort. She was again refitted in Rotterdam (Dec. 1941 – Feb. 1942) and assigned back to the 5th TBF., escorting Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Prinz Eugen on 12 February 1942 off Cap Gris-Nez (Channel Dash). On 12 March – 2 April they escorted the first sortie of the commerce raider Michel through the Channel, fighting off HMS Walpole and Fernie on their way. They did the same for Stier (12-19 May) but this time met heavy opposition, and on 13th, British MTBs locked on Seeadler, which took at least twop torpedo hits and capsized, broke in tow, and went down with 85 of her crew.

T17 of the 1937 Type

T21, 2 July 1946
No cc photo for T17, here is T21 of the same class, being tested by by the British in July 1946.
T17 was built in Schichau, and commissioned on 28 August 1941, plagued by shortages of skilled labor and raw materials. After initial training and fixes in October she served in the Baltic, in convoy escort. In early 1942 she was moved to France, and on 12 February as part of the 2nd TBF (T2, T4, T5, T11, T12) and 3rd TBF (T13, T15, T16, T17) she met KMS Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, Prinz Eugen for the famous “Channel Dash” back to Germany. On 19-21 March, T17, T15, T16 were transferred to Norway, escorting Admiral Hipper to Trondheim. Later T17 was refitted refitted in Kiel. On 1–3 October she was in the Baltic escorting Scharnhorst, Leipzig and Nürnberg and Z25, Z31 and Z37 ad some of her sisters.

T17 T28 of the 1939 Type

T 35 as DD-935 US seas August 1945
No cc photo for T28, here is T35 of the same class, being tested by the USN.
T28 was was built in Schichau, Elbing, commissioned on 19 June 1943. T28 and T29 were assitgned to Western France by late January 1944 and en route shelled by British coastal artillery and then two British Fairey Albacore. Near misses caused minor leaks in T28’s boiler room. She was refitted upon arrival until June. After the landings in Normandy on the 6th, theur unit, the 5th Torpedo Boat Flotilla (T28, Falke, Jaguar, Möwe) based in Le Havre made several sorties against the armada, mostly by night to the allied air superiority. They rather targeted isolated Allied shipping. Over time they encountered many, launched 50 torpedoes and spent mich ammunition but only managed to sink the Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Svenner. T28 was submitted to a RAF night raid on 14/15 June (clamining Falke and Jaguar) but emerged victorious. On the night of 21/22 July with three E-boats she sailed from Le Havre to Boulogne and encountered on her way HMS Melbreak, but ultimately she went back to Germany on the 27th despite multiple allied attacks.

On 20–21 August with T23 she escorted Prinz Eugen off Tukums, Latvia. She assisted the evacuation of Tallinn (Estonia) by mid-September 1944, and minelaying ops. in the Gulf of Finland. On 22 October with T23 she shelled Soviet positions near Sworbe, Saaremaa. On 19 November they did the same but had to fold up. In December she escorted the 6th Destroyer Flotilla (Z35, Z36 and Z43) to lay a new minefield off the Estonian coast. She herself laid 46 mines. The flotilla on the 11th encountered fould weather and Z35, Z36 due to poor visibility ended on “Nashorn” minefield, and sank. T28 came back and was refitted in Gotenhafen until December 1944.

Next, she escorted Prinz Eugen with two destroyers and her sister T23 for a counterattack against Soviet forces near Cranz (29–30 January 1945). She also escorted Admiral Scheer with T23 and T35 off the East Prussian coast (2–5 February) to shell Soviet positions near Frauenburg and again on 9–10 February. She also escorted Lützow foing the same south of Danzig (27 March) and then escorted evacuation convoys from Hela. On 5 May she recued part of 45,000 refugees from East Prussia, evacuated to Denmark, the others in Glücksburg on the 9th.
As a surviving ship she was allocated a war reparation vessel to the British by late 1945 and then retransferred to France on 4 February 1946, recommissioned as Le Lorrain. Overhauled in Cherbourg with a US radar and FCS, and 40mm Bofors guns installed, she was fully recommissioned in December 1949, escorting the Mediterranean Squadron from Toulon and later the ASW, ended her career as trials ship, stricken on 31 October 1955 and sold for BU.

Read More


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Saibène, Marc (2004). Les torpilleurs légers français 1937-1945. Marines.
Salou, Charles (2004). Les torpilleurs de 600 tW du type “la Melpomène” Collection Navires et Histoire des marines du monde, Lela Presse.
Whitley, M. J. (2000). Destroyers of World War Two: An International Encyclopedia. London: Cassell & Co.


T23 on
type 23 on
type 24 on
Torpedoboot Ausland
ZT107 on
TBs on 10.5 cm L45 sk C32 gun german Torpedoes
Type 23Type 24Type 35Type 37Type 39Type 40Type 41Type 44
On Melpomene TA9
surface flotillas of the Kriegsmarine
Torpedoboote Ausland

Model Kits

Heller 1031 T 23 Torpedo boat Type 1939-class
NIKO MODEL 7110 German torpedo-boat type 24 JAGUAR 1940
1/700 Niko Models German torpedo-boat type 37 T18 1941
NIKO MODEL German torpedo-boat Type 35 – T1
Niko Model German torpedo-boat Type 39 – T35 1945 1:700
WSW Modellbau German Torpedoboot T-23 N° 700-22-04 | 1:700

T-Boote nomenclature

Kriegsmarine T107 class (WWI)

The former G7 (T107) after her second reconstruction and modernization (pinterest).
In 1919, the Reichsmarine counted two series of old “destroyers” authorized in the entente classification. These twelve ships were the six former V1 class, 670 tonnes (1911) and the six of the G7 class, 660 tonnes (1912-13). Needless to say all post-1914 built HochseeTBs had been interned in Scapa Flow and/or distributed as war reparation to the entente nations and others. With the arrival of the Type 1923, the six boats of the V1 class were stricken in 1929 and kept as a reserve of parts to be cannibalized and keep the G7 group operational. With the 1924 Type in service, they were in turn reclassed as Torpedo boats, although all were assimilated as TBs anyway. The classification difference was only communicated to the armistice commission and retained by most authors de describe them.
As for proper “torpedo boats”, the Reichsmarine counted quite a disparate fleet of former destroyers (Hochsee TBs):
-T139-149 which were 1906-1907 533 tonnes models and T151 to T158 which were 558 tonnes. Due to their age, half were discarded before 1939.
T141 was retained for parts, BU 1933. T143,44,46,48,49 were discarded in 1927-28. T152 and 154 were discarded in 1928-31.
Next, there was a mix of assorted models of various types and tonnage: T168 (1911, 665t) stricken 1927, T175 (1910, 700t) stricken 1926. The T158, 190 and 196 were retained for service, as the smaller, older T139, T151, 153, 155-158.

For reasons of simplification, we will see in one swoop both T107 and T150 series will be seen here. The were World War I “torpedo boats” (Hochseetorpedoboote), technically in WWI assimilated to destroyers but classed in Germany still as large ocean-going TBs. They were still active in the interwar, and were modernized in the 1920s and 1930s. They were sent in auxiliary duties in 1939 but T107, T108, T110, T111 and T196 were still listed as active TBs. T151, T153, T155, T156, T157, T158 and T190 were rearmed by late 1939 and tooo, part in escort missions during the invasion of Poland and Norway and stayed active until Operation Hannibal, the east prussian evacuations.

T107 group: Former G7 type, they were reboilered in 1921-23, and underwent another major reconstruction in 1935-37 or later. They gained two modern 105mm/45, were lenghtened and displacement rose to 15%. They retained their prewar prefic letter related to their builders, V for AG Vulkan, S for Schichau, and G for Germaniawerft. In 1937 they were reclassified as “TB” properly with T-numbers. Precise information are had to get, as photos. If enough is found, they will be the object of a dedicated article.

T139 group: This is a highly artificial classfification as the ten boats kept active until 1939 and in WW2 were of various tonnage and capabilities (see above). They were modernized in Wilhelmshaven in the early 1920s, boilers changed, and had remodelled bridges and funnels layout. Again, if enough information is available, they will be the object of a dedicated post in the future. During their interwar carrer they were alternatively disarmed and rearmed, but used for auxiliary tasks. In 1927, T139 and 141 became the radio control ships “Pfeil” and “Blitz”. T153 became the rangefinder training ship Edward Jungmann in 1938.Apparently T151 and T156-57-58 and T196 were active, but T155, T175, T185 were in reserve in 1939. They all survived the war but T157 which hit a mine in 22 October 1943. T155 and 156 were scuttled in April and May 1945 due to the Soviet advance. T151, T153, T190 were attributed to the USA in 1945-46 and promtly scrapped. T158, 185 and 196 were attributed to the USSR. Same fate but T158 which became Prosorlivi in 1945 and was active for some time, and lated scrapped at an unknown date.

Kriegsmarine Type 1923 (1924)

Albatross, Falke, Greif, Kondor, Möwe, Seeadler

The six Type 23 torpedo boats (Raubvogel) were developed from 1918 unbuilt Hochsee TBs plans, unrealized and laid down as zerstörer (Destroyers) for the first time in the Riehchsmarine. The term reflected the Versailles treaty and Washington treaty classification to avoid confusion as Germany was specified to have twelve ships of each type, TB and Destroyers. Thus, the Reichsmarine built them to replace former Hochsee TBs that were themselves reclassed as “Torpedoboote”, helping to retire the WWI vintage TBs still in service. Thus two classes were ordered the Type 1923 and 1924, two batches of six to contitute a coherent twelve-ship destroyer force.

They entered service in 1926-1927. All built at Naval Dockyard at Wilhelmshaven, named and half launched the same day, leading to a grand ceremony. They were the also first to German ships built with the help of electrical welding, to reduce displacement. They were also the first with geared steam turbines. Indeed, even the models of destroyers planned in 1918 still had VTEs. Overall they were successful sea-boats, with good speed and agility, but based on such low tonnage, they were seen more as coastal ships, not on par with standard destroyers of the time and light away from large ones.

They mostly served with the 4th Torpedo Boat Half Flotilla and by 1936 and Albatros and Seeadler were in the 2nd TBF, Falke, Greif, Kondor, Möwe were in the 4th TBF, patrolling during the Spanish Civil War, especially after Deutschland was bombed by Republican aircraft in 1938, shelling Almería. In 1938 Seeadler joined the 4th Flotilla, Greif, Kondor and Möwe, the 5th TBF. The other were in refit at that time. WW2 was fierce for them: All supported the North Sea mining operations, they patrolled the Skagerrak, took part in 1940 to the Norwegian Operations, and they went on for various operations until 1944; notably mining the channel. All in all, Möwe was sunk by aviation on 16 June 1944, Falke too on 14/15 June, Greif on 24 May 1944, Kondor hit a mine on 23 May 1944, Albatros ran aground on 9 April 1940 and Seeadler was torpedoed by British MTBs on 13 May 1942.

Characteristics: (As built 1926)

Displacement: 798/923 long tons standard, 1,213/1,290 long tons FL
Dimensions: 87/87.7 x 8.25 x 3.65 m (287 ft 9 in x 27 ft 1 in x 12 ft) (o/a)
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 3 × WT boilers, 23,000 shp (17,000 kW)
Speed: 32–34 knots (59–63 km/h; 37–39 mph)
Range: 1,800 nmi (3,300 km; 2,100 mi) at 17 kts
Crew: 127
Armament: 3× 10.5 cm (4.1 in), 2×3 500 mm (19.7 in) TTs, 30 mines

Kriegsmarine Type 1924 (1926)

Iltis, Jaguar, Leopard, Luchs, Tiger, Wolf

Torpedoboot “Luchs”

Six ships of 1924 Type “Raubtier” or “predator” class had been planned to carry the 12.7 cm (5-in) gun but instead went for the older 10.5 cm weapons. All were from the same Wilhelmshaven yard, but with speed and range improved but overall pretty close to the “Raubvogels” and upgraded in the late 1930s after entering service in 1927-1928. Like the former they had a lot of weather helm and thus “almost impossible to hold on course in wind at low speed”, and equipped with too many torpedoes for their role with the same six 50 cm (19.7 in) torpedo tubes in two triple mounts. Their AA was expanded, notably 20 mm guns in WW2, and by 1944 Jaguar received a FuMB 4 Sumatra radar detector and a proper Fumo surface radar.
Pushed hard they were all lost but one by mid-1942:
Wolf hit a mine on 8 January 1941, Iltis (Polecat) was sunk by British MTBs on 13 May 1942, Jaguar by aircraft on 14 June 1944, Leopard by collision with KMS Preussen on 30 April 1940, Luchs (Lynx) torpedoed by HMS Thames on 26 July 1940 and Tiger by collision with Z3 Max Schultz on 27 August 1939.

Displacement: 933 long tons standard, 1,320 long tons (1,340 t) FL
Dimensions: 92.6 x 8.65 x 3.52 m (303 ft 10 in x 28 ft 5 in x 11 ft 7 in)
Range: 1,997 nmi (3,698 km; 2,298 mi) at 17 knots

Kriegsmarine Type 1935 (1938)

T-1, ONI
T-1, ONI
The Type 35 torpedo boat were the first modern type specifically as torpedo bootes, and despite being called Type 1935, they were completed a few months after the start of World War II and still training when the Norwegian Campaign commenced in April–June 1940. Design-wise, German authorities lied when reporting theior official tonnage, 600 standard. In reality they displaced 859 long tons (873 t) standard and 1,108 long tons (1,126 t) at deep load, but even more in 1944 with AA additions. Very different design compared to the Type 23/24 they had no forward artillery, just a single aft gun and two torpedo tubes banks of the larger 21-in cal. They were also flush deck with a large raked bow to deal with heavy weather, alrhough it proved not enough and many had their bows raised and sharpened, clipper-style. Engineers soon realized that it was impossible to stick on the 600 tonnes limit after the 1930 London Naval Treaty and it was decided to scrap the clause entirely.

More so, the design was plagued by boilers issues to such a point that naval historian M. J. Whitley later stated “the whole concept, with the benefit of hindsight, must be considered a gross waste of men and materials, for these torpedo boats were rarely employed in their designed role.”. In all, twelve were built to replace older WWI units (T1-T12). The very last was commissioned on 4 july 1940. Nevertheless compared to previous ships they hhad one more boiler for more ouptut, better top speed, reduced crew and range.
They spent most their time escorting convoys and minelayers in North Sea, English Channel and later transferred to Norway trying to prey against shipping along the Scottish coast. Refitted in early 1941 they ended in the Baltic Sea to support operations from June. Four ended in reserve (manpower shortages) as well as in 1942, four were sent to France, escorting commerce raiders and later the “channel dash”. Two ended in the Torpedo School and the rest in 1943. Later in 1944 most were back in the Baltic. All in all, there were all sunk but three: T1 by aviation, 10 April 1945 as T2 (29 July 1944), T3 (19 September 1940), repaired, then mines, 14 March 1945, T4 (survived, Transferred US), T5 (mines 14 March 1945) T6 (same 7 November 1940), T7 (aircraft, 29 July 1944), T8 (same 3 May 1945), T9 (sunk 4 July 1940), T10 (aviation 19 December 1944), and T11 went UK and France, T12 to USSR, 1946.

T1 as the Type 1935 lead ship as completed
T1 as the Type 1935 lead ship as completed.

Characteristics: (As built 1938)

Displacement: 859 long tons standard, 1,108 long tons FL
Dimensions: 84.3 x 8.62 x 2.83 m (276 ft 7 in x 28 ft 3 in x 9 ft 3 in)
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 4× WT boilers, 31,000 shp (23,000 kW)
Speed: 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph)
Range: 1,200 nmi (2,200 km; 1,400 mi) at 19 kts
Crew: 119
Armament: 1× 10.5 cm (4.1 in), 1x 37mm, 2x 20mm, 2×3 500 mm (19.7 in) TTs, 60 mines

Kriegsmarine Type 1937 (1940)

T21 of the Type 1937 after the war
T21 of the Type 1937 after the war
The Type 37 torpedo boat were only nine built, completed in 1941–1942 but the remaining were cancelled as the Type 39 was preferred at this point. Design wise they were virtually a repeat of the Type 35, better range, but the same troublesome boilers, assorted with maintenance issues exacerbated by poor access. They were commissioned qute late to participate to major operations and went on performing teh same tasks as the Type 35 boats like escorting commerce raiders, the “Channel Dash”, Operations from France, from Norway, from the Baltic, assignment to the Torpedo School. Those in Norway by early escorted vessels and off Francen they laid minefields. By 1944 some served as training ships and were pressed to support German forces in the Baltic. Five out of nine survived the war, ending as war reparations. The Soviet Union used its one was a test ship scrapped in 1960.

T13 in 1944
T13 in 1944

Characteristics: (As built 1940)

Displacement: 888 t standard, 1,139 t deep load
Dimensions: 85.2 x 8.87 x 2.83 m (279 ft 6 in x 29 ft 1 in x 9 ft 2 in)
Range: 1,600 nmi (3,000 km; 1,800 mi) at 19 kts

Kriegsmarine Type 1939 (1941-42)

T22 to T-36: 15 TBs

T35 as DD 395 in US tests, August 1945
T35 as DD 395 in US tests, August 1945
Großadmiral Erich Raeder, Kriegsmarine’s CiC saw the proposed Type 1938B-class destroyer in 1939 as too small for effective use and instead proposed a 1,265 tons 311 feet all-purpose torpedo boat instead. The new design was evaluated on 8 July and by September the Kriegsmarine, caught off-guard at the start of Plan Z, was forced to re-evaluate the whole shipbuilding program. The Type 1938B was definitely cancelled, more Type 1936A-class destroyers ordered as the Type 39 TBs. The latter represented a drastic leap forward in design, much larger and better armed than the puny Type 35/37 that still tried to “stick” to treaty limits.
The Type 39 was a properly designed torpedo boat with full features, adding to thier initial torpedo attack role, better escort and attack capabilities due to their large artillery, and better range due to a tonnage almost twice as large as treaty limits (from 600 to 1,300 tonnes). They however still share the same troubesome high-pressure boilers but their new propulsion machinery was separated in two widely spaced compartment to avoid a single hit any crippling effect, compounded by the addition of 13 watertight compartments and a double bottom covering 67–69% of their length. Their survivability increased thus several folds.
With a 336 ft 3 in long by 32 ft 10 in wide hull, 1,780 metric tons (1,750 long tons) fully loaded, increased height clipper bow, this time the new TBs were soon reputed excellent seaboats, very maneuverable in stark contrast of their precedessors. However they needed a larger crew, with 206 officers and sailors and in wartime, previous Type 35/37 were often placed in reserve due to manpower issue, the Kriegsmarine preferring reaffecting them to the new Type 39.

T35 in USN trials of Boston, September 1945
T35 in USN trials of Boston, September 1945

The Type 39 ships’s Wagner geared steam turbines, connected to three-bladed 2.5-meter (8 ft 2 in) propellers were fed by four Wagner water-tube boilers working at 70 kg/cm2 (6,865 kPa; 996 psi), 460 °C (860 °F) for 32,000 shaft horsepower (24,000 kW), reaching 33.5 knots (62.0 km/h; 38.6 mph). In service however steam consumption of the auxiliary machinery proved excessive, boilers failing to aise enough steam and lowering their top speed in practice (in moderate load and perfect weather, to 31 knots) their range also went from 2,300 to just 2,085 nmi (3,861 km; 2,399 mi) at the same 19 knots.

Armament-wise, they were a leap forward compared to the weak Type 35/37: Four 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns instead of just one, and better AA (two twin 3.7 cm (1.5 in) and Fmakvierling and two single 2 cm (0.8 in)), but keeping the same two triple 533 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes. They could aso carry twice as many mines upt to 60 and for the first time, introduced four depth charge launchers to better perform their ASW escort role. This was completed by a S-Gerät sonar and FuMO 21 search radar from completion. They were started in Schichau, Elbing in 1940-4
and for that reason were almso called te “Elbing class”.

In wartime, they arrived late, at a time losses for the Kriegsmarine had been high: T22, the lead vessel, was commissioned in February 1942 but production issues delayed the others: T36 was only completed on 9 December 1944 and could do little at that stage. Apart T27 which ran aground in 1944 and T23, 28, 33 and 35 attributed respectively to France(2), USSR and USA, they were all sunk by aviation, mines, gunfire and torpedo. This class as the others will be covered on detail in a dedicated post in the future, including notably full careers.

Rendition of the Type 44, T25
Rendition of the Type 39, T25
Conways profile of T37, Type 1939

Characteristics: (As built 1938)

Displacement: 859 long tons standard, 1,108 long tons FL
Dimensions: 84.3 x 8.62 x 2.83 m (276 ft 7 in x 28 ft 3 in x 9 ft 3 in)
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 4× WT boilers, 31,000 shp (23,000 kW)
Speed: 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph)
Range: 1,200 nmi (2,200 km; 1,400 mi) at 19 kts
Crew: 119
Armament: 1× 10.5 cm (4.1 in), 1x 37mm, 2x 20mm, 2×3 500 mm (19.7 in) TTs, 60 mines

Kriegsmarine Type 1940 (1944)

Rendition of the Type 1940 (conways)

“The Type 1940 torpedo boats were a group of 24 torpedo boats that were intended to be built for Germany’s Kriegsmarine during World War II. Although classed as fleet torpedo boats (Flottentorpedoboot) by the Germans, they were comparable to contemporary large destroyers. They were designed around surplus Dutch propulsion machinery available after the Germans conquered the Netherlands in May 1940 and were to be built in Dutch shipyards. Hampered by uncooperative Dutch workers and material shortages, none of the ships were completed before the Allies invaded Normandy (Operation Neptune) on June 1944. The Germans towed the three ships that were most complete to Germany to be finished, but one was sunk en route by Allied fighter-bombers and no further work was done of the pair that did arrive successfully. The remaining ships in the Netherlands were later broken up for scrap and the two that reached Germany were scuttled in 1946.”

Characteristics: (As built 1938)

Displacement: 859 long tons standard, 1,108 long tons FL
Dimensions: 84.3 x 8.62 x 2.83 m (276 ft 7 in x 28 ft 3 in x 9 ft 3 in)
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 4× WT boilers, 31,000 shp (23,000 kW)
Speed: 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph)
Range: 1,200 nmi (2,200 km; 1,400 mi) at 19 kts
Crew: 119
Armament: 1× 10.5 cm (4.1 in), 1x 37mm, 2x 20mm, 2×3 500 mm (19.7 in) TTs, 60 mines

Kriegsmarine Type 1941 (1944)

T37 to T50: 14 boats planned, 5 to 96% complete.

T37 of the Type 1941 (conways)
In September 1939 the war caused the cancellation the bulk of Type 39 torpedo boats orders, with only 15 retained. Labor and material shortages also hampered their construction which dragged on until really starting by 1941. To compensate for the destroyers losses and spare strategic materials and labour time, the Kriesgmarine championed the idea in 1941 on a slightly enlarged Type 39 with an improvedmore propulsion machinery to reclaim 34 knots and more space to accomodate extra 3.7-centimeter (1.5 in) AA twin mounts.
In the end, the new Type 1941 reached 106 meters (347 ft 9 in) long for a 10.7 meters (35 ft 1 in) beam and 1,493/2,155 long tons displacement. They also had widely separated machinery spaces and 13 watertight compartments, 69% long double bottom. Using the same Wagner geared steam turbines and water-tube boilers they reached 40,000 shp (instead of 32,000) and carried 559 metric tons of fuel oil for 2,800 nautical miles. This was considered not good enough to replace destroyers and Schichau started work on an electric auxliary machinery, that was planned for the Type 1944, reaching 4,200 nm this time.

The main armament was essentially the same as the former Type 39, with four single 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns (Although the KM44 dual purpose was planned to replace these), twin 3.7 cm a quadruple and two single 2 cm AA, same two triple torpedo tubes banks and four depth charge launchers. They also were to be fitted with the same S-Gërat sonar, but also the FuMO 21 radar, FuMB7 “Naxos” plus FuMB8 “Wanz G” radar detectors. Construction was postponed at Schichau until the first were laid down in October 1943, Fabruary and June 1944 and in 1945. None was completed. When captured by the allies, hulls were between 5% (T50) and 96.5% for T37, the lead boat. T38 and 39 were 84 and 76% respectively, both captured and scuttled by the British in 1946 while T37 went to the US for evaluation, in 1946. All the remainder were demolished on slipway but T40 that was launched and towed while in completion, accidentally ran aground on 12 March 1945, and was later scuttled by the British Forces.

Characteristics: (As planned 1945)

Displacement: 1,493t standard, 2,155t deep load
Dimensions: 106 x 10.7 x 3.72 m (348 x 35 x 12 ft)
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 4× WT boilers, 40,000 shp (30,000 kW)
Speed: 34 knots (63 km/h; 39 mph)
Range: 2,800 nmi (5,200 km; 3,200 mi) at 19 knots
Crew: 210
Armament: 1× 10.5 cm (4.1 in), 3×2 37mm, 8x 20mm, 2×3 500 mm (19.7 in) TTs, 4 DCT

Kriegsmarine Type 1944 (1944)

T52 of the Type 44 as planned. It looked more compact and bulky than previous designs, more destroyer-like.
As the previous Type 39 torpedo boats, the Type 44s were general-purpose TBs, but improved over steam consumption of the Type 39′ auxiliary machinery. At the time, revolutionary three-phase electric motor which was found far more effective for a relatively small ship’s auxiliary machinery, partially automated to boot and fast-starting. Dipl.-Ing. Illies at Schichau-Werke’s shipyard, Elbing (East Prussia) which worked on this programme, had it ready for tests in 1942 and trialled connect with a single boiler, plus full-size mockups of turbine-boiler rooms were made for demonstrations. The Kriegsmarine’s staff however doubted the “Illies-Schichau” machinery would be ready before 1944 and so the Type 44 was designed with alternative powerplants in mind.

The hull was about the same as the Type 39, 103 meters (337 ft 11 in) long for 10.1 meters (33 ft 2 in) so a bit larger, and displacing 100 tonnes more at 1,418 long tons (1,441 t) standard, a protection including 12 watertight compartments, double bottom on 70%. Eventually two sets of Wagner geared steam turbines and four Wagner water-tube boilers were chosen, improved and producing 52,000 shaft horsepower (39,000 kW) versus 32,000 on the Type 39. This enabled the far more respectable top speed of 37 knots. This 300 metric tons of fuel oil aboard they also reached 4,500 nautical miles (8,300 km; 5,200 mi) at 19 knots, better than any destroyers of the time. The auxiliary intended electric machinery however only reached 25 knots but greatly increasing the range.

The planned main armament was essentually the same as the Type 39 but with KM44 dual-purpose guns in two twin-gun mounts instead of three singles. It was completed by an AA director on the bridge’s roof and a comfortable AA overall with no less than ten 3.7-centimeter in five twin mounts (with reserve to add Flakvierling or 20 mm quad mounts) and the same 533-mm banks amidships plus rails for 30 mines. This was quite an improvement over the Type 39, however at that stage, the nine Type 44s (T52–T60) ordered from Schichau on 28 March 1944 (yard n° 1720–1745 and 1447–1449) were scheduled for completion on 15 September 1946, but the fall of east Prussia to Soviet forces in January 1945 cancelled the facto these plans with little work done.

Characteristics: (As planned 1945)

Displacement: 1,418 long tons standard, 1,794 long tons FL
Dimensions: 103 x 10.1 x 3.7m (337 x 33 12 ft 2 in)
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 4× WT boilers, 2 elec. mot. 52,000 shp (39,000 kW)
Speed: 37 knots (69 km/h; 43 mph)
Range: 4,500 nmi (8,300 km; 5,200 mi) at 19 kts
Crew: 222
Armament: 2×2 10.5 cm, 5×2 37mm, 2×3 533 mm TTs, 30 mines

Torpedoboot Ausland

Le Fier class plans
Le Fier class plans (later TA 1 class). Original, not German modified.
36 completed torpedo boats was not a lot to be sure, less than Italy, a droplet compared to the mass of escort destroyers built by US yards. But fortunately for the Kriegsmarine, the real estate area captured in 1940 provided a wealth of yards, and ships at anchor, under construction or completion which could be pressed into the Kriegsmarine. And in WW2 this force was nothing less than considerable, albeit very disparate to say the least: 49, so far more than “regular” torpedo boats, from which part were not even built in German Yards but in the Netherlands (12 in all):
They were not given the usual prefix “T-” but “TA-” for “Torpedoboot Ausland”, literrally “foreign torpedo boats”. The Kriegsmarine’s list went for TA-1 to TA-49, in order of capture. The paradox was that the first series were ex-French and Norwegian vessels never completed while the bulk of later series were ex-Italian vessels captured in late 1943.
Here is a review of these cases, class by class:

Kriegsmarine TA-1 class (French Le Fier, 1940)

The Le Fier class were sea-going torpedo boats laid down in 1940, they were incomplete at the fall of France. The shipyards were sized in June 1940, and Le Fier, L’Agile, L’Entreprenant, Le Farouche, L’Alsacien, and Le Corse were examined for completion to German standards. Le Breton was scrapped, seven others cancelled. The remaining ones were completed and modified with revised specifications by the Kriegsmarine as TA1-TA6. See the tables for the final specs.

Displacement was increased but dimensions were shrunk a bit (see the tables below), engines and propulsion remained the same, with full power reduced but they were rearmed with three 10.5 cm SK C/32 naval guns, two 3.7 cm SK C/30, nine 2 cm SK c/38 guns (Flakvierling + 5 single) and two triple 533 mm (21.0 in) G7 torpedo tubes. Work under German supervision was limited by material shortages and French sabotage and they never reached completion in 1945. By April 1943 already, efforts were concentrated to complete TA1 and TA4, using cannibalized parts. TA2 and TA4 were sunk by USAF aviation, refloated but work stopped after the Normandy landings. They were scuttled on 11 August 1944. For the anecdote the Spanish Audaz-class reused German plans and documents for these.

Characteristics: (As planned for 1944-45)

Displacement: 1,087 tons standard, 1,443 tons FL*
Dimensions: 93.2 x 9.28 x 3.08 m (305.8 x 30.4 ft x 10.1 ft)**
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 4× WT boilers, 28,000 bhp (20,900 kW)***
Speed: 34 knots (estimated)
Crew: 119
Armament: 3x 10.5 cm, 2x 37mm, 9x 20mm, 2×3 533mm TTs****
*Original 859 long tons standard, 1,108 long tons FL
**Original 84.3 x 8.62 x 2.83 m (276 ft 7 in x 28 ft 3 in x 9 ft 3 in)
***Original 31,000 shp (23,000 kW)
****1× 10.5 cm (4.1 in), 1x 37mm, 2x 20mm, 2×3 500 mm (19.7 in) TTs, 60 mines

Kriegsmarine TA-7 class (Norwegian Sleipner, 1939)

HNoMS Sleipner
The Sleipner class were six Norwegian destroyers built from 1936, but not completed during the German invasion in 1940. Theu used aluminium bridges and superstructure, mast and funnel. Hull in extra strength special steel. Good main guns, AA artillery ASW weapons. Æger was bombed by German planes on 9 April 1940. Sleipner took refuge in UK, served with the Free Norwegian Navy. Gyller and Odin were captured by the Germans in 1940 at Kristiansand. Balder and Tor were captured uncomplete in the shipyard, complete by the Germans. They were used until 1945 as Torpedoboot Ausland as Löwe, Panther, Leopard, and Tiger. In 1945 Löwe escorted Wilhelm Gustloff whe she was was torpedoed, rescuing 472 passengers (worst sinking of all time).

Characteristics: (As built 1938)

Displacement: 735 tons long tons standard
Dimensions: 74.30 x 7.80 x 4.15 m (243.77 x 25.59 x 13.62 ft)
Propulsion: 2 shafts De Laval turbines, 4 WT boilers, 12,500 shp (9,300 kW)
Speed: 32 knots (59.26 km/h)
Crew: 75
Armament: 3× 10 cm, 1x 40mm Bofors, 2x 12.7mm AA, 1×2 533 mm TTs, 4 DCT

Kriegsmarine TA-9 class (Ex-French, La Melpomène)

La Melpomène class were 12 French torpedo boats (1933-1935) in service with the Marine Nationale, which after the armistice passed onto the Vichy French Navy (some Free French Navy, Royal Navy and Royal Netherlands Navy). After the scuttling of Toulon, the Regia Marina ceized most of them, to refloat.
a Melpomène was in a British port in June 1940. After brief service with the Royal Navy, she was transferred into FNFL (Free French) service. In 1950 was sold for scrap.
-La Pomone was seized by the Italians at Bizerte in November 1942: FR42, then German TA10 in May 1943. Duelled with HMS Eclipse near Rhodes, badly damaged, scuttled on 27 September 1943.
-L’Iphigénie Seized by the Italians at Bizerte, FR43, German TA11 (May 43), sunk by Italian MAS at Piombino, 10 September 1943.
-La Bayonnaise scuttled in Toulon, raised by the Italians as FR44. Seized by the Germans, TA13. Scuttled on 23 August 1944.
-Bombarde seized by the Italians at Bizerte, FR41 from September 1943 renamed TA9. Snk by aircraft off Toulon, 23 August 1944.
-Baliste scuttled in Toulon, raised by the Italians as FR45. German TA12, sunk by Allied aircraft on 22 August 1943.

Characteristics: (As built 1938)

Displacement: 610 tons standard, 834 tons full load
Dimensions: 81 x 10.5 x 2.65m (265 ft 9 in x 34 ft 5 in x 8 ft 8 in)
Propulsion: 2 shafts Geared turbines 4 boilers 33,000 shp (25,000 kW)
Speed: 34.5 knots (63.9 km/h; 39.7 mph)
Range: 1,200 nmi (2,200 km; 1,400 mi) at 19 kts
Crew: 8+94
Armament: 2× 10 cm, 2x 37mm, 2x 13.2mm, 3x 550 mm TTs

Kriegsmarine TA-14-49 class (Ex-Italian, various)

Solferino, of the Curtatone class in 1943, later TA 18 src

Curtatone class: TA16 class (ex-Castelfidardo), Achilles (ex-Calatafimi), TA15, TA19
TA16 had two twin 102/45 S-A M1919, four single Breda 20mm/65 M1939, 2×3 – 450mm TT, 16 mines. TA19: Twin 102mm/45 S-A M1919, One 102mm/45 S-A M1919, 5x 20mm/65 M1939, Twin 533mm TT, 16 mines captured in Aegean Sea in September, 1943. TA16 entered the Kriegsmarine on 14.11.1943, TA19 on 13.10.1943. By that time they reached 24kts and 600 at 12 nm.
By late 1943, triple 450mm TT; single 40mm/56 FlaK 28, Flakvierling C/38, single 20mm/65 M1939 or single 37/80 SK C/30. Both served in Aegean Sea. TA16 was damaged by British aircraft 31.5.1944, fore end was broken off, 2.6.1944 she was lost at Heraklion (Crete) as a result of explosion on s/s Gertrud, attacked by British bombers. TA19 was damaged by missiles from British aircraft 19.6.1944 and was under repair 1 month, 9.8.1944 she was sunk by a torpedo from Greek submarine Pipinos at Samos.
The full list (a dedicated article will be done on these ex-Italian Torpedoboote Ausland(i) for “Italien”).

TA14 (1927) 28.10.1943 in German service, sunk 15.09.1944
TA15 (1925), 30.10.1943, sunk 08.03.1944
TA16 (1922), 14.10.1943, sunk 02.06.1944
TA17 (1920), 28.10.1943, sunk 12.10.1944
TA18 (1920), 25.07.1944, sunk 19.10.1944
TA19 (1923), 19.09.1943, sunk 09.08.1944
TA20 (1915), 21.10.1943, sunk 01.11.1944
TA21 (1913), 08.11.1943, sunk 05.11.1944
TA22 (1915), 11.08.1944, blown up 03.05.1945
TA23 (1942) com. 17.10.1943, sunk 25.04.1944
TA24 (1943) com. 04.10.1943, sunk 18.03.1945
TA25 (1942) 16.01.1944, sunk 06.07.1944
TA26 (1943) com. 18.12.1943, sunk 15.07.1944
TA27 (1943) com. 28.12.1943, sunk 09.06.1944
TA28 (1943) com. 23.01.1944 sunk 04.09.1944
TA29 (1943) com. 06.03.1944, sunk 18.03.1945
TA30 (1943) com. 15.04.1944, sunk 15.06.1944
TA31 (1930) 17.06.1944 sunk 24.04.1945
TA32 (1931) 18.08.1944, destroyed 24.04.1945
TA33 (1942) destroyed 04.09.1944
TA34 (1916) 17.06.1944, sunk 24.06.1944
TA35 (1915) 09.06.1944, sunk 17.08.1944
TA36 (1943) sunk 18.03.1944
TA37 (1943) sunk 07.10.1944
TA38 (1943) scuttled 13.10.1944
TA39 (1943) sunk 16.10.1944
TA40 (1943) destroyed 04.05.1945
TA41 (1944) com. 07.09.1944, sunk 17.02.1945
TA42 (1944) com. 27.09.1944, sunk 21.03.1945
TA43 (1937) 22.02.1945, scuttled 01.05.1945
TA44 (1929) 14.10.1944, sunk 17.02.1945
TA45 (1944) comm. 08.09.1944, sunk 13.04.1945
TA46 (1944) comm. 20.02.1945
TA47 (1942) scrapped 1971
TA48 (1914) 16.10.1943 sunk 20.02.1945
TA49 (1937) comm. 01.01.1938, sunk 04.11.1944

WW2 German Cruisers (Kriegsmarine Kreuzer)

As we know, the development of German cruisers was cut short by the war starting in 1939 and the plan Z being postponed and finally cancelled during WW2. It left the Kriegsmarine with just ten light cruisers and four heavy cruisers, just completed, and some in completion. A force of 15 cruisers was certainly not able to turn the tables during the war and indeed they fought and were lost in different occasions, some for which they were not well prepared for (like the Invasion of Norway) and never gave their full potential as commerce raider as part of Raeder’s strategy. In this post we will see the full development of German Cruiser lineage from reserve Reichsmarine vessels to Plan Z projects.

The inheritance of WW1 cruisers

Reichsmarine cruisers

Reservenkreuzer: Gazelle class (1900)

KMS Niobe
KMS Niobe in Yugoslavian service as Dalmacija in Kotor harbour, 1941.

SMS Frauenlob
SMS Frauenlob in 1915

Gazelle appearance in 1914

KMS Niobe (later Dalmacija)

The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes had initially been given the ships of the old Austro-Hungarian Navy after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the closing days of World War I, but the Allied powers quickly seized the majority of the ships and allocated them to the various Allied countries. Left with only twelve modern torpedo boats, the new country sought more powerful vessels. It therefore purchased Niobe when Germany placed her for sale in 1925.[11] Since Germany was forbidden from exporting armed warships, Niobe was taken to the Deutsche Werke shipyard in Kiel and disarmed. She also had her conning tower removed. On 7 August 1926, she began sea trials before being transferred to her new owners. Niobe was taken to the Tivat arsenal in the Bay of Kotor, arriving on 3 September 1927.[12] There, she was renamed Dalmacija (Dalmatia), and received her new armament before she entered Royal Yugoslav Navy service, though the details are uncertain. According to Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, she was equipped with six Škoda 8.5 cm (3.35 in) L/55 quick-firing guns, and initially four and later six 2 cm (0.79 in) anti-aircraft (AA) guns were added.[10] The naval historian Henry Lenton states that the main battery caliber was 8.6 cm (3.4 in), states that they were dual-purpose guns, and specifies four 2 cm single-mount AA guns.[13] But naval historian Milan Vego states that she carried six 8.3 cm (3.27 in) L/35 anti-aircraft guns, four 47 mm (1.9 in) guns, and six machine guns.[14] The historian Aidan Dodson concurs with Vego that the ship received six 8.3 cm guns, but instead states that they were 55-caliber guns of the Skoda M27 type. Dodson also agrees that she had four 47 mm guns but states her armament was rounded out by two 15 mm (0.59 in) Zbrojovka ZB-60 anti-aircraft machine-guns.[12]

After entering service, Dalmacija was employed as a gunnery training ship.[15] In May and June 1929, Dalmacija, the submarines Hrabri and Nebojša, the submarine tender Hvar and six torpedo boats went on a cruise to Malta, the Greek island of Corfu in the Ionian Sea, and Bizerte in the French protectorate of Tunisia. According to the British naval attaché, the ships and crews made a very good impression while visiting Malta.[16] In 1930, the ship underwent a minor refit and her foremast was modified, including by the addition of supporting struts that converted it into a tripod mast. Throughout the 1930s, the ship went on several training cruises in the Mediterranean Sea, and during this period she served as a flagship on a number of occasions.[12]
Dalmacija in Kotor after the German invasion in April 1941

In April 1941, during the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia, Dalmacija remained in Kotor and did not see action. Some forty years old by that time, the ship was kept in port as a harbor defense vessel, since her relatively heavy anti-aircraft armament could be used to defend against air attacks.[17] Following the Yugoslav surrender, the ship was captured by the Italians in Kotor on 25 April.[18] Renamed Cattaro, the ship was placed in service with the Regia Marina as a gunboat and gunnery training ship, based in Pola. On 31 July 1942, the cruiser was attacked by the British submarine HMS Traveller south of the village of Premantura on the Istrian coast, but all of the torpedoes missed.[19][20]

The ship’s fate is somewhat unclear; according to Hildebrand et al., Cattaro was later transferred to the Navy of the Independent State of Croatia, where she was commissioned as a training ship under the name Znaim. She returned to German service in September 1943 after Italy surrendered to the Allies, which significantly reduced the warships operating in the Adriatic Sea. A German and Croatian crew operated the ship, once again named Niobe, under the German flag.[8] According to Twardowski, however, the ship remained in Italian hands until Germany seized it in September 1943, thereafter turning her over to the Independent State of Croatia as Znaim before retaking the ship and restoring her original name at some point thereafter.[15] Aidan Dodson concurs that the ship remained in Italian hands until their surrender, and states that she was undergoing boiler repairs at Pola at the time. After falling into German hands, there was some debate as to what her name should be, with consideration given to Zenta or Novara in honor of Austro-Hungarian cruisers, but the Germans eventually settled on reverting to her original name.[20]

Nevertheless, after leaving Italian service the ship’s armament was six 8.4 cm (3.3 in) AA guns, four 47 mm AA guns, four 20 mm Oerlikon AA guns, and twenty-six 20 mm Breda AA guns, and she was commissioned on 8 November.[10] On the night of 21/22 September, while she was still refitting, two British Motor Torpedo Boats—MTB 226 and MTB 228—attacked the ship to the northwest of Zara without success.[21] Niobe began escorting convoys in the Adriatic, the first taking place on 13 November,[8] in support of Operation Herbstgewitter.[20] This convoy consisted of several transports carrying units from the 71st Infantry Division to the islands of Cres, Krk, and Lussino.[22]

On 19 December, Niobe ran aground on the island of Silba at around 18:00 as a result of a navigational error. The crew requested tugboats from Pola, but they were unable to pull the ship free. Local Partisans informed the British about the ship’s location, and three days later, the British Motor Torpedo Boats MTB 276 and MTB 298 attacked the ship and hit her with two torpedoes, and the tug Parenzo, which had been moored alongside to assist the salvage effort, was hit by a third torpedo and sunk.[23][24] Nineteen men were killed in the attack. The Germans then abandoned the wreck, apart from a small group tasked with removing or destroying weapons and other equipment. The wreck was then damaged further by the Germans before they abandoned it, and it was later cannibalized for spare parts by the Partisans. The wreck remained on Silba until 1947, when salvage operations began. She was raised and broken up for scrap by 1952.[10][23]

KMS Nymphe

“Nymphe was among the six light cruisers that Germany was permitted to retain under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war. She was taken to Wilhelmshaven on 4 November 1920, where from November 1922 to early 1924 she was modernized at the Deutsche Werke shipyard. Her original ram bow was replaced with a modern clipper bow, which increased her overall length to 108.7 m (357 ft). She also received a new mast, along with a new battery of 10.5 cm SK L/45 guns in U-boat mountings. A pair of 50 cm (20 in) torpedo tubes in deck-mounted launchers were also installed. She was recommissioned on 30 November 1924 for sea trials, with KzS Ernst Bindseil as her first commander in the new Reichsmarine (Navy of the Realm). She was then assigned to serve as the flagship of light Naval Forces of the Baltic Sea on 18 December, under the command of Konteradmiral (KAdm—Rear Admiral) Iwan Oldekop. FK Georg Kleine relieved Bindseil as the ship’s commander in January 1925. In addition to routine training exercises that year, the ship visited Merok, Norway, from 25 to 30 June. KAdm Franz Wieting replaced Oldekop as the unit commander on 25 September.[7][8][9]

In 1926, Nymphe took part in a major training cruise into the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea, during which she made several stops in Spain, including Cadiz from 20 to 24 May, Mahón, Menorca, from 27 to 29 May, Málaga from 1 to 8 June, and Vigo from 12 to 13 June. After returning to Germany, she took part in the fleet maneuvers held in August. From 4 to 5 September, she visited Skagen, Denmark, after which FK Fritz Conrad replaced Kleine as the ship’s captain. KzS Wilfried von Loewenfeld replaced Wieting on 16 March 1927. The ship made more foreign visits that year, and while in the Bay of Biscay, she was damaged in severe weather that saw wind strength in the range of 10–12 on the Beaufort scale. She stopped in El Ferrol from 2 to 14 April, Santa Cruz from 17 to 20 April, La Luz in Málaga from 24 April to 2 May, Lanzarote in the Canary Islands from 3 to 9 May, Horta and Ponta Delgada in the Azores from 14 to 23 May and from 24 to 29 May, respectively, Seville from 3 to 7 June, and Cadiz from 7 to 8 June. She once again took part in fleet maneuvers upon her return to Germany.[10]

Nymphe participated in a fleet cruise to Norway in July 1928, which included stops in Bergen and Ulvik. Following the fleet’s return to Germany, it conducted another set of training exercises, and in September, FK Wolf von Trotha relieved Conrad, serving as the ship’s last commander. On 15 October, KAdm Walter Gladisch replaced Loewenfeld, though Nymphe remained the flagship for just six months, being decommissioned on 16 April 1929 in Kiel; her role was taken by the new light cruiser Königsberg. Nymphe was briefly retained as a barracks ship until 31 March 1931, when she was struck from the naval register. She was sold on 29 August and then broken up the following year in Hamburg.[7][11] ”

KMS Thetis

“She was one of six light cruisers Germany was permitted to retain by the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war. Modernized in the early 1920s, she was recommissioned on 2 April 1922 and assigned to the Marinestation der Ostsee (Baltic Sea Naval Station). Her first commander during this period was FK Walther Kinzel. The year 1922 passed uneventfully, apart from routine training exercises with other elements of the small German fleet. In 1923, the ship made a pair of visits abroad; the first, to Mölle, Sweden, was from 11 to 15 July; the second, to Loen, Norway, lasted from 18 to 24 July. In October, Kapitän zur See (KzS—Captain at Sea) Ernst Bindseil replaced Kinzel. At the same time, the fleet was reorganized and Thetis became the flagship of light naval forces in the Baltic, which also included her sister ship Medusa and I Torpedo-boat Flotilla. The commander of the unit was KzS und Kommodore (and Commodore) Iwan Oldekop, who was promoted to konteradmiral on 1 November.[12]

Thetis made another pair of foreign visits in July 1924, both to ports in Estonia, one of the countries that had been created from the dissolution of the Russian Empire after the war. The first was to Tallinn (formerly Reval) from 5 to 10 July, and the second to Pärnu from 12 to 14 July. On 30 November, the ship was decommissioned in Wilhelmshaven, with her sister Nymphe replacing her as flagship. The vessel was thereafter used as a barracks ship in Wilhelmshaven until early 1929; struck from the naval register on 27 March, she and the torpedo boats V1 and V6 were sold to Blohm & Voss. Thetis was broken up in Hamburg in 1930.[11][8] ”

KMS Amazone

KMS Amazon and Admiral Hipper at Blohm and Voss shipyards, 1939

“The Treaty of Versailles that ended the war permitted Germany to retain six light cruisers, and Amazone was among those kept in service of the newly reorganized Reichsmarine. She was modernized and rearmed at the Reichsmarine Werft in Wilhelmshaven between 1921 and 1923. Her ram bow was replaced with a clipper bow, and she received a new battery of ten 10.5 cm SK L/45 guns in U-boat mountings and two 50 cm (20 in) torpedo tubes in deck launchers. She was recommissioned on 1 December 1923 under the command of Kapitän zur See (KzS—Captain at Sea) Walter Gladisch to replace her sister Arcona She joined the light forces of the Marinestation der Nordsee (North Sea Naval Station), operating with the light cruiser Hamburg and II. Torpedo-boat Flotilla. She spent the year 1924 conducting training exercises and visits abroad, including a summer training cruise with the fleet to Bodø, Norway.[12][13]

In March 1925, KzS Eduard Eichel relieved Gladisch. Amazone repeated the same pattern of training with the fleet and visits to foreign ports that year, including a cruise to Rotterdam, Netherlands and fleet exercises in the Eidangerfjord in Norway from 25 June to 1 July. She went on a longer cruise to the Mediterranean Sea in May and June 1926, in addition to her normal training duties, and in September, FK Alfred Saalwächter took command of the ship. In 1927, she embarked on a major cruise into the Atlantic with the rest of the fleet, which lasted from 28 March to 16 June; in September, FK Albrecht Meißner took command of the vessel. During a visit to Norway in mid-1928 in company with the battleship Schlesien, she stopped in Molde and Merok. Fleet maneuvers were thereafter held off Skagen, Denmark. Amazone largely remained in German waters in 1929 and saw little activity of note, apart from a trip to Gothenburg, Sweden in August.[13]

The Reichsmarine conducted a reorganization of the fleet on 1 January 1930, dividing the ships into tactical units. Amazone was initially assigned to the Reconnaissance Forces Command, under now-KAdm Gladisch, but it was quickly determined that she had little value as a warship by this point, some thirty years after her launch. She was accordingly decommissioned in Wilhelmshaven on 15 January and thereafter used as a barracks ship. She was then struck from the naval register on 31 March 1931 and assigned to the Submarine Acceptance Commission in Kiel. In addition to serving as a barracks, she was later used as an auxiliary for the Warship Construction Test Office. During World War II, she was towed to Bremen, and after the conflict she was used as an accommodation hulk for refugees who had fled from formerly-German occupied territories in eastern Europe. She lay idle and unused from 1951 to 1954, and plans to convert her into a floating youth center came to nothing. The old cruiser was ultimately broken up for scrap in 1954 in Hamburg; she was the last member of the Gazelle class to be scrapped.[14][8] ”

KMS Medusa

“Medusa was among the six light cruises Germany was permitted to retain under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war. The postwar Reichsmarine was obligated by the treaty to clear the minefields that had been laid in the North Sea during the war, and the command initially planned to convert Medusa into a mother ship for the planned 12th Minesweeper Half-Flotilla, but the unit was not created and Medusa therefore was not converted. Instead, she was recommissioned on 17 July 1920 with FK Alexander Werth as her captain, the first major warship to be commissioned in the interwar period. At that time, she was assigned to the Marinestation der Ostsee (Baltic Sea Naval Station), which also included two torpedo boat flotillas and the survey ship Triton. One of her first activities was to carry President Friedrich Ebert on a trip to East Prussia. She later visited foreign ports between 30 August and 5 September, including Fårösund and Visby on the island of Gotland in Sweden.[10]

On 10 February 1921, the battleship Hannover was recommissioned, and at the same time relieved Medusa as the flagship. The two ships, along with both torpedo boat flotillas, conducted training exercises in June and July in the western Baltic. Medusa then made another series of visits to ports in the Baltic between 28 July and 2 August, including Uddevalla and Gothenburg, Sweden. She operated as an icebreaker in the Gulf of Riga from 24 January to 12 February 1922, and during this period she visited Windau, Latvia from 2 to 9 February. She next visited Gävle, Sweden from 22 to 26 June, followed by ports in Finland between 29 June and 3 July. In September, KK Ernst Meusel replaced Werth as the ship’s captain; he was to be the vessel’s last commanding officer. Medusa returned to Gothenburg from 11 to 15 July 1923 along with I Half-Flotilla, followed by stops in Molde on 19 July and then Åndalsnes, both in Norway. In October, the Marinestation was reorganized, since by this time enough battleships had been recommissioned to create a separate Battleship Division; Medusa became part of the light naval forces unit. From 5 to 12 July 1924, she visited Gävle again and on 26 September, she was decommissioned.[10]

From 1 February 1928, Medusa began to serve as a barracks ship for torpedo boat and destroyer crews in Wilhelmshaven. On 29 March 1929, she was stricken from the naval register. In July 1940, during World War II, Medusa was converted into a floating anti-aircraft battery at the Rickmers Reederei shipyard in Bremerhaven.[11][9] Her armament at that point consisted of one 10.5 cm SK C/32 gun, four 10.5 cm SK C/33 guns, two 3.7 cm (1.5 in) SK C/30 guns, and four 2 cm (0.79 in) Flak guns.[12] She was then assigned to Naval Anti-aircraft Group 222, and remained in the harbor at Wilhelmshaven, anchored off Varel, beginning on 13 August 1940. She remained there for the duration of the war. On 19 April 1945, she was badly damaged by an Allied air attack that killed twenty-three and wounded forty-one of her crew. Her remaining crew scuttled the ship on 3 May, days before the end of the war in Europe. British occupation troops found the wreck lying next to the Wiesbaden Bridge [de]. The wreck was ultimately salvaged in 1948–1950 and broken up for scrap.[11][13]”

KMS Arcona

KMS Arcona (Reichsmarine) off Wilhelmshaven, stationed in Kiel, circa 1925.

“Following Germany’s defeat in the war, much of the German fleet was decommissioned, but there is no record of Arcona having been removed from service.[13] The Treaty of Versailles that ended the war mandated that Germany was responsible for clearing the mines that had been laid in the North Sea during the conflict,[14] and Arcona was selected in early 1919 to serve as a mother ship for the minesweepers that were tasked with clearing the mines; this decision was made after the old pre-dreadnought battleship Preussen proved to be unsuited to the task. Arcona was modified for the role at what was now the Reichsmarine Werft (formerly the Kaiserliche Werft) in Wilhelmshaven; all of her guns except the stern pair were removed, with those being retained to detonate mines that were encountered. After the work was completed, Kapitänleutnant (Captain Lieutenant) Erich Haeker took command of the vessel in May. She was then assigned to support V Minesweeping Flotilla and operated with the unit until February 1920, by which time the work was completed. Arcona was thereafter decommissioned to be rebuilt for fleet service.[15]

Arcona was modernized and rearmed, which included the reconstruction of her bow into a clipper-style prow that improved seakeeping. On 25 May 1921, she was recommissioned and assigned to the Marinestation der Nordsee (North Sea Naval Station), at that time commanded by KAdm Konrad Mommsen. Her first commander after returning to fleet service was FK Friedrich Hermann. Arcona visited Arendal and Sandefjord in Norway in August and then she steamed to Frederikshavn, Denmark, where a monument to the sailors who had died in the Battle of Jutland during the war. The ship was used as an auxiliary icebreaker in February 1922 in the western Baltic Sea and the Kattegat, and in the Gulf of Riga in March. While in the gulf, she was damaged by the sea ice and had to be relieved by the battleship Hessen so she could return to port for repairs. In mid-1922, she visited Balestrand, Norway, and in 1923, she steamed to Åbo, Finland and Karlskrona, Sweden. In July of that year, KzS Walter Gladisch relieved Hermann as the ship’s commander. On 1 December 1923, Arcona was decommissioned, her place in the fleet being taken by her sister ship Amazone.[15][16]

The ship remained in reserve for the next seven years, before being struck from the naval register on 15 January 1930. She was then used as a barracks ship for ships’ crews in Wilhelmshaven, later being moved to Swinemünde in 1936 and then to Kiel in 1938, by which time the Reichsmarine had been renamed as the Kriegsmarine (War Navy). She remained there after the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. In May 1940, Arcona was converted into a floating anti-aircraft battery in Swinemünde, where she was stationed initially.[17] Her armament now consisted of one 10.5 cm SK C/32 gun, four 10.5 cm SK C/33 guns, two 3.7 cm SK C/30 guns, and four 2 cm guns.[18] She was later moved to Wilhelmshaven, where she was assigned to Naval Anti-Aircraft Group 233, and she was transferred to Brunsbüttel later in the war. In closing days of the war in Europe, her crew scuttled the ship to prevent her from being captured, on 3 May 1945.[13][17]

Following Germany’s surrender, the British Royal Navy took control of the naval installation at Brunsbüttel on 7 May. Arcona was among the warships that were seized, including four U-boats and the badly damaged destroyer Z31. Their German crews unloaded ammunition and removed weapons from the ships under British supervision.[19] She was subsequently broken up for scrap in 1948–1949.[17]”

Reservenkreuzer: Bremen class (1903)

None of these were active in WW2, but some served in the interwar

The case of the Deutschland class (1931)

Graf Spee at the 1937 Spithead Coronation naval review – Colorized by Irootoko Jr.

KMS Emden (1925)

K class (1927)

Kriegsmarine’s cruisers and Plan Z


Leichtes Kreuzer Leipzig class (1936)

KMS Leipzig

Design of the last German light cruiser class

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”.

The Leipzig class in action

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.
The Nuremberg, on the other hand, also torpedoed by the Salmon when she was laying mines, missed operations in Norway. However, she sailed to a fjord for operations against the convoys of the great north, and alternated these missions with those in the Baltic. She eventually surrendered to the allies in Copenhagen in 1945 and was attributed to the USSR as a war-warrant, renamed Admiral Makharov. She retired from service in 1959, the only surviving German cruiser.

KMS Leipzig

KMS Nürnberg

KMS Nürnberg specifications

Dimensions: 177 x 16.30 x 5.65 m
Displacement: 6200 t/8380 tonnes FL
Crew: 1150
Propulsion: 2 shafts, Brown-Boveri turbines, 66,000 hp, 2 MAN diesels 12 400 hp
Speed: 32/19 knots (xx km/h; xx mph) Radius 5700 Nautical Miles
Armament: 9(3×3)x 152 mm, 6x 88 mm AA, 8x 37mm AA, 12(4×3) TT 533 mm, 120 mines, 2 planes
Armor: Belt: 30 mm (), Deck: 25 mm (), Turrets 30mm, Conning tower: 30 mm ()

Schwere Kreuzer Hipper class (1937)

The case of KMS Seydlitz (1938)

M class (1939)

M class specifications

Dimensions: 177 x 16.30 x 5.65 m
Displacement: 6200 t/8380 tonnes FL
Crew: 1150
Propulsion: 2 shafts, Brown-Boveri turbines, 66,000 hp, 2 MAN diesels 12 400 hp
Speed: 32/19 knots (xx km/h; xx mph) Radius 5700 Nautical Miles
Armament: 9(3×3)x 152 mm, 6x 88 mm AA, 8x 37mm AA, 12(4×3) TT 533 mm, 120 mines, 2 planes
Armor: Belt: 30 mm (), Deck: 25 mm (), Turrets 30mm, Conning tower: 30 mm ()

Other Z-Plan cruiser projects

Dornier Leichte Schnellboote (1942)

Leichte Schnellboote

Germany (1942-45) – About 27 LS boats 1936-1945

Genesis of the “light fast (T)boats”


The German Leichte Schnellboote were a series of small and light S-Boote or fast torpedo boats, originally designed to operate from a cruiser or auxiliary cruiser. In the end, design difficulties meant that only two were deployed on two auxiliary cruisers (or commerce raiders), seeing mixed results. Instead, the rest of the production was focalized on coastal warfare, taking place mostly in the black sea.

Resurrection of the torpedo mothership concept

The need to design a very small and light torpedo boat was not required until WW2 broke out, as the already proven S-Boote was already equipping coastal defence flotillas of the Kriegsmarine, with more improved models to come: the mass-built S38, S100, and S701 groups.

However, in 1939, a series of commerce raiders were commissioned (HSK or “Handels Stör Kreuzer”) individually named “schiff-“, with plans to arm them with surplus WW-I cruiser naval guns, FLAK, mines, torpedo launchers, even reconnaissance planes. However, the large dimensions and available holds aboard made some wonder if they could deploy small attack boats as well.

One such idea was some sort of “special operation” use of the Hilfkreuzers as they could enter any harbour where a target of choice was at anchor, then at night launch two or more midget MTBs, causing havoc on short notice. This was not the resurrection of the old torpedo mothership concept, tested by Britain, France, and Italy, the first two with dedicated carrier cruisers in the late 1880s.

In the old guise, the concept, created in the wake of the first torpedo boat flotillas and the realization of possible applications for the Whitehead torpedo, was the idea to use a large mothership to bring the powerful but range-limited Motor Torpedo boats into close range of the enemy before launching them, somewhat like aircraft from a carrier. The idea was, if the concept was valid, to spread midget TBs on battleships as well as their already planned use on cruisers. After all, the latter already carried steam pinnaces and picket boats, which could have been equipped with old-style spar torpedoes if required.

The reality was quite different: These midget torpedo boats were too frail and too wimpy to face sea conditions even moderate seas. They became slow and very wet, and their small coal reserve was soon eaten by trying to reach their top speed while riding waves that often were taller than the boats themselves. Both the Royal Navy’s HMS Vulcan and the French Foudre were abandoned as a concept, as was the Italian Duilio which had its own “torpedo boat well” at the stern. The “torpedo mothership” concept would be resurrected decades later, in 1918, with the first torpedo-carrying aircraft of the pioneering aircraft carriers.

The need for a midget Torpedo Boat

Author's profile of LS2
Author’s profile of the LS 2

Since the 100-ton, 40 m long S-Boote was totally unsuitable to be carried on any warship, it was obvious that a lighter model would have to be made for the Kriegsmarine’s inventory for these ‘Special Operations’ to work. On that note, the Regia Marina showed the way:

The MAS boats in service were already smaller than the German S-Boats, tailored for the Mediterranean, and new “spec ops” boats were tailored, to be carried by a mother ship/submarine, or even aircraft if needed: The 1939 MTM explosive motor-boat, the MAT or the MTR, but also midget torpedo boats, like the 1.7 tons MTS, MTSM, and MTSMA series, ranging from 1.7 to 3.65 tons and armed with two or a single 45 cm aviation type torpedo, launched aft like WWI MAS boats.

No doubt these nimble and very fast vessels carried quite a punch and could be carried and deployed by larger vessels. However unlike the Italian models, the LS boats were designed for long-range commerce raiding missions in all weather conditions and thus, their seaworthiness became the prime imperative, alongside other specifications, such as carrying mines and being able to deploy troops if needed. They were to be light, very fast, and versatile, to add real offensive value to a commerce raider or auxiliary cruiser (Hilfskreuzer).

Dorniers’s LS: Design Development (1936-1942)

Dornier LS-2 Meteorit
Dornier LS-2 “Meteorit” (Picture: EADS/Dornier GmbH )

In 1936 the Seekriegsleitung (SKl) or supreme command of the Kriegsmarine, requested a small S-boat suited to be carried by cruisers and auxiliary cruisers. The first design submitted by Lürssen was about 20 m long, with a layered monocoque structure of aluminum cladding backed by wood. The KSl declined production as it was still judged far too large to be operated on a mothership, and more notably, too large to be recovered. A draft was submitted in 1937 for a 12-13 m long boat, to be propelled by small but powerful diesel engines. Development of the latter however was left to be desired as none of the traditional specialists such as Maybach or MAN had any in R/D. However, Daimler Benz emerged as an unlikely leader in this category and began work on the engine.

Specifications also called for two either 53,3cm (21 in) standard marine torpedoes, or two airborne marine 45,7cm (18 in) models in tubes. It was also required that there should be one single 20mm FLAK gun, in an aviation-type glassed or plexiglass cupola. Studies with the trim after firing a torpedo led to a position during the design on the sides of the engine room rather than a classic stern-firing arrangement like WWI models, or a forward arrangement like in S-Boote.

Detailed blueprint of the LS-II
Detailed blueprint of the LS-II

Teams discussed the torpedo launch type, be it either stern-first or head-first. To deal with depth-steering stability, the torpedoes were to be launched stern-first. Otherwise, they ran the risk of being rammed by the boat. The steering arrangement and turning cupola design were redrawn, and the latter was posted aft of the bridge. Alternatives were studied, leading to different designs in 1938-39:

  • V2 (1937) Composite-built wood/aluminium
  • V2A (1938) All-aluminium prototype and mixed aluminium-steel (for the main framing), two boats ordered in 1938
  • “LS 1” composite wood/aluminium built at Naglo, Berlin.
  • “LS 2” all-aluminium built by Dornier, Friedrichshafen-Manzell.

Both had on paper the same Junkers V12 piston four-stroke aircraft-diesel engines: The JuMo 205. These were a provisional solution until replacement by the Daimler Benz lightweight diesel engines which were still under development. Originally, both were to receive 18-in torpedo tubes, launched in a forward direction, however, this required a big hatch into the hull, and thus it was scrapped from construction. However, the torpedos, at 12,5 m long, 3,46 m wide, and 80 cm deep proved too large. Instead, an airborne torpedo, the F5, with a 45 cm diameter, 4,8 m length, and a 737 kg weight was used.

Dornier Flukzeugwerke was founded in Friedrichshafen in 1914 by Claude Dornier. The company rose to fame with its giant floatplane, the Dornier Do X, alongside its commercial success, the Wal. But after it began production for the Luftwaffe, its designs diversified, leading to such iconic models as the Do-17 “flying pencil” and its long lineage, or the revolutionary twin push-pull engineered Do-335 ‘Pfeil”: the fastest piston-engine fighter of WW2. By its historical roots, Originally Dornier Metallbau, working for Zeppelin, the company was probably the most gifted to deal with light construction in Germany.

At the outbreak of WW2, only two experimental midget S-boats were still in the works: “LS 1” and “LS 2”. In 1940, however, interest in their development was revived and the Dornier boat “LS 2” was fitted for war and embarked on Hilfskreuzer Komet (HSK 7). LS 2 was nicknamed “Meteor”. The planned for 45 cm torpedo tubes being not ready on time, minelaying rails were installed at the stern, the goal now being for the boats to lay mines to blockade habour entrances or rivers, using their shallow draft.

LS-II minelaying gear

Design-wise this was an important move. This minelaying gear was housed in three wells built in the stern, just large enough for an oblong TMB lightweight magnetic mine, launched from these “laying tubes”, all three side by side with round opening hatches. “LS 1” due to her construction was judged too heavy and barred from any use onboard an auxiliary cruiser. Instead, it became a test vessel for coastal operations.

At the time the Kriegsmarine had trouble obtaining delivery of the planned 20 mm FLAK 38 and instead, opted to fit the WWI vintage 6 cm gun as a stopgap solution. During acceptance trials, the Junkers engine caused a lot of issues. To start with, due to the light construction, vibration became so excessive that the top speed of the boats had to be drastically reduced. Also, being originally an aircraft engine and relocated inside a closed hull, cooling proved soon inadequate and the engine’s placement had to be redesigned entirely. By the end of June 1940, final acceptance trials, after revisions, were performed off Kiel over 200 nautical miles. The LS.II achieved a seven-hour run at a measured 28 knots, with peaks at 32 kts, which was a satisfying result for such a small craft.

Cutaway of the LS V

LS 4 showing her DC ports open aft

LS-5 Depht Charge rack system

⚙ Dornier-Werft Friedrichshafen, LS-2 serie design specs

Dimensions 12.5 x 3.45 x 0.9 m ( feets)
Displacement 11.5 tons standard
Crew 7
Propulsion 2 Daimler-Benz MB 507 desel-engines 1100 PS
Speed 38 knots ( km/h)
Range Unknown
Armament 2x stern TTs 45.7 mm (18 in), 2cm/1x 15 mm HMG HD 151 turret

⚙ LS-4 serie

Dimensions 13 x 3.46 x 0.9-1.02 m ( feets)
Displacement 13 tons standard
Crew 7
Propulsion 2x Diesel Junkers JuMo 205M or Daimler Benz MB 507
Speed 38-42.5 knots ( km/h)
Range 300 nm at 30 kts
Armament 2x stern TTs 45.7 mm (18 in)/3-4 mines, 15/20mm HMG FLAK +2 MG42

LS Boote in action

LS-3 in tests

LS Boote speeding up

LS-3 on trials

LS-renditions 3D wargaming

“Meteor” (LS-II) as it was named, performed lifting tests using marine types heavy weight booms, notably aboard an auxiliary cruiser, where the commercial booms already in place were able to lift heavy bulk payloads, and thus LS-II. Difficulties with the Junkers engines eventually caused a total loss of “Meteor” in early service. The overheating problem was never really cured and enflamed the wood and eventually aluminium around it. Not a single mine was ever laid by “LS 2” during her service on “Komet”.

The use of a light MTB was also considered to be used by the final product of the conversion of the MS Steirark to its most famous guise, the Kormoran in October 1940. It was planned to have her equipped with a single LS boat, which was at the time still on paper. LS boats would also be deployed to the Komet and Michel (LS1 to LS4). The series “LS 13” – “LS 34” ordered in 1942, was stopped in 1944, and the boats “LS 13” to “LS 18” were still in France during the liberation and lived to see French use. Other orders were cancelled by Speer in 1944.

Design-wise, the LS Boote was originally created by Dornier, a company well experienced with aluminium and light construction, but the provisional aviation engines caused many problems. So much so that the “Meteor” could not be deployed from “Komet”. In the spring of 1940 four more boats were ordered. “LS 3” and “LS 4” at last received the intended Daimler-Benz light MB 507 diesel engines. These boats were designed also as minelayers, but with a slightly different system with four instead of three mines.

LS 2 experience on HSK-7 Komet was not stellar: LS 2 was scheduled to make a sortie on December 23, to lay a minefield in front of Rabaul, then held by the Australians. But she just refused to start. The mechanical problem proved to be irreparable, and she was simply scuttled off the Bismarck archipelago.

“LS 3” was completed and tested on October 14th, 1940 and was to be deployed on the auxiliary cruiser “Kormoran” (HSK 8). LS 3 was able to lay 4 mines and like LS-II, was deployed on a few occasions in the south Pacific and the Indian Ocean, until its destruction during the Kormorans’ duel against the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney on November 19, 1941.

“LS 4” however received the intended two aft 45,7 cm stern torpedo tubes produced Dornier in three months as well as newly developed propellers. She was able to achieve 42.5 knots. She was deployed aboard the auxiliary cruiser “Michel” (HSK 9), entering service in July 1941. She was very successful, sinking two vessels and assisting with the sinking of four others, for a total of 46.000 BRT. Statistically, she was the most successful of the whole series: On 22.04.1942 she sank the US turbine tanker “Connecticut” of 8.684 GRT, on 06.06.1942 the “George Clymer”, a 7.176 GRT Liberty ship along with the Norwegian “Aramis” 7.984 GRT. Later, on 30.11.1942, she sank the Greek freighter “Eugenie Livanos” (4.816 GRT), and on 17.06.1943 the Norwegian tanker “Ferncastle” (9.940 GRT), as well as the Norwegian tanker “India” on 11.09.1943. Her commanding officer was awarded the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold. She also evacuated sunken vessels’ crews, a lifesaving decision in the icy waters she hunted in, at a rate of up to 30 at a time. These attacks were mostly performed at night. She was sunk when Michel was torpedoed by USS Tarpon in October 1943.

“LS 5” and “LS 6” had Junkers aircraft engines and were intended to carry torpedos as well, but due to their engine issues, they were never deployed aboard commerce raiders. The OKM ordered both units fitted as submarine-chasers with six depth charges in two specially designed wells aft. They were designed to be operated by “MR 7”, Mittlere Räumboot 7. These were 21-27 tons Lürssen, Vegesack R-Boats designed for riverine and coastal operations. These were relocated to the Aegean Sea, in the Mediterranean. Their unit was later moved to the Black Sea where they were tested, but due to their crippling engine issues, never became operational.

LS 5 and 6 were deployed as escorts, the first on Lake Constance, the second in the Aegean Sea.

“LS 7” to “LS 12” received the intended MB 507 engines and they were built to carry two torpedoes. “LS 7” was delivered on 08.10.1943 and “LS 12” on 12.07.1944. All were deployed in the Aegean Sea. “LS 12”, was sent to Yugoslavia to be tested at a local torpedo facility; the Torpedo Trials Institute (Torpedoversuchsanstalt), and was subsequently captured by the Soviets in 1945. LS 6 was sunk by RAF fighter bombers. LS 5 was seriously damaged, and blown up to avoid capture. “LS 7” through “LS 11” were still transported to the Aegean Sea.

LS 4 (Esau) could have been armed either with an MG 151/20 or a 2 cm Flak 30/38. She served onboard the HSK 9 Michel and was very successful as seen above. LS 5 & LS 6 were fitted as coastal ASW vessels and had a sonar in complement of the MR 7 mines, however, they had issues with their two-stroke 6-cyl diesel Jumo 205 engines. Their 11 depth charges (six in tubes, four on deck) were completed by a single 2 cm Flak 38. MR 6 and MR 7 were refitted in 1942 with two 45 cm torpedo tubes but kept their deck mines according to photos. Up to LS 6, they were all completed in 1941, and LS 12 was the last completed in 1944. LS-7 to LS-11 were likely completed in 1943. Their design was slightly changed, with their masts removed, and a whip antenna fitted directly on the turret. 15 mm MG 151 were used in a twin mount inside the turret, but they kept their 57.2 cm torpedo tubes. They apparently had no sinking recorded and saw little service, notably due to the lack of diesel.

Crews are trained on the Lake Constance near Friedrichshafen, and from September 1943, LS 7-11 formed the 21st Schnellboot-Flotilla, specially created for them. In the spring of 1944, their flotilla was sent by rail to Athens, to operate between the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic. There, they intended to cripple Allied convoys passing by Otranto. From June 1944, they were based out of a Phaleron base in Rhodes, as well as in Leros, Corfu, and Patras. Records of the raids carried out seem to have little impact. The last raid from Corfu against the port of Bari was canceled in September 1944 due to bad weather. Called back to the Aegean Sea, they all ended up scuttled or destroyed by October of that year.

As said above, LS’s 13-34 were cancelled while in construction at Dornier in 1944. LS 13 – LS 18 were captured by France, while still incomplete. However, they were finished after capture. Finally, LS 19 – LS 34 were cancelled on the slipways. There was a project to use a submarine as a mothership, inspired by the Italian experience with Scirè: This was to be the U Boat Type IIIA in 1934. Two LSs were to be carried in an aft-enclosed hangar tube. Overall the Kriegsmarine was very critical of these boats, which motivated the cancellation of the project in 1944: Apart from LS-4’s successes, they suffered from deficient engines, poor construction, frequent water ingress, and seaworthiness issues due to their very light construction, vibrations, and very light armament.

They were often associated with the ‘LM boote’ or Küstenminenleger, coastal minelayer, which borrowed some concepts. These will be treated in a future standalone post.

Hypothetical reconstruction of the U-Boat Type IIIA carrying LS boats (never built).

About the KS Boote (1943)

As for the KLEINST SCHNELLBOOT (KS-BOOTE), they came from a program to convert Küstenminenleger delivered or completed, as Kleinst Schnellboote (“very small speedboats”) between March 1943 and November 1944. At least 21 units were thus transformed, including those engaged in the Gulf of Finland which had not yet been destroyed. They had two external 45cm torpedo tubes aft and a twin MG 151 in a rotating HD 151 Plexiglas turret aft of the bridge, plus a single MG 15 (7.92 mm) placed above the engine compartment on a pintle.

These KS-Boote were given the same role as the LS-Boote but on a greater displacement and therefore were more stable. Indeed, poor results of minelaying operations had them converted into MTBs in order to improve the capability of the too weak LSs. They were deployed in the Gulf of Finland, Aegean Sea, Adriatic, and Black Sea. They mostly attacked convoys at night and performed escort missions. In 1943-44, 14 new units were built to constitute mthe 22 Schnellboots-Flottille in December 1942. Training dragged on until May 1944, and the uint was transferred to Italy by train.

They should have been transferred to the Black Sea to reinforce the Danube flotilla, but ended at Lignano, between Trieste and Venice, and were mainly used for the instruction of Croatian sailors. By September-October, eight of them were officially redesignated KS 1-8, delivered permanently to the Croatian Navy, operating from Rijeka as the Kroatische Küsten-Schnellboots-Flottille, subordinated to the 11 Kriegsmarine’s Sicherungs-Division German Navy, a coastal auxiliary police force. The Ustashi regime however was confronted with incessant insurrections, and thus the small Ratna Mornarica Nezavisne Države Hrvatske was also plagued by sedition.

On the night of December 13 to 14, 1944, the entire KKS-Flottille planned to defect and sail to lake Nemi, held by Tito’s partisans. It failed because the port was guarded by the German Army and all sailors were arrested, bar the commander of the flotilla and a few men who managed to get through. German authorities then decided to send these crews to Zagreb as infantry, while the vessels were stripped of their armament. Souces about operations in the Aegean Sea or the Black Sea are very scarce and are even less satisfactory than those on the LS Boats. Camouflage-wise, they all stayed in regular grey color, but the boats of KM.22 stationed on Lake Ladoga circa 1943-44, were painted with a three-tone grey pattern.

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On navypedia

Future developments:

Naval Encyclopedia will also cover the following:
-TS 1-TS 6 hydrofoils, VS serie Half-Submarine-S-Boat, VS 6 minelayer hydrofoil, VS 7 TB hydrofoil, VS 8-9 Transport hydrofoils, VS 10 light S-Boat hydrofoil, the 1944 German built SMA light TBs, Hydra, the Kobra type very light S-Boats, the KS (coastal minelayers) and KS TB serie, the Schlitten I and Schlitten II small torpedo carriers, Wal I-II-III superfast TBs and other K-Verband projects.

Type XIV “Milchkühe” U-Boats (1941)

Type XIV “Milchkühe” U-Boats, Hitler’s Milk Cows

Germany (1941-42): 10 U-boats

Maintaining Wolf Packs at sea

One aspect of the Battle of the Atlantic was to maintain operating U-Boats at sea as long as possible. It mostly concerned the standard Type VII, which had a limited autonomy. In the massive expanses of the Atlantic, locating convoys was one thing, but reaching them was another, and the Type VII, which had a radius of action limited to the mid-atlantic, often misses convoys, being too far away or requiring too much fuel consumption to get there. The few possible “unsinkable” supply bases that existed in the mid-Atlantic were the Azores, and they were not under German control, despite Hitler desperatly begging for Franco to lease them.

In early 1941, despite successes against slower convoys, many U-Boats came home after running out of fuel in fruitless chases. Others, later in the war, had to escape multiple times and consumed also their fuel supply with little results to show for. Food could be rationed, torpedoes were rarely all fired, so the chief problem to maintain U-Boats at sea was the supply of diesel fuel, as the latter also fed the eletrical systems on board.

Like in WWI, the German Navy planned even before the hostilities commenced a network or supply vessels located in strategic points around the globe for their merchant raiders operations. One such vessel was the famous Altmark, captured in Norway, but there were many more. Although they were disguised as civilian vessels, an enquiry could have them tracked by the allies navies. In 1939-40 many chases against blockade runners and Merchant cruisers ended with the capture or destruction or supply ships. Having at least one such ship in the port of Vigo (Spain), in Galicia, northern coast on the bay of Biscaye, and in the Baleares was always a blessing, but imposed to U-Boat crews a long, and potentially dangerous trip to get there, arriving by night.

Dangerous indeed, as the Bay of Biscaye was the launching spot for U-Boats operating from the six French coastal bases, like Brest and Lorient, or Bordeaux later. Fleet air arm patrols and others surface gunboats and corvettes of the Royal Navy roamed the area day and night. So having U-Boats kept in the middle of the atlantic, ready to pounce on any incoming convoy, was the ideal solution. However, sending there supply ships alone was risky.

The Kriegsmarine’s U-Boat tenders

The Kriegsmarine had several U-Boat tenders in 1941: KMS Saar (1934), and the larger and more modern KMS Wilhelm Bauer, W. Kophamel and Otto Wünsche, which were proper, well armed military ships built in Kiel: They were nearly 6,000 tonnes vessels, armed with four 105 mm guns and a powerful AA. With 20 kts it was however hard for them to escape allied destroyers. The Kriegsmarine also operated civilian auxiliaries, KMS Donau, Weichel, Isar, lech and Erwin Wassner. In addition from late 1942, the radical influx of air cover for the allies in the Atlantic, made likely these ships would be discovered en route to their supply point in the Atlantic.

By early 1940 already, Admiral Karl Dönitz recoignised that on the long run, allied air power it would be more difficult to send supply ships out on the open. So he ordered a study to built “submarine tankers”, dedicated for the purpose of supplying his U-Boats at sea, the latter having the advantage contrary to ship, to escape detection easier, and in all cases, escape its threats.

Despite an obvious smaller capacity, it still would be less risky to send them rather than surface ships. Without the hindsight of the US entry into the war and British war production to keep watch on the Atlantic by late 1942, this was a bold move.

Development History

The search for an alternative solution to supply surface vessel came in a 1934 with a design proposal for a modified type IV U-boat, modified as an undersea tanker. It was submitted to te Kriegsmarine’s HQ, and called for a 2500 ton submersible tanker project, as a highly modified version of the type IXD attack type on paper at that time as a long range model. To make room there was to be no attack capability and in addition to fuel, in the double hull tanks, there was to be enough storage in the freed torpedo tubes rooms for food, torpedoes and medical aid.

These boats soon earned internally the nickname “Milk Cows” could prolongayte operations of a wolfpack to two weeks. However the limits of the Anglo-German Naval Treaty had the Naval Staff sidelining submarine tanker construction in 1935 and preferred optimizing the existing fleet, with a coastal force and ocean-going boats, in particular the promising Type VII. The subject of “U-Tankers” remained dormant until Admiral Karl Donitz resurrected the concept in a 1939 letter to Naval headquarters. He proposed construction of three supply boats, displacing 2000 tons. Donitz’s master argument was reaching the American coast for possible operations that far , based on the limitations of the type VIIC U-boat, carried only 114 tons diesel fuel (6500 miles), and they needed 2500 miles to arrive on station alone.

Donitz wanted floating fuel depots beyond the reach of the Allies capabilities, and his request was eventually given the go-ahead in 1940. Design specifications were drawn up and quickly, and approved as the type XIV, these U-Tankers being rated at 1,932 tons for a gross capacity of 430 tons of fuel.


The final design displaced 1,688 t (1,661 long tons) surfaced, 1,932 t (1,901 long tons) submerged for an overall lenght of 67.10 m (220 ft 2 in) overall, and 48.51 m (159 ft 2 in) for the inner pressure hull. Ther beam was larger than usual to accomodate the tanks, 9.35 m (30 ft 8 in) overall and 4.90 m (16 ft 1 in) for the pressure hull. Total height of the hull was 11.70 m (38 ft 5 in), to the tip of the CT, and a rather massive draught of 6.51 m (21 ft 4 in). The strength of their construction led their builder to give them the standard 240 m (790 ft) test depth figure, but some boats certaonly were able to dive well below this figure. Their pressure hulls still indeed were 1-in thick so they could safety dive well over 500 feet, which in effect was deeper than the type VIIC/IX.

Internal accomodations for storage included upper decks designed to be large clear storage areas in order to handle pelletised bulk stores. Designers made the IXD shorter but wider and deeper for a much greater internal volume, and double deck essentially. The flat main deck in practice proved more of a detriment than an aid to the crew. The boat made a wider target for aviation and was slow to dive compared to standard boats.


Since the design borrowed heavily on the Type IX, nearly all components which could be reused were utilised and this included also parts from Type VIIC such as their anchors, winches, hatches and other items. The powerplant comprised a set of two propeller shafts, mated to two MAN diesel engines which developed 2,800–3,200 PS (2,100–2,400 kW; 2,800–3,200 bhp) when surfaced, and two Siemens electric motors with an output of 750 PS (550 kW; 740 shp) underwater. This produced a top speed, surfaced, of 14.4–14.9 knots (26.7–27.6 km/h; 16.6–17.1 mph) and 6.2 knots (11.5 km/h; 7.1 mph) submerged. These were not stellar figures, but since they were not attack boats and only needed to get to a point, their major asset was still a range of 12,350 nmi (22,870 km; 14,210 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) surfaced, and still 55 nmi (102 km; 63 mi) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) submerged to escape their pursuers.


These non-combatants carried 12 torpedoes but had no tubes to launch them. The type XIV in basic form had two light 37mm FLAK 38 located on deck, either side of the conning tower, and a single 20mm AA gun in the tower’s aft platform. Configuration differed and some boats had a raised platform aft of the conning tower to raise the aft 37 mm. In all cases, this combination proved deadly in mission, helping these U-Tankers surviving and even in some case repelling attacks of allied bombers and patrol planes.

Other specifics

They had in addition of fuel tanks, enough space to carry 12 spare torpedoes, up to 15-20 tons of parts, ammunition, food & medical supplies. There was evcen enough space onboard to create a small, yet full-blown bakery, able to produce fresh bread every day. There was also a small medical facility for a medical doctor, able to treat injured sailors. Discipline-wise, no prison aboard but a tiny two-man “brig” to carry punished U-boat crewmen for serious crimes back to Germany.

To transfer fuel lines and provisions, a single 20-ft inflatable work boat was stored under the deck to be deployed. it was also used to transfer boxed goods and mail, plus they possessed folded-down light-weight portable cranes, rigged to high-line priority cargo, also usable to carry people between boats in a high-line fashion.


The choice to gain time of the Type IXB as the base helped to have all blueprints ready by October 1940. The initial program specified a first batch of 25, with possibly more to come. However they were not prioritized, and construction dragged on until 1944, when the whole program was cancelled by Speer. By the time the axe fell, Three (U-491, U-492, U-493) were about 75% complete while the other eleven boats had not even been laid down when cancelled on 27 May 1944, Karl Dönitz also stopping construction on the Type XX U-boats hich were even larger transport boats as they would not have been completed before mid-1945. Heavy losses in 1943 (almost all were sunk, including four in July alone) and Speer’s condition to greenlight the new and promising Type XXI was in effect to cancel the program.

U-459 was the first laid down (lead boat) at Deutsche Werke, Kiel, Yard number 290, on 22 November 1940. Ten more would followed, although the program comprised 25 of them total, now receving the designation of Type XIV. She was followed by U-459, commissioned on 15 November 1941, U-460, commissioned on 24 December 1941, U-461, commissioned on 30 January 1942, U-462, commissioned on 5 March 1942, U-463, commissioned on 2 April 1942, U-464, commissioned on 30 April 1942, U-487, commissioned on 21 December 1942, U-488, commissioned on 1 February 1943, U-489, commissioned on 8 March 1943, and U-490, commissioned on 27 March 1943, sunk on 12 June 1944. Construction was stopped for a time and only resumed for the next three in early 1944.

Author’s depiction of the Type XIV U-Boat

⚙ Type XIV class specifications

Dimensions 67.10 x 9.40 x 6.50 m (220 ft x 30ft x 21ft 4in)
Displacement 1661/1900 tons standard/underwater
Propulsion 2 shafts Germania diesels, 2 electric motors, 1400/375 bhp.
Speed surface/underwater 14.4/6.3 knots (xx km/h)
Armament 2x 37/83 FLAK C30, 1x 20mm FLAK C30
Crew 53
Capacity 432 tonnes of fuel oil

General Assessment

These XIV boats were generally successful early on, while operating out of US coast at about 1000 km out of New York. Well before the “happy time” at the start of the war, there was the “mid-atlantic gap” cause by the absence of air cover 300-400 miles off the North American Mainland. This allowed the the smaller VIIC to operate in US waters, which they could not in normal conditions. This also allowed them to operate in the Caribbean in 1942 but due to better allied radar and air coverage the year 1943 (and enexplained losses – see below) completely hampered their operations and conducted to cancel the 14 remaining orders. The “Milch Cows” as soon as they were known for allied intel became a priority target for all Allied forces, and both USN and Fleet Air Arm/Coastal Command hunted them down with bombers and long-range patrollers.

Outside the precise Wolfpacks which they supported, indicated in the their career logs below, the Type XIV the precise number of U-Boats they suppied was registered, allowing us to spot the arguably most successful U-Boats of that class. According to this, the most successful of the class was arguably U-460, which supplied 86 U-Boats. In all, the ten boats supplied 437 U-Boats, or an average of 43 per U-Boat. Was it cost-effective ? For this, we should know how much tonnage was sunk by the U-Boats that could continue their mission.

  • U-459: 6 patrols, 72 U-boats
  • U-460: 6 patrols, 86 U-boats
  • U-461: 6 patrols, 75 U-boats
  • U-462: 5 patrols, 64 U-boats
  • U-463: 5 patrols, 74 U-boats
  • U-464: Sunk on her maiden patrol
  • U-487: 2 patrols, 25 U-boats
  • U-488: 3 patrols, 41 U-boats
  • U-489: 1 patrol (sunk), none
  • U-490: Sunk on her 1st sortie

289 men were killed while serving on the Type XIV for a grand total of 530-576 men for a total of 35 patrols, an average of 3,5 per boats, and three sunk on a maiden patrol plus two after just two weeks at sea. However there was a topic on which these boats proved their designed armament was worth it: With a powerful FLAK they shot down about four planes and damaged and repelled others. Their tally included a Whitley, a Sunderland, a Wellington and a Wildcat.

In the Allied Naval Headquarters in London order was issued of “Get the Milk Cows at any cost!” from prime minister Winston Churchill himself, informed of their existence in early 1942. Their very existence had them targeted as the highest priority in the Atlantic War since any of these U-Boat Tankers could keep twelve U-boats at sea for weeks. In fact this went directly to a redefintion of Allied hunter-killer groups’s priorities in turn.

U-459 commissioned on November 15 1941 and patrolling in March 1942 perhaps had one of the most successful career, supplying boats close to US waters all along 1942. The last U-490 sunk on June 11. 1944 was sent out to support the “Monsun boats”, the Type IX operating in the far east and Indian Ocean. She never get there, being sunk at her first sortie. The concept was dead fo all intent and purposes in 1944, although in 1942-43 there were parallel program of tankers and cargo subs (see below).

Serious issues

Sea trials quickly revealed the limits of the U-Tanker design: They appeared Ponderous, “pregnant”, lacking agility, and especially when loaded to the brim with fuel and provisions. This extra bulk prevented them to submerge as quickly as a regulat Type VII/IX, which proved fatal at least in three cases of air attacks. Captains feared the moment to “pull the plug”, diving deep in a hurry. To off set this massive shortcoming specific tactics were devised: If caught while refueling, the type XIV was to cut all lines and dive first, leaving the more agile attack U-boats to deal with the attackers by combine FLAK power alone, and dive in turn.

Another noted issue was their deck layout. Due to their low freeboard, transfer of bulk supplies was very hazardous in the North Atlantic (a reason why later boats were sent to the South Atlantic and African coast). The decks continually awash precluded the use of regular cargo hatches and davits so supplies had to be hand-lifted through conning tower hatches only. This made the whole proces painfully slow, but the whole crew took part in it. Given the sea state, this operation could be more or less dangerous and long to complete, often leading to crewmen washed overboard, drowning. With time, both the small rubber dinghy and high line (“tyrolian”) were used at the same time, the crew making a human chain from inside the boat, though the CT and on deck.

The refuelling operation was also difficult. First, the U-tanker had to take in tow its boat to resupply, the fueling line was floated in between as well as a telephone cable. Once piping connections were operatons, with the two boats maintaning a close distance at a constant 3-4 kts, fuel was transferred. And it could go up to five hours for a full refill. All at the surface, exposed to allied spotter planes.

Lastly, resupplying torpedoes, due to their size and weight was also understandably a gruelling process: Manhandling these in heavy seas required brute strength and skills, leading sometimes to crushed limbs, broken bones among handlers, for which the onboard doctor was a godsend. In calm seas in included the fitting to any torpedo, extracted on a ramp to the deck, flotation collars around the torpedo body. It was just floated to the receiving U-boat, hauled aboard via the standard folded deck torpedo loading apparatus of any U-Boat of that time.

The end (1943 black month)

The coup de grâce, what really basically eliminated all chances for the U-Tankers to be a viable solution was first and foremost the cracking of the Enigma code. If it was a blessing and game-changing event in order to win the battle of the Atlantic, it was decided to take all measures to prevent the Germans knowing the allies had cracked it. Which included painful decisions to allow some known U-Boat attacks to occur, and prevent careflly picked others attacks.

Given their priority status, all known resupply spots in the Atlantic, and planned rendez-vous in mid-ocean of a Type XIV boat with the rest of the fleet was a prime target on the list and always greenlight for attack, despite the risks in the grand scheme of things. Indeed, the Type XIV relied on high-frequency long-range radio communications to arrange these RDV points, which of course were intercepted and decoded.

Having their position known however presupposed having also the required a dedicated ASW task force, a -“rapid reaction force” in modern parlance- of escort ships in close coordination with coastal command and allied dedicated long range bombers. The result, combined with the slow-diving Type XIV was a slaughter in May-October 1943, with seven boats, 2/3 of the total, being sunk in succession. Mid-Atlantic waters were no longer a sanctuary. It must be however stated how courage was needed by these allied airmen to engage these U-Boats groups while refuelling, as the combined AA barrage was fierce.

In any case, the appealing losses conducted Dönitz to renounce the Atlantic in the end, sending U-490 to the Indian Ocean for “operation Monsoon” ro refuel the few IXC U-boats with an innovative experimental underwater refuelling apparatus. U-490 was sent to Penang, Sumatra, the Kriegsmarine’s easternmost operating base. Caught northwest of the Azores on 10 June 1944 by an ASW hunter-killer group based around USS Croatan (CVE-25), the boat was hedgehoged when spotted, and then mercilessly depth-charged while diving and deep underwater, about 1000 ft. Badly shaken for hours with too much flooding to survive much longer, captain Gerlach decided to save his crew and surface to surrender.

Type XIV alternatives and planned successors

The never built Type XV and XVI

Author’s modification of a Type X to attempt a rendition of the Type XV (1/750)

Both types were closely related as they shared the same designed hull with different internal arrangement, same powerplant and general features. The 5,000-ton Type XV was left in Initial designs only and listed on official documentation as “Long Range Transport Boat” but never developed and past the stage of first sketches.

U-Boats were to have been ocean going submarines designed for resupply of Frontboots in the open ocean. They would carry additional bunker fuel, torpedoes, stores, medical personnel and a workshop aboard for limited repairs of combat damage to the Frontboots. They were designed with a triple pressure hull design set three abreast, the displacement would have been in the area of 2,500 tons. Conventional diesel and electric propulsion was planned with 2,800 hp on the diesels and 750 hp on the e-motors. It was determined that this Type of submarine would make an easy target for ASW forces if caught on the surface, tending to another submarine and the project was abandoned. There were no Type XV U-Boats contracted for or built.

The Type XVI was intended as a very large repair boat variant (3,000-ton) intended to carry torpedoes, food, and oil as cargo. The engine layout was inspired by the Type VIIC. They could have been a larger version of the Type XV, to about 5,000 tons. Again, due to the fact that a submarine of this type, if caught on the surface tending to other submarines, would have made an easy target, the project was dropped, as for the Type XIV continuation. No Type XVI U-Boats were contracted for or built. It was never developed further and like the XV, no detailed specs exist.

The partly built Type XX

Rendition of the Type XX

These massive transport subs were designed in 1943 by AG Weser and the OKM (German Navy High Command). They were to be long-range transport U-boats, notably to carry material from the Far East and conversely, German plans and prototypes to Japan as it happened in late 1944 and 1945, a mission fulfilled by Italian submarines. For the borad design, the type XB minelayer was chosen to be adapted. In its final form, the design could accomodate some 800 tons of material, had no torpedo tubes, no deck gun but AA armament as the Type XIV. They were caracterized by a shorter hull than the Type XB, but greater beam and draft to accomodate for the storage areas.

They were to planned to be manned by 6 officers and 52 men. 30 contracts granted in all, including 15 to Deutsche Werft, Hamburg (U-1601 to U-1615) plus fifteen to Bremen-Vegesack yard (U-1701 to U-1715). Only 3 (U-1701 to U-1703) were eventually advanced when the war ended.

The Type XX as a project for a transport U-boat based on the Type XB could have be or better help to carry additional precious resources to Japan to continue the war, but of the thirty Type XX U-boats laid down in 1943, construction stopped in 1944 and the project was cancelled. On 15 August 1944, construction on three most advanced Type XX U-boats, U-1701, U-1702, and 1703 was restarted nevertheless, but stopped again in early 1945 and never resumed.

Planned specs:
Displacement 2,708 tons surfaced/ 2,962 tons submerged; Dimensions 255′ x 30′ 3″ x 21′ 9″; Engines Diesel and electric 2,800hp/940hp, surface speed 12½ knots, submerged 5.75 knots. 471 tons of diesel fuel for a 13,000 miles @ 12 knots radius and 40 miles @ 4½ knots underwater. Payload 800 tons of cargo, armament 1x 37mm, 2×2 20mm FLAK AA, crew 58.

Type XIV U-Boat records

U-459 (1941-43)

Type XIV, U-459 sinking
U-459 crippled, turning in circles, hit by a Vickers Wellington.

U-459 conducted six patrols, starting training with the 4th U-boat Flotilla and the 10th in April 1942, then 12th flotillas in November for operations. Her First and second patrols started from Kiel to Helgoland, the St. Nazaire on 15 May 1942, unter command of von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf, aged 48, a skipper veteran of WW1.

Her second patrol from 6 June 1942, her captain being promoted to Korvettenkapitän. It was an uneventful sorties from St Nazaire to mid-Atlantic where she operated with Wolfpack Eisbär (25 August – 1 September 1942). The third patrol was a foray into the south Atlantic and African coast down to Namibia from St. Nazaire on 18 August 1942, back on 4 November. Her fourth patrol started from the same port on 20 December 1942, to 7 March 1943, 78 days, but she headed for Bordeaux. She she went south to Cameroon (18 January 1943).

Her fifth patrol started from Bordeaux on 20 April 1943 and back on 30 May. In between, she was surfaced when spotted and attacked, but shot down by FLAK a lone CAC Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. The same day however she was attacked by a RAF Liberator dropping ten depth charges on her, also while surfaced. FLAK damaged the Liberator. Her last patrol started from Bordeaux on 22 July 1943, and while en route off near Cape Ortegal, Spain, on 24 July 1943, she was spotted and atacked by two British Wellington of No. 172 Squadron RAF. One was shot down, but 18 crewmen were killed on her deck, while near-misses had her badly damaged. Unable to dive and slowed down to a crewl her captain knew there was little chance now her position was known. He ordered her scuttled. 41 of her crew survived however and became POW. A famous photo show her turning circle, already hit, to escape the Wellingtons.

U-460 (1941-43)

U-460’s first patrol from Kiel on 7 June 1942 started through the Faeroe Islands, between these islands and Iceland. She went to mid-atlantic, and made a routine supply mision, being back to St. Nazaire, occupied France, on 31 July. Her second started from there on 27 August 1942, pass the Bay of Biscay, turned south and pass Cape Verde Islands, to the South Atlantic. This was uneventful and she was back to St.Nazaire, departing again from St. Nazaire heading west and staying for 39 days before going home. Her 4th sortie was the same and ended in Bordeaux.

Her fifth patrol started on 24 April 1943, lasted for 63 days bringing her in an area mid-way between South American and African coasts, to be back to Bordeaux on 25 June.

Her sixth patrol started at Bordeaux, and she was underway 30 August 1943, supplying on 4 October U-264, U-422, and U-455 in the North Atlantic, north of the Azores. There, a Avenger and Wildcat of VC-9, USS Card, spotted the group, a “juicy target” which caused panic: All but U-460 submerged in time. Heir tanker was sunk by depth charges, with only two crewmen surviving.

U-461 (1941-43)

U-461 made six wartime patrols, the first from Kiel to St. Nazaire and then to the Atlantic via the Faeroe Islands gap. She operated with the wolfpack “Wolf” (26 July – 1 August 1942). Her second patrol hd her reacing the most westerly point in the Atlantic on 30 September 1942. She operated with Wolfpack “Vorwärts” (16 – 20 September 1942).

Her third sortie from St. Nazaire on 19 November 1942 had her reaching a point south between South America and Africa, staying two days before heading west on 11 December 1942 and back to Bordeaux on 3 January 1943.

She arrived west of the Canary Islands (2 March 1943) and went back to St. Nazaire. She departed on on 13 February, and stayed with the Wolfpack “Rochen” (26 February – 1 March 1943) until back on 22 March.

For her fifth patrol she departed St.Nazaire on 20 April 1943, but attacked when back 23 April, by a Canadian Wellington (172 sqn RAF) with a Leigh Light. The bombs made near hits and damaged the boat, leaving a trail of oil behind. She went back to Bordeaux for repairs.

Her sixth and last patrol started from Bordeaux on 27 July 1943, but she was caught underway in the Bay of Biscay, north-west of Cape Ortegal in Spain on 30 July: An Australian Sunderland from No. 461 Sqn RAAF (Flight Lieutenant Dudley Marrows) spotted and attacked. The U-Boat was crippled by bombs but the Australian crew agreed to drop an inflatable dinghy to allow 15of her crew surviving, the other 53 going with the boat.

U-462 (1941-43)

U-462 conducted eight patrols, the first from Kiel on 23 July 1942, via St. Nazaire on 21 September and then making it through the Faeroe gap with Iceland. After her mission she came back past the Azores to St Nazaire. She operated with the Wolfpack ‘Lohs’ from 29 August to 2 September 1942.

Her second patrol had her stationed to a point west-southwest of the Cape Verde Islands from 9 November 1942 to be reached by U-Boats in supply needs. She was back in St. Nazaire on 7 December 1942.

Third sortie was from Bordeaux on 20 January 1943,but after an incident she was back on the 22nd. Her 4th sortie had her reaching her westernmost suply point, on 27 February 1943. She was back to Bordeaux on 11 March. He fifth patrol was routine, and shorter. Her sixth patrol was in the Bay of Biscay, whe she was attacked by Mosquitoes of 151 and 156 sqn RAF, on 21 June 1943. Matrosengefreiter Ferdinand Brunnbaur was killed by strafing, four wounded. Her AA fire did not hit the Mosquitoes, way too fast. She was back to Bordeaux for repairs and gathering replacement crewment on the 23rd.

Her Seventh patrol was also short. As soon as she headed northwest of the Spanish coast, British B-24 Liberator (224 sqn RAF) fell on her. Near hits cause enough damage to return to Bordeaux on 6 July. Her last patrol, the 8th, started also in the bay of Biscaye, and on 30 July 1943 while underway, U-462 was spotted and sunk by a British Halifax bomber (502 Squadron RAF) plus gunfire from Black Swan-class HMS Wren, Kite, Woodpecker, Wild Goose and Woodcock which arrived after her position was communicated. HMS Kite’s gunner hit her at 13,050 yd (11,930 m). As she was surfaced fortunately, only one crewman was killed but the rest of the crew survived.

U-463 (1941-43)

U-463 conducted five patrols. For her first one from Kiel on 11 July 1942, she reached St. Nazaire on 3 September and took the northern Faeroe Islands gap, arrived in the mid-Atlantic toward the Caribbean. She went home without hassle.

Her second sortie had her reaming the mid-Atlantic on 28 September 1942-11 November. He third sortie saw her passing the Azores, north and south when back. She was based in St. Nazaire, operating for a time with the wolfpack ‘Delphin’ (11 – 14 January 1943). Next was a patrol on 4 March 1943, but when back to France 17 April, she was order to move into Bordeaux, better protected against allied raids.

Her fifth patrol was also her last: U-463’s started from Le Verdon, north of Bordeaux and while underway in the Bay of Biscay, when she spotted, attacked and sunk on 16 May 1943 by a British Halifax from 58 Squadron RAF (Coastal Command, Wing Commander Wilfrid Oulton). Depht charges were on targer and she sank with all hands.

U-463 (1941-43)

U-464 only made a single patrol. She sailed from Kiel to Bergen, Norway, arriving on 9 August 1942. She departed on 14 August 1942. On the 20th, she was attacked SSE of Iceland, by a lone US PBY Catalina from VP-73. Two crew members were killed on the spot, but as she was surfaced, there were 52 survivors. The bombs only cause near-misses, but she was too damage to dive, and limited to eight knots. Later Captain Harms decided to scuttle his U-Boat after spotting the Icelandic trawler Skaftfellingur, allowing his crew to be rescued.

Since the 52 German submariners picked up onboard were to be made POWs by a seven-man crew, they were put in the bows, with a machine gun stand guard on the bridge and later transferred to a pair of British destroyers. That’s the official allied story but Captain Harms pretended later that his crew sized the trawler by force, heading for Germany, but intercepted by the British destroyers and taken prisoner.

U-487 (1942-43)

U-487 conducted two patrols, the first from Kiel on 27 March 1943, and went back, mission accomplished, to Bordeaux, in occupied France on 12 May 1943. The second patrol started from Bordeaux on 15 June 1943. On 13 July, she was spotted surfaced and attacked by five Grumman TBF Avengers and F4F Wildcats from USS Core. The crew were caught by surprise, since there were sunbathers on deck when it happened. One Wildcat was shot down by her AA fire, but 31 men were killed neverthless between rocket hits and bombs. 33 survivors were picked up later by USS Barker.

U-488 (1942-43)

U-488 made three war patrols, the first startin when she left Kiel on 18 May 1943, clearing the British Isles in the Faroe Islands-Iceland gap, ad doing her mission in the Atlantic with a first wolfpack, “Trutz” on 6 – 12 June 1943. On the return she went NW of the Azores to Bordeaux, occupied France, arriving on 10 July 1943.

For her second patrol she was attacked on 12 October 1943 by two Avengers from USS Card. They claimed the sinking, but U-488 survived and went on, carrying out her mission.

On 15 October, Maschinenmaat Karl Bergmann died of illness on board and on 25 November, Matrosenobergefreiter Heinz Heinlein fell overboard, dying later of heart failure. She was back to Bordeaux on 12 December 1943.

Her third patrol was from Bordeaux again, on 22 April 1944. On the 26th she as caught west of Cape Verde, but four escort destroyers, USS Frost, Huse, Barber and Snowden, and depth charged until she sank with all hands.

U-489 (1942-43)

U-489’s only patrol started from Kiel on 22 July 1943, going through the “Faeroes Gap” north of the British Isles, and she was spotted and attacked while surfaced by a PBY Catalina from No. 190 Squadron RAF, on 3 August 1943.

Due to the serious AA fire put up by U-489, the Catalina was hit twice and withdawn, jettisoning depth charges. When home, they found that their rudder cables were almost severed by FLAK shrapnel. However the U-Boat’s position was signalled to a Lockheed Hudson of 269 Squadron whih attacked her and caused damage. But she survived and her position passed on a lone Canadian Sunderland flying boat (No. 423 Squadron RCAF) which attacked her the following day south-east of Iceland.

The Sunderland however was shot down by the fierce AA fire put by U-489, but not before having taken several depht charges that wrecked her hull. She sank but surfaced when this happened, enabling 53 of her crew to escape. They were later picked up by the destroyers HMS Castleton and HMS Orwell which observed the attack, too far away to attack her.

U-490 (1942-43)

U-490’s only patrol started from Kiel on 4 May 1944, making her way into the Atlantic in the “Faeroes Gap”, between Iceland and the Faeroe, but was lost on 12 June when attacked in mid-ocean by the escort carrier USS Croatan and the destroyers USS Frost, Huse and Inch. It seemed she was surfaced amready and surrendered. There were 60 survivors and no casualties.

Sources & more:


Busch, Rainer; Röll, Hans-Joachim (1999). German U-boat commanders of World War II. Greenhill Books

Busch, Rainer; Röll, Hans-Joachim (1999). Deutsche U-Boot-Verluste von September 1939 bis Mai 1945 Mittler.

Gröner, Erich; Jung, Dieter; Maass, Martin (1991). U-boats and Mine Warfare Vessels. German Warships 1815–1945. Vol. 2.

Kemp, Paul (1999). U-Boats Destroyed – German Submarine Losses in the World Wars. Arms & Armour.


Various types on (archive)

Milk Cows on

Video: U-boat Tanker – Type XIV ‘Milk Cow’ by War & History channel


Assessment detail on

Article on U-460 logs



Model Kits

German Type XIV Submarine U-487 1/350 Scale Diecast Metal Model (cutaway)


Type XXI U-Boats (1944)

Type XXI U-Boats (1944)

Nazi Germany, 1,170 planned, 118 completed (1944)

The Elektroboot saga: Too late to win

The Type XXI were large scale production Kriegsmarine’s “wunderwaffe” planned by Nazi Germany at the end of the war. Alongside the smaller Type XXIII “Elektobote” and numerous “midgets” at a stage events verged on desperation, it was suppose to reverse their course. Announced as the boldest leap into the future for the Kriegsmarine so far, the world’s most advanced submarine design of their time, The Type XXI would be also a powerful inspiration for all navies in the next decades, and up to the 1957 USS Nautilus. But was it a real game changer in 1945, or just an overblown propaganda effort ? Here’s the detailed answer.

A technological revolution: From submersible to submarine

With the Type XXI, for the first time, Germny made a decisive step from a “submersible” to a “submarine”: The philosophy that prevailed since 1905 was that a “submersible” was essentially a torpedo boat that submerge at times, for all emergency. Such vessel cruise at the surface most of the time, running on sobre diesel engines, and went underwater on electric power generally to escape an attack.

Due to the limitations of electrical power at the time and having no accurate system to detect targets from underwater, a submersible was essentially slowed to a crawl, deaf and blind, limited in diving to it’s own lenght deep. Renewing the air or expelling surplus acid gases generated by the use of batteries caused “broths” detected for miles around the surface by planes on patrol, while the slightest noise on board betrayed their presence to more and more sophisticated hydrophones, not to mention their radar signature when surfaced.

This base principle stayed the same for all submersible models built by all nations from WWI to WW2. The so-called (improperly) “battle of the Atlantic” was led by U-Boats, essentially the same models as the WWI mass-produced (92 on 129 planned) Type UB III, notable ancestors of the WW2 Type VII (1936), a single, simple mid-range model, mass-produced until 1945. Although the latter was improved in many ways, limitations were stil present.

The conclusion of all reports for losses to the allies were plural in origin: More escorts, more ships to sink (Libery/Victory), better tactics, better detection system, better armament, constant naval aviation patrol, and unbeknownst to the German naval staff, full knowledge of impending attacks thanks to the breaking of the Enigma machine by the Turing computer at Blechley Park.

The 1943-44 “Wunderwaffen” craze

This traduced from mid-1943 onwards, to a growing, and soon unsustainable number of losses. It reached such a point in early 1944 that Grand Admiral Dönitz, now at the head of the Kriegsmarine since January, considered the battle as nearly lost. There were solutions though: Out-producing the allies was out of question, due to internal resources strained to the limits: But the credo at the time, by mid-1943, was to win the war by technological superiority: German quality versus allied quantity.

Many “Wunderwaffe” projects, some dated back from before the war were looked upon again. For the Luftwaffe, it was a rush towards jets which culminated with the Me-262. For the Heer, tanks such as the Königstiger. For the Kriegsmarine, the “poor child” of German arms as always, it was the Walter boats. Dönitz became passionated about the project.

Albert Speer’s reorganization of the production meanwhile allowed a move towards inscreased production of existing U-Boats, which was simplified, modularized and atomized between a constellation of sub-contractors working in relative security, to mitigate the effect of allied bombardment.

As a result, U-Boat production was maintained despite all odds. Choices were made, like axing of the large and costly oceanic Type XB and minelayers or specialized types gradually cancelled to concentrate on the late versions of the excellent Type VII alone.

But the Type VII still had its load of limitations, the ones described above. One innovation though, the Snorkel, was very promising and started to be adopted, as well as radars and a more effective FLAK, or better torpedoes. But since 1941 already, the research bureau of the Kriegsmarine was looking for a more radical approach, destined to completely change speed underwater, and giving the submersible an almost unlimited underwater range.

No technology at the time could provide a direct answer, but one man at least had a solution, leaning towards a modern “AIP” (“Air Independent Propulsion”). From these efforts, the initial program leading to the Type XXI can be traced back. This was Helmuth Walter’s turbine, the awaited game changer. For more, see also the U-Boat Types.

Towards the pure submarine: The Walter Propulsion

About Professor Walter

Professor Walter had patented a motor fuel system that uses nitrogen peroxide, a very unstable product that had the advantage of allowing these engines to remain completely autonomous, with little or no vibration, and above all to stay in operation. It allowed diving almost indefinitely, at high speed. This revolutionary process quickly interested the Nazis, who commissioned a first project in 1933.

However the rearmament priorities lowered this program, and it was postponed. It was not until 1939 that the first “Walter Propulsion” submarine was built. The V80, displacing 75 tons, for 22 meters long, thanks to its refined hull shape, easily reaching 28 knots submerged. This was an absolute record at the time, only beaten with the 1960s SSNs of the cold war. The following V300 in 1942 inaugurated a high-pressure turbine. She started as the first operational submarine in 1943, the U-791, giving birth to the U-792 and 793, 794 and 795, armed with forward torpedoes, which went through month of gruelling operational service (see below). But even with the emergency, the Kriegsmarine was dubious, cautious with this new technology.

Walter’s U-Boats

Various Walter Boats: V.80, Type XVIIA and XVIIB

The experimental propulsion that Professor Helmuth Walter advocated since 1931 was worth trying. A brilliant engineer her worked on a new gas turbine at the Germaniawerft shipyard (Kiel) from 1933, closed circuit propulsion system. Intended for submarines obviously, he proposed to replace ultimately both the electrical batteries and diesels by a new powerplant driven by hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) in a stabilized form, called Perhydrol.

This was a complex combustion process, but it helped creating a smaller, lighter engine with far less parts, occupying a small internal fraction of a normal U-boat, freeing space for whatever could be useful, like extra torpedoes. It was to stay for much longer underwater, not having to surface to recharge batteries and safely travel to its attack position. At the time, the Type VII did not even existed, but it was believed to be adapted on any U-Boat type in the works.

In October 1934, he proposed to the OKM (Oberkommand des Kriegsmarine) a special type of 300 tonnes U-boat, based on the Type IIA hull, but with a top speed of 26 knots and underwater speed of 30 knots, which was unheard of at the time: The average was around 7 knots. Endurance was also greater than the original, reaching 2,500 miles at 15 knots (500 miles submerged at that speed also). This “high speed U-Boat” however seemed far fetched, or had no practically use for the kind of submarine warfare thought at the time in Germany, just starting a gradual rebuilding of its submarine force, step by step.

Walter’s proposal was rejected as too unconventional, even deemed fanciful. Walter however never gave up. In 1937 he managed to show his revised plans to Karl Dönitz, at the time at the head of the small U-boat training flotilla. Dönitz was impressed enough to push for this project into the administrative echelons, through the top of the OKM, resulting at last in 1939 to a design contract. With war looming the proposal seemed interesting enough to fund a small research submersibles called V-80. But production out of the question.


V-80 was designed under supervision of Walter at Germaniawerft, Kiel, built under the greatest secrecy, on a slipway surrounded by a large fence. Launched on April 14, 1940 it was fitted out relatively quickly and started a serie of tests, at first in port, then at sea, and made a serie of dives. Test results, released in the spring 1940, with Walter himself at the controls, were brillant. As predicted, his turbine managed to propel his submersible to an amazing top speed of 23 knots submerged. This was a world record, quadruple of any model at the time.

It would wait second generation nuclear-powered attack submarines to reach that speed limit, such as the Soviet Alfa class (42 knots), so forty years later. Surface speed was also excellent, far better than any U-Boat in service so far. The turbines seemed also reliable at first, and although no max autonomy test was performed for safety, Walter was confident, the predicted range would be achieved.

The report, pushed by Dönitz into the OKM, made a sensation. The OKM upon this, suggested immediate construction of six coastal U-boats, based the V-80 design. Still, there was plenty of resistance in the U-boat department. They asked about how a real operational boat would perform, in proper combat conditions for such an untested solution. There were doubts also on how to manage a new logistical chain to hold the compounds involved in the combustion, and there was little room available in already hard-pressed shipyards to deliver the VII and IX U-boats, which seemed at the time more than sufficient for their task. In 1941 indeed, the results obtained by the early Wolfpack tactics were very encouraging. It was a war-winning strategy, dark days for the allies. Soon in early 1942, the “happy times” would commence for the U-boat arm.

Eventually, the OKM heard about these remarks and reworked the project to create a compromised design: The 600-ton V-300 (Later unique Type XVII, individually “U-791”). The goal was to produce a realistic militay model which can achieved 19 knots submerged. Construction started at Germaniawerft, but cancelled when Walter saw the design and told the OKM he could on the same basis obtain a much faster, 220 tons boat.

The semi-experimental Type XVII


A meeting with Dönitz in January 1942 had new contracts drafted, and awarded for 4 boats, all at Germaniawerft, Kiel, the Wk202 “serie” (U-792 and U-793) and in Blohm & Voss in Hamburg the Wa201 serie (U-794 and U-795), representing the Type XVIIA. Both series had the same dimensions but diverged in their shape and kiosk’s shape ad other details. They were armed with just two standard 21-in torpedo tubes for proper military evaluation. Keels were laid down eventually in December 1942 in both yards, with U-792 launched on 28 September 1943, followed by U-794, on 7 October 1943. Apart testing their powerplant, their goal was to training intensively to mimick combat conditions. As planned they reached 25 knots in 1944. In March 1944 U-794 performed a 24 knots run in in the Bay of Danzig, assisted by Dönitz and four other admirals.

In 1944 also were started boats of the Type XVIIB, now a full serie. U-1405 to U-1416 were to be built in Blohm & Voss, Hamburg. They were longer, and had the same Walter gas turbine rated for 2,500 PS (2,500 shp; 1,800 kW), doubled by a single Deutz SAA SM517 supercharged 8-cylinder Diesel engine, 210 PS (210 shp; 150 kW) for the surface, at 9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph), an AEG Maschine AWT98 electric motor, 77 PS (76 shp; 57 kW) allowing 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph) submerged on electric drive alone, and 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph) submerged (with the HTP Turbine drive). They carried the same two bow 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes with two ready and two torpedoes in reserve. But these were only coastal models, at 312 t (307 long tons) surfaced, 337 t (332 long tons) submerged and 415 t (408 long tons) total, reaching 3,000 nmi (5,600 km; 3,500 mi) at 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph) surfaced. Only the first three were operational for a short while, scuttled in May 1945. The remainder, U-1408-U-1410 were incomplete when the war ended and the U-1411-U-1416 saw their contract cancelled. A dedicated article will cover them in the future.

Well before this, back in 1942, Walter proposed this time a large military U-Boat, of some 1,475 tons standard, to be called Type XVIII. It could carry 23 torpedoes, for four bow tubes. Two contracts were awarded, on Jan 4, 1943, to Deutsche Werke, Kiel for U-796 and U-797, and then cancelled on 28 March 1944. In between, discussions betwen the OKM and Dönitz prioritized the XXI. This was simpler, cheaper “spin-off” of the Walter design, with a massive battery capacity, and not the Walter turbine. By this trick, the Type XXI was still able to reach 17 knots submerged.

Indeed, in between, tests performed by Kriegsmarine crews in near-combat operation in 1943 went to the OKM, and were less stellar about their performances: The complexity of three powerplants, and the turbine itself, was really above the average level of training asked from Kriegsmarine rating at the time, maintenance was complex and costly, totally captive of a very uncertain supply of Perhydrol, for which no solid supply has been planned yet. Also, it was found the fuel was highly flammable. In fact, the Royal Navy also had engineers working on such concept, and eventually abandoned it as too dangerous for combat.

The legacy of the Walter boats was not lost however. It did not went into cold-war models, which rather derived from the more conventional Type XXI, but found their way in concept, in modern AIP systems used for conventional “diesel-sub” atack submarines. Technology made giant leaps to procure a safer system and reach even greater speeds and autonomy. But it took more than 70 years to reach this level. Prof. Walter did not lived long enough to see his vision realized, when he passed away in 1980. Germany indeed embraced only in the 2000s the concept of fuel cells, now propelling the Type 212, 214, 218 and modified 208-1400.

The clock is ticking: Inevitable Compromises

Not only this research progressed very slowly, but the limitations seen above were considered too much for the Kriegsmarine organization and for combat conditions. Priority was given to a simpler model eventually: The type XXI, marrying the new hydrodynamic hull resulting from the advanced researches in this field (with large models in test pools), but a more conventional, trusted diesel, and incorporating a massive provision of batteries, which allowed a final 17 knots or 220 miles at 9 kts submerged, which was enough to “disrupt” allied ASW warfare, combined with the advantage of the snorkel, to make the subs “stealthier”.

It was not the powerplant hich eally set apart the Type XXI from all other submersibles of the time, but the whole “package”: Anti-vibration system to separate the powerplant, making it more silent at low speed, when diving, magnetic jammers against Deep-Charges, the snorkel allowing to stay indefinitely submerged but at constant depth, or an oil/air releasing system to confuse observers (believing a successful grenade attack was made), the new high-speed automated torpedo launch system, the latest magnetic homing torpedoes.

Externally it went as well with a completely new hull and sail shapes, result of years of refinements, calculation and tests, or the new semi-automated anti-aircraft system with remotelly operated electric turrets, a new listening system, more powerful and accurate for underwater detection. And the crew’s comfort was immensely improved because of more automation plus more internal space (with a smaller crew !) better facilities, freezer for food, more sanitation spaces, proper showers and even a bathub.

Development of the Type XXI

Overview and internals, original blueprints reconstructed by the Bundesmarine.

Paying a staggering price

To get from the 1930s Type VII and IX to this “spaceship” was not a smooth ride, though. The first trigger was of course the degrading situation in the so-called “battle of the Atlantic”: First signs of this came in July 1942 – February 1943 when losses rose steadily. The better organized US Navy for convoy escort, and massive output of shipyards on both sides of the pond, which indeed had a massive impact in the matter. But what really turned the tables was the famous “black may”, or March–May 1943 which saw increase ferocity on both sides, and only 39 ships (235,000 tons) were sunk for 15 U-boats destroyed.

Later in May, in a single convoy, 30 U-boats attacked, but only managing to sink 13 merchant ships, for the loss of six U-boats. This was one U-Boat traded for two merchant vessels. Already an unnacceptable price to pay compared to the 1941-42 ratios. All in all this month alone, 43 U-boats were destroyed, 25% of German U-boat Arm’s at the time. At this rate, seemingly increasing, the whole “battle of the Atlantic” would be lost within six months, unless drastic changes took place.

Since Dönitz was at the head of the Kriegsmarine from January, submarine warfare was given all priority and major surface assets were transferred to Norway to operate aainst the Murmansk Convoys and tie down a substantial part of the Allies in effort escort. Submarine construction had all priority and resources, manpower available and it went to the existing Type VII and Type IX as well as a few Type XIV for refuelling. The 1943 Fleet Building Programme notably had Dönitz peesuading Speed on the provision 40 U-Boats per month being completed, despite a growing lack of steel, in high demand notably for the Heer.

On late November 1942, the OKM send three naval builders to Paris for a meeting with Dönitz. Dönitz then started to number the losses: In 1940, twenty four, 1941 thirty three, 1942 a bit less for the first half, but it has been steadily rising since then as in July 1942, nine were lost, in August twelve, in September nine in October fourteen as for November, 80% of those in the surface. The core problems that he had submersibles, not true submarines. Statistics were clear about this: His U-Boots needed to stay underwater longer. He also gave his hopes for the the construction of the new Walter submarines, and the Type XXVIII the largest of these. But he also expressed his concerns about this untested tech and delays, the great industrial risks it represented.

One of the yard, eager to get an order fast, proposed to just streamlining the hull and doubling the electrical ppiwer, or even quadrupling it, while building a much larger submarine, preserving its surface qualities, notably in rough weather. Dönitz expressed doubts about the fact hos boats needed to surface often anyway, and he was told about a new “all-weather” Schnorchel model. Another expressed their idea about a semi-automated reload system for torpedoes.

Dönite became very interested and to conclude, asked for when this alternative type could be ready, and he was answered spring 1943. This was the birth of the Type XXI.

When the first designs were presented in June 1943, as imperfect and rough as they were, Dönitz’s fears came true as the previous “Black May”, losses has been crippling. Now was not the time for tedious half-measures. A new submarine was needed fast. Development of the new Type XXI from there, now officially named, was given all priority and the Walter boats fell into low priority; In the end, three times more batteries were planned, an armoured bridge and new streamlined hull were all in the works.

The new electrical power allowed, combined to the streamlining, to make seventeen knots underwater, but it still only existed on paper. Now the same builders that met in Paris by November 1942 assured Dönitz that the first boat would be ready… in late 1944. Dönitz by now had to make a very difficult decision to either give up submarine warfare entirely, or held his breath, took measures to spare his crews, and gamble on the new type, provided there was a way to have it faster.

Depite the losses, keeping the crews at sea, was the only way to have his men staying sharp, and even they did little damage at this point of the war, this ASW campaign still tied down countless allied ressources for convoy escort alone. Plus he would have experienced crews to make the transition towards the new type. Meanwhile, both the Type VII and IX still filled the order books of the three yards in charge of submarine production in Germany. They will deliver both types up to the last day of the war, but at a lower rate.

The year in between, from mid-1943 to mid-1944, Dönitz also frantically worked to improve the tech of his actual Type VII/IX. Until late 1944 they were continually improved. Better engines, better range, deeper dive, a schnorchel, new radars, and plenty of anti-aircraft guns. Kapitänleutnant Hartmann was the first to sail the new anti-aircraft submarine type, but even through, he was attacked by several British fighter-bombers and severely damaged, with all hi men on deck killed, himself and his staff. She was back to port commanded by …the medic on board, sole officer left. Reserve-officers got on board and a few days afterwards, she was at sea again.

Meanwhile, German shipyards were geared up to new forms of production setup for the Type XXI. Albert Speer, Hitler’s secret weapon for Germany’s production, was the minister responsible for this programme, promising deliveries in May 1944, well befoe anticipated. And he kept his promises (see later).

Production planning of the Type XXI

The while the year 1943, and early 1944, were fought with the same types, it’s only in the spring of 1944 that the Type XXI submarine was scheduled to reach frontline. Back in July 1943, the The Central Shipbuilding Committee and the new building programme knew that plans for the new Type XXI were not ready, the Walter turbines was now appearing not suitable for operations, and the “backup solution” was ready, although many technological issues were still at hand. So development was given time: The comittee envisaged the completion of the first two of them, as serie protoype in November 1944 and the pre-production prototype in December 1944, with trials in the spring of 1945. The plan also comprised a production of 30 boats a month by the autumn of 1945.

In addition, this programme presupposed that Speer was prepared to provide all requisite building facilities and work would proceed without interference by air raids or bottlenecks, which Dönitz found unrealistic. Soon the increasing number of air raids and destruction of Hamburg gave him credit. While he asked Speer to submit counterproposals, the latter granted the first Type XXI completed in Apri 1944, which left hope production would start sooner.

Both men eventually struck an agreement over which the new type was accorded all priority freezing any alternative naval construction, and they they would benefit for prefabricated, mass-production principles, possibly in well protected, bunkerized final facilities in which the various final modules would be assembled. If it’s looking very modern to us, it was at least groundbreaking for major naval construction. After all, the Type XXI were planned to be much larger even than the Type IX.

Instructions planning for the new U-Boat models started at the Construction Office in Glückauf, Blankenburg. The Autumn of 1943 saw first orders placed with contractors involved already to provide U-boat electric batteries, as well as those for the pressure-hull sections and a galaxy of sub-contractors. On 8 December 1943, constructional drawings were at least completed. On 1st January 1944, the new programme was submitted for approval, targeting the completion of a prototype in April 1944 as agreed by Speer, with another date of 30 boats completed by July 1944. There same program did not concentrated exclusively on the Type XXI. Considering quantity also had a quality, the first Type XXIII, coastal “Elektroboote” were to be completed in February 1944, plus 19 delivered in April (see later).

Final Design

Inverted negative blueprint of the Type XXI.

General Overview

Colorized sections of the Type XXI- Green: living quarters, blue: central operation, purple: torpedo room, yellow and orange: batteries and accumulators, pink: Electric engines and diesels.

The general outlines of a Type XXI were nothing lile all previous designs, in stark contrast to the Type VII, IX and all the others. This was such a leap forward, early crews coming from older surviving U-Boats or new ones, trained on older models were just astonished to see something out of a Flash Gordon strip, a swatiska-carrying spaceship made for total superiority at sea.

The fruit of months of basin researches, starting for engineered shapes to achieve the least water resistance underwater, the Type XXIs lost their “surface-first” approach, with a relatively conventional hull over waterline level, with a flat deck, and clear separation between the outer hull and pressure hull below, a cylinder and square-section above.

The Type VII blended all these shapes in a single elliptic section all around, blending into the flat deck, which was still there. This was calculated a creating less disruption at high speed underwater. Far before the “droplet style” of more modern SSNs, this was the first attempt to design boats able to reach great underwater speeds, and great care was given to define the best penetration rate possible. Outside the all-rounded sides, the outer hull was not much deeper, but longer overall, creating a greater buoyancy reserve.

Crucially, the bow was no longer “clipper-like” but rounded, a feature universally adopted in cold war years (like for all converted “fleet snorkels”). This rounded bow indeed ctreate les turbulences at great speeds underwater. The forward part was still fine and narrow, sich its cutting edge below the bow curve, facing the three torpdo tubes forward, enclosed in recesses, with each their own shutter, as for previous classes. When closed, the hull was much more streamlined. Above the tube, in the inwards recesses directly below the bow was the larger section of the upper bow. The lower part, below the tubes, was thicker and reinforced to mitigate any impact on the seafloor or obstacle.

Not far below, mid-way of the downward curve, was installed a protruding sonar installation. The ends of the lower bulge was blended with the next belly section. As all previous types, the outer hull was dotted with filling ports all along. The inner pressure hull was about 50% volume compared to the outer, thinner hull. It stopped about 10 meters from the bow, mid-way at the torpedo tubes, and went aft about the same distance from the stern, at the end of the machinery space, which occupied about 1/3 of the total lenght, same for the crew spaces and battle stations in the middle, and the smaller section forward being used for the torpedoes. This space was reduced due to its automation. There was small access hatch for maintenance, but it was no longer crammed with railings, chains and pulleys needed for manual reloading as in previous boats. Nobody slept there either.

The last external changes were of course the absence of a deck gun from the start, and the AA armament in remote turrets fore and aft of the main island, which was itself self-enclosed and streamlined unlike previous “kiosks” opened conning towers with wave breakers and AA platforms. The new island was bulkier, but way cleaner. The central section was also the largest, both in beam and height, with three stages for the first time in any German submarines: The upper one was the main living quarters, with triple bunks for the crews, close to the central, which location did not changed, but this time over three levels, whil the rest of the two lower decks were entirely occupied by batteries, placed at low as possible for gravity. Cumulated with the island that was two-storey high, the Type XXI were the roomier and tallest German submarines ever built.

Modular Construction

The Type XXI sections in details. Note the kiosk, rebuilt postwar: This shows the Bundermarine’s Wilhelm Bauer.

The Type XXI comprised eight separate sections, each being its own sealed compartment, with safety hatches. These ovale sections were constructed in 13 different yards. This allowed on-site duplication and taylorisation with assemblu of sub-elements, often coming from other suppliers. This ensured that if a number of sections were destroyed in one yard, other provided the same sections. Redundancy complicated the chain supply though for each manufacturer.

Safety of this section-building up to the final assembly in the naval yards rose concerns as the most exposed, tipping point of the whole manufacturing chain, and in 1944 efforts were made to provide bomb-proof sheltering. The largest bunkers ever devised in Germany, larger even than the ones designed to protect in France U-Boats (the “u-boat pens”) was exemplified at Hamburg-Finkenwerder and Bremen-Farge, the two prototype buildings to deliver sections. A few others were improvised in less sensitive sites. Due to their size, sections could only be transported by water, whiwh restrained the list of possible sites.

A section-building yard was supplied with similar part-sections for the first section, like thee stern, with delivery of the remaining parts timed to ensure completion in sequence. At any given time, the same number of sections were always in progressive stages of assembly at each yard. Larger part-sections machined and prepared for assembly in the central line, corresponded to smaller ones from machine shops, on a conveyor-belt, creating a tree-like supply, typical of taylorisation. Same operations were repeated on each section by the same skilled team for speed.

The delivery of these completed sections ended in the U-boat assembly yards. There was one in Bremen (Deschimag), another in Hamburg (Blohm & Voss) and a third in Danzig (Schichau). Final assembly consisted in welding the section together, and fitting the last large parts (like the prop shafts), the island, etc. up to the launching under a strict time-table. Difficulties arose in early stages as many issues were discovered and fixed along the way to provide this smoothness.

Section-building yards initially were unable respect their schedule, mostly because of a delayed delivery from subcontractors, especially for the most crucial fittings, which blocked all subsequents steps. Also, the first part-sections sometimes were badly rolled, exceeding their specified tolerances when arriving a the final assembly yard. They often necessitated additional work. In addition, in the rush to keep the schedules, some supposedly complete sections arrived not only late but unfinished, requiring supplies and additional work.

The Central Shipbuilding Committee permitted no shifting in the tight schedule, ruthlessly insisting on their strict observance. This cause launched boats in such as state they needed much work remaining, pushing back for many weeks and even months any completion, and thus, commission. A lot of these finishing tasks were either botches or skimped entirely, which later forced the newly commissioned boats, long periods in dockyard to fix discovered issues. The first seven boats batch was therefore the most laborious of the whole serie, and crews were suspicious of their own safety onboard. The Kriegsmarine after a few trials, kept them for training and experimentations.

The whole program was so challenging, it grew tension and antagonism, even in the Central Shipbuilding Committee itself, but also with the Kriegsmarine Naval Command and dockyard authorities as well. It’s only by the summer of 1944 that there was some noticeable improvements, after weeks or ironing out the whole process and reorganizations. The Shipbuilding Commission under Admiral Topp was instrumental in this, created earlier that year, and acting as mediator and consultant, notably between the Naval Command and Armaments Ministry.

All was done under nerve-wracking reports going from all Germany to the administration of the Armaments Minister, caused mostly by bombing, which destroy assembly sites, the stopped the sub-contractors supply, or, in large final assembly yards often bombed, complete flight of dockyard workmen, notably in Hamburg and Dantzig. In the latter, the collapse of the Estern defence meant the destruction of bridges, pontoons and cranes badly needed to carry the sections. Most often in 1944, work was transferred to other, less exposed factories, and as much as possible, smaller parts were made by slave labor in tunnels, caves and underground.

Despite all odds, unthinkable production rates were meet: 234 U-boats were built in 1944 (220,000 tons), versus 238 in 1942, just as the bombing campaign was ramping up. The highest monthly rate was in December 1944, in which 31 submarines, including 22 of the new Type XXI were delivered. It was just 24 in October 1941 or 23 in November 1942, 28 in December 1943. Despite more and more severe bombins, the average monthly rate in the first quarter of 1945 stayed very high, and the continuous smoothing of the assembly process all along. Nevertheless, by transferring naval construction from the naval command to the minitry meant completion of the program time rose from eight to twelve months, so five behind schedule.

A set of Revolutionary Features

Design of the Type XXI Island

Aft view, from the reconstructed plans based postwar on the Whilhelm Bauer.

Hull Construction

It was suppose and announced thicker and stronger for deeper dives, and essential part of the design.

Details from the February 1946 British Portsmouth Commission report:

Plating is generally 4 mm (.16″) thick, splinter protection 17 mm (.67″) thick provided for the bridge and gun positions across the top, along the sides and at the ends. The material for the splinter protection is identified as “Wsho/Mo”, but its characteristics are not known.

Citing “The vertical keel extends aft from the fabricated forward structure, forming a deep centerline division extending up through the forward trim tanks and WRT tanks, to the forward end of the forward battery, where it is reduced in depth to 285 mm (11.2″) and extends aft at that depth to the after end of the after battery, except for the section in the way of the variable tanks, which is carried as a centerline bulkhead up to the pump room deck. Aft of the after battery it is carried at the full depth from the sole plate to the bottom of the pressure hull as far as the forward end of the after trim tank. It is carried aft through the after trim tank, but does not extend below it, as the longitudinal member at the bottom of the vessel is a bulb tee 120 x 6.5 (4.72″ x .26″). Connection is provided at the after end of the trim tank to the cellular structure which carries aft into the tail of the vessel”.

And also: “The stern frame of a casting (a weldment is permitted by the specifications) with carriers for the rudder and for the stern planes. Also at the after end of the vessel is a pair of fins which serve the dual purpose of stabilizers and struts for the propeller shaft bearings. As shown on plans, the fins are the widest part of the vessel”

Overall: “The hull structure is an interesting solution to the problem presented, and is a radical departure from previous German practice. At the same time, a number of the design details could have been improved. A number of details characteristic of previous types have been retained”

As for the critics, also noted by the German themselves:

-The method of connecting the upper and lower segments in the way of the battery compartments is generally faulty.

The commission also noted (absent from German reports):

-Noted failure of the lower segment under test below the designed value.

-External frames are deeper, but their are close to earlier vessels.

-Flanges have not been widened to improve the lateral stability of the frame section

-Unsatisfactory bulkheading, with collapsing pressure 50% as the designer’s spec

-Retention of bolted plates, rivets in shear is questionable.

-Weakness in the interruption of the circular section at the bottom of the vessel,

substitution of a heavy sole piece and,

additional deck and floors, detrimental to the stress distribution.


Hertha electric engine of type XXI Siemens-Schuckert AG 1944

As a matter of fact, despite the absence of a Walter Gas turbine, the Type XXI was a diesel electric, equipped with three powerplants for various uses:

Two MAN M6V40/46KBB

Diesel assembly into the first powerplant section (the second had all four electrical motors)

6-cylinder diesel engines, rated for 4,000 PS (3,900 shp; 2,900 kW) For surface navigation. They were used to power the Batteries, were lighter units, taylor-built for the Type XXI since space needed to be gained for more batteries, and on paper, were less powerful than those onboard the Type IX/VII.

The only way to mitigate that shortcoming was to add a supercharger using exhaut gasses, workong at 520 RPM Max. The major problem is that these new injectors were deficient when the Type XXI was produced, and proved to be woefully unreliable, leaving the diesels to their lowest basic output. As a result, surface speed suffered. As a comparison, the Type IX-D/42 had 9,000 horsepower (9,100 PS; 6,700 kW) for more than 33 kts.

The second point of interest was the schnorchel, which was supposed to feed the diesels underwater. This innovation was already applied to the Type VII and IX, however the system onboard the Type XXI was created with a new valve system for heavy weather (see later). Nominal surface speed was to be 15.6 knots (28.9 km/h; 18.0 mph) surfaced.

Two SSW GU365/30:

Battery accumulators (Bauer)

Double-acting Hertha electric motors from Siemens-Schuckert, with an output of 5,000 PS (4,900 shp; 3,700 kW) at 1675 R.P.M. These were the main electric units, bringing far more power (five times more) than the Type IX. The latter, which were lighter, had the SSW 1 GU 345/34 rated for 1,000 PS (990 shp; 740 kW). These were supposed to provide 18 kts to the new boats, later re-rated at 17.2 knots (31.9 km/h; 19.8 mph), versus 7.7 knots (14.3 kph) for the Type IX, but in reality were re-rated by postwar assessments to 15.

Two SSW GV232/28:

Silent Running electric motors. This new system was to provide a stealthy final approach (inside the convoy). Howeve that feature was at the time too advanced for the allied tech, largely relying on active sonar systems. Also built by Siemens-Schuckert, they provided 226 PS (223 shp; 166 kW) at 350 R.P.M., for 6.1 knots. As for batteries, Six battery divisions, each with 62 cells and 1300 A.Hr. (Cell type 44 MAL 740E) were provided.

Sas/hatch to the Machine Room

⚙ Performances (British report)
Cruising range – normal 15,500 mi. @ 10 kn. 2 engines
max. speed 11,150 mi. @ 12 kn. 2 engines
submerged 365 mi. @ 5 kn. 2 engines
// 285 mi. @ 5 kn.
// 170 mi. @ 8 kn
// 110 mi. @ 10 kn
Surface speed – max. 15.6 kn.
Submerged speed – 1 hr. rate 17-18 kn (sustained)


The other strong point was the new boat’s range, both surfaced and underwater. The hull was roomier and could accomodate more fuel oil, resulting in a surface speed of 15,500 nautical miles (28,700 km; 17,800 mi) at ten knots (19 km/h; 12 mph). To compare with the Type IX, the latter reached 13,450 nmi (24,910 km; 15,480 mi) at the same speed, so this was a clear-cut improvement, however not really tested or corroborated in post-war tests. On paper, the new Schnorchel was to enable that same autonomy at eriscope depth all the way, albeit at a slightly lower speed.

But the real “game changer” at this stage of the war, was of course their submerged autonomy, which promised to be formidable: They could indeed cruise over 340 nmi (630 km; 390 mi) at 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph) while submerged. For comparison, a type IX could only cruise for 63 nmi (117 km; 72 mi) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) while submerged, a Type VIIC 80 nmi (150 km; 92 mi) also at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph). So this was, on paper, 3-4 times better, allowing an U-Boat to start from the Jade estuary, Wilhelmshaven, then reach the confines of the Gulf of Gascony (Bay of Biscaye), or well past Scapa Flow in Scotland. With the new Schnorchel it was even possible to reload the batteries while staying at periscopic depth.

Submerging faster, Diving deeper

Other points that were specified to escape allied escorts, was the ability to dive fast, 20 kts on paper, and dive far deeper than any other u-Boat before. The first was achieved thanks to more filler ports along the outer hull and even the island, and a deeper, larger hull with more capacity, added to more powerful bilge pumps, hydraulically powered.

To dive deeper (Up to 300 m, which was the theoretical crush depth) enginers simply made the pressure hull far more thicker, and this was provided by Dönitz be granted by Speer and extra provision of high grade steel. The issue there however, was entirely related to the construction method by separated modules: The way they were jointed together was absolutely crucial for structural integrity.

But at the end, the Type XXI were able to dive at a test depth of 240 m (787 ft), 10 meters miore than the Type IX, and same for the VIIC, which was less than the 280 m anticipated. Some post-war tests rated this even only at 200m. So overall it was marginally better, and construction defaults had it toned down further.

It shoyuld be noted also that, if the hydraulic system was to fail, there was an emergency backup system for the steering.


Torpedo Tubes

The Type XXI were the first to get rid of their stern torpedo tubes. It was found that firing their torpedoes submerged, using the new acoutic system was enough of an advantage, and getting rid of stern TTs spared spaces for the powerplant. So the Type XXI ended with just their six forward torpedo tubes, always the standard 21 inches (53,3 cm). These tubes could fire a larger variety of torpedoes than all previous models through, had a revolutionary loading system (see later) and could also launch 12 mines also via the tubes.

New Torpedo Models

Type XXI Plate III, S75, torpedo reloading slide, cut

the Type XXI was equipped with several torpedo types. The normal ones, which need aiming first:

-The “Lut” or “Fat” which run in a straight-line for a while, then turn repeteadly, sailing in “zig-zag”.

-The “Zaunkönig” was the late acoustic torpedo version or G7e TV, following the propeller noises of the destroyers. These cannot evade it unless they say full-ahead, because this torpedo is a bit slow.

-The improved version T11, also acoustic, following destroyers and ordinary vessels but was faster and cannot be diverted by noise devices.

In practice, the Type G7e was the main supply. As a reminder, this torpedo was provided as the late types G7e(TIV) Falke and G7e(TV) Zaunkönig.

The Falke was the model allowing a sub to fire them while deeply submerged inside the convoy. Their main advantage was to start like a straight-running torpedo for the first 400 m (440 yd) to enable its acoustic sensors, then actively search for a target. Since this equipment was sentitive, the propeller needed to be as quiet as possible, by its shape, and also speed, at only 37 km/h (20 kn), while the Carrier sub was also to be dead silent. This model was mostly intended for merchant targets. its use was limited, as it was merely a “proof of concept” for the acoustic homing torpedo.

The common model however was the G7e(TIII) of 1942, straight-line model capable of 7,500 m (8,200 yd) at 56 km/h (30 kn). It was declined in 1943-44 into the G7e(TIII Fat II), and LuT (Lagenunabhängiger Torpedo), or the G7e(TIII Lut II) all pattern-running systems for convoy attacks. They made their course unpredictable.

Automatic Reloading System

Standard reloading system,external.

As noted in a confidential report dated February 1946 from the Portsmouth naval commission which investigated the Type XXI, REPORT 2G-21, S75-3 was about Torpedo Handling, loading and stowage states the following:

Although several of the design details of the handling, loading and stowage arrangements from earlier German types were retained on the Type XXI, the basic conception, to provide stowage for all torpedoes within the torpedo room with a ready means for servicing the torpedo tubes, was an innovation in German design. The stowage and handling arrangements adopted provide an interesting comparison with present U.S. designs. Several noteworthy features, in particular, the elimination of heavy stowage cradles, warrant consideration for possible inclusion in U.S. designs.

The basic hull design of the Type 21 submarine made it desirable to eliminate the topside stowage existing on the preceding types that were not designed primarily for high submerged speeds. Also as the requirement of a narrow cross section aft eliminated the possibility of after torpedo tubes, it became necessary to provide adequate stowage facilities for all reserve torpedoes in the forward torpedo room.

The German design to obtain this is shown on Plates I-IV. The functioning of this arrangement with torpedoes is fully discussed in the NavTechreport.

A limited number of mines can also be handled with this setup by the addition of the special supporting chocks shown on Plates VI and VII. 18 TMB mines (7.6 ft. long) or 12 TMC mines (11.2 ft. long) could be carried external to the tubes. When carrying mines but a third of the available space is utilized as only the inboard chocks (and cradles) are used. With the present U.S. designs the same cradles that are used for stowage of torpedoes can be used for the stowage of mines; a total of 16 mines (10 ft. long) forward and 12 mines aft are carried in the cradles.

The present German design has proven faulty under depth charge tests in that the elastic bolts securing the supporting arms to the pressure hull have sheared off. This arrangement provided for a total of 20 torpedoes, 6 in the torpedo tubes and 14 in the stowage. Three cradles were left empty so as to permit servicing of the torpedoes in the tubes. No berthing was installed within the torpedo room; adequate facilities for berthing the crew were provided within the large battery compartment.

Noteworthy Arrangement: The basic arrangement providing reserve torpedoes on the same level as the tubes to be serviced with a ready means of athwartship movement of the torpedoes on their supporting members is the same on both U.S. and German designs. The German design utilizes power to move the torpedoes both athwartships on their support arms, and into the tubes longitudinally, while the U.S. designs depend on rollers and hand control for similar transport. The relative advantages and disadvantages of hand control versus power control essentially balance each other.

The main advantage of the Type XXI arrangement lies in the overall weight saving by the use of chocks in lieu of cradles for the support of those torpedoes not lined up with the tubes. The cradles, less rollers, weigh 780 lbs. The chocks used weigh 75 lbs., or 150 lbs. for each torpedo, effecting a saving of 630 lbs. per torpedo.

The conservation of weight by using chocks on rollers in lieu of cradles, and by reducing the number of cradles to one for each layer of tubes, could be easily accomplished on existing U.S. submarines, if desired. This would, at the same time alleviate the awkward handling and stowage problem that now presents itself with a large number of empty cradles. It is to be recognized, however, that in order to carry mines it becomes necessary either to use additional special fittings, as in the case of the German design, or to retain the present stowage cradles.

CONCLUSION: The design adopted for the Type XXI submarine meets the German requirement to provide rapid, silent handling and maximum torpedo stowage facilities within the forward torpedo room. It does this at sacrifice in living accommodations (within this compartment) and overall mine stowage capacity. To properly assess a comparison of this arrangement, it would be necessary to know and discuss the effects that higher submerged speeds would have on the overall arrangement of a similar U.S. design. This is beyond the scope of this report. However, special noteworthy features present interesting studies for possible adaptation to and improvement of present U.S. designs. The lightweight chocks and cradles used are of particular interest. It is recommended that further study be made of an arrangement that uses light chocks in lieu of the present heavy stowage cradles so as to determine what sacrifices, if any, are necessary and what overall benefits are derived from such a change.

The key “pusher barillet” system to hold and distribute torpedoes

Torpedo handling, vertical view.

AA Guns

The two tailor-designed turrets house each two 30MM anti-aircraft guns, mounted on each end of the conning tower fairwater. For traverse, elevation and firing, they are controlled by the gunner, obtained by the main hydraulic system, with simple and directional controls. They are not remotelly operated as sometimes seen. The motors were close to small oil pump systems.

Each turret contains two pressure-tight ready service tanks, housing 250 rounds each, plus a gunner seat, with foot controls and related hydraulic gear, hand controls for the elevation and traverse. The 3 cm MK 303 (Br) Flak also called Flakzwilling (M44) was experimental in 1944, designed to replace both the 20 m and 37 mm FLAK, fitted on fixed or wheeled chassis and in specially created mounts for the Type XXI. Manufactured by Krieghoff in 1944, they were 222 delivered in 1944, 190 in 1945.

⚙ Krieghoff 3 cm MK 303 (Br)
weight 185 kg (408 lbs)
full lenght 3.145 m (10 ft 3.8 in)j/td>
Barrel length 2.2 m (7 ft 3 in) L/73
Shell 30×210mm
Caliber 30 mm (1.18 in)
Elevation -10°to ±85°
Traverse 360°
Rate of fire 400 rpm (cyclic)
Muzzle velocity 1100 m/s (3,609 ft/s) M-Schos
// HE 900 m/s (2,953 ft/s)
// AP/HE 950 m/s (3,117 ft/s)
Feed system 15 cartridge clip or belt (Type XXI)

There is a scuttle in the turret top, from which the gunner’s head protrudes. The forward face is shielded for extra protection, interlocked with the guns, rising when elevates. The turret seats on a ball bearing race, with the carrier ring on the fairwater having an internal toothed ring gear to engage the motorized spur gear. Stops limiting elevation and depression as well as rotation to 170 degrees on each side. When diving, the guns are locked at 5 degrees depression. Construction use the same special steel (Wsho/Mo) as the bridge armor plating, 17MM (0.67 in). It was judged simple enough, although the amount of hydraulic piping is excessive, prone to failure and in act the sole major source of contamination of the whole hydraulic system with salt water aboard.

There was however, as reported in blueprints, a project to replace what was seen as an interim solution, by two pairs of 40 mm guns instead, and that time in full remote operation. Little is known about this arrangement; But it allowed the submarine to fire semi-submerged, or while submerging, or just surfaced without delay, nor risks for the gunner.

View of conning tower fairwater, and turret access.

Sensors & Electronics


The FuMo 61 Hotenwiel radar and transmitter Type F 432 D2

The Type XXI was given a more extensive radar suite than any other submarine before: There were two working parts, the FuMB Ant 3 Ball radar detector coupled with an antenna fitting, and a FuMO 65 Hohentwiel U1 radar with a Type F432 D2 series transmitter device.

The FuMB Ant 3 Bali radar detector and antenna were located on top of the snorkel head. it was a small device, but with extended range, able to catch radar pulse from 50 km? away. Introduced from February 1943, the Biskayakreuz was replaced by the FuMB Ant 3 Bali with worked on the 137-166 cm wavelenghts, mounted on top of the schnorchel mast. A second oscillator was added (FuMB 1) from July 1943 due to the British introducing the 10 cm ASV Mk.III and type 271 radar not detected by Metox. The latter was retired after it was found to be detected by aircraft.

The FuMO 65 Hohentwiel U1 with the Type F432 D2 radar transmitter were installed on the right side of the conning tower fairwater. The latter was a trusted model designed from 1938 and largely used on planes, surface ships and subs. On the latter, its detection range was limited to 10 km, so it was a “last warning” resource. A plane 10 km away could very quickly be on target. Frequency was 525–575 MHz/57.1-52.1 cm (low UHF-band), PRF 50 Hz, pulsewidth 2 μs, azimuth left 30°, middle, right 30°, and power 24V 30A, Synchronous inverter. It was folded inside a “trench” alongside the conning tower roof to protect it when diving.

Hohentwiel telescopic Mast detailed blueprint.

Sonars: The Nibelung-Parisfal suite.


The passive component of the sonar installation, was the Gruppenhorchgerat (GHG) passive sonar installed in the keel (“Parisfal”), under a protruding cover. This system was not “invented” for the Type XXI but already used from 1942 in some older Types VII/IX. It consisted of two groups of 24 sensor, 12 per side, with tube preamplifier each. 48 low frequency signals were routed to a switching matrix. This allowed the sonar operator to determine the direction of the sound source and relative distance. Switchable crossover ranging from 1 to 6 kHz center frequency improved the reception. There was a dead zone of 40° fore and aft, which was corrected on the “full range” installation on the Type XXI. Its detecation range was 20 km for single shis and up to 100 km for an entire Convoy.

Its active component was the advanced “Unterwasser-Ortungsgerat Nibelung” non-line-of-sight system. To make the fullest use the new rapid loading system and acoustic torpedoes fired from deep below, the Unterwasser-Ortungsgerät NIBELUNG mounted in the bow enabled an approach from deep inside the convoy, emit short active sonar bursts to fix the target location, without being detected. The torpedo room worked in conjunction with the sonar, receiving targeting data, which was inputted into the new Lageunabhangiger Torpedo system.

U-3008 Kiosk details

Another innovatove system, the U-Bauer Decoy Ejector, located in the stern compartment. It could sent bubbles and oil to the surface to make think a captain his target has been sunk.


Conning tower design showing the location of the antennae, radars, schnorchel and persicopes.

Along the conning tower fairwater were located the two receiving surface whip antennae, the radio emitter antenna, the main day attack periscope, the smaller night persicope, mosty used for star-based navigation, the main Hohentwiel radar and in front of it, the large schnorchel mast, with the exhaust and air intake tubes, an ball mount admission system. On top of it was located the FuMB Ant 3 Bali radar detector. It seems the periscopes models were less innovative, based on the same models used in earlier Type IX, possibly the type NLSR C/9 day attack periscope. More on their uses and procedures can be found here. The main attack model on the Type XXIII was however the ASR C/6 periscope, with an ocular box of type NLSR C/9 (night periscope and day periscope combined). Possibly the day model was the StaS C/2 attack periscope. The only point to underline here, is that excessive vibrations on the early boats precluded the use of periscopes while under schnorchel’s navigation.

U3008, Hohentwiel and main persicopes. (ONI)

U3008, same, rear view.

Production: “Like sausages”

Albert Speer organized mass production with great efficience as agreed in the Summer of 1943, however the first series would be operational in November 1944, not July as first planned, but later. The first had teething issues and commission was delayed. Prefabricated sections were used, that could be built ashore in tunnels, blockhouses, underground sheds, then transported by boat in immense Block-building sites made by Todt for final assembly. The latter, bomb-proof installation were capable of producing hundreds in a month, at the edge of large rivers.

The final assembly was mostly to be carried out in the Valentin submarine pens, a massive and bomb–hardened concrete bunker, built at Farge, near Bremen between 1943 and 1945, using 10,000 concentration camp prisoners and POWs by Todt. It was 90% completed when bombed in March 1945, using the Grand Slam “earthquake” bombs. cracked open, it was abandoned and captured a few weeks after by British troops.

A feat as spectacular as the submarine itself

Crude section

Section in construction, central module.

The mass-construction of the Type XXI at the same path of the American libery-ships, for the most sophisticated submarine ever built was a great accomplishment by German planners at all level, under constant day and night bombings. The total order, in 1945 was to reach 1,170 Type XXI alone, and more than 2,000 Type XXIII, while the entire submarine production until that point in Germany was 1,043. The game changer was a complete reorganization of the production for maximum efficiency, befitting to a “total war”. At last by late 1943 Germany adopted standards of the allies, producing more with less, sparing materials, simplifying, cuttiing work hours, better employing skilled labour, using masses of slave workers in less skilled tasks, but trying not to compromise too much on the technological edge.

The first serious bottleneck was found in the dual requirement for a rapid setup of mass production while maintening the same delivery rate for existing older types, for a 6-months transition. This necessitated indeed the provision of twice as much materials, as well as manufacturing capacity with a network already saturated and stretched to the absolute maximum. At the worst case scenario, the full transition was to be performed over eight months.

Far more materials needed

Prefabricated scheme

Step up the production of U-boat batteries soon appeared paramount, as the new types asked twice more, added to the old types. To achieve this the Armaments Ministry’s had to produce the requisite machinery and equipment for at the expense of current contracts but for aircraft production, which between all arms was given absolute priority. The sheer quantity of lead and rubber needed for them grew acute, but this was later overcome.

The Type XXI also needed very powerful electric motors, outside batteries, that needed to be developed, and the boats were also using many other electrical fittings. This included the cruising motors and trimming plus bilge pumps as well as the new, powerful echo-ranging gear and associated underwater listening station, equally modern and powerful radio and radar sets, search receivers, which at this point focused the attention of the entire German electrical industry, curtailing production of replacement power-stations and locomotives for those destroyed by the bombardments. The population suffered as the result of these shortages.

Another issue was to gather enough high-grade steel plating for the pressure hull. On this particular topic, the Heer was adamant it needed all the capacity to produce larger and better protected tanks: This commodity constituted indeed the worst bottleneck for the German industry as a whole. The allies had the same problems, and in both ship construction and aviation, wood made a comeback. The old type VII still needed these supplies, and the new types, larger, required more. But the autumn of 1943, the output needed was 3.5 times greater as what was allocated until then. Soon, the Kriegsmarine had to make choices, like cancelling all surface vessel production, stopping ongoing contructions (like the many times postponed Graf Zeppelin, cancelled for good), and even warships repair was cancelled or further prioritized (like the Tirpitz). Shaping ready rolled pressure-hull sections was also a challenge.

At this point, the Gamble of the Type XXI was a nightmarish one, especially for one man, the director of the Central Shipbuilding Committee, Herr Merker. There was indeed a Considerable risk involved in mass-producing this new U-boat without trials or standard development phase. Failure was not an option as the prodigious efforts needed would have been in vain, especially of up to 200 new U-boats were to be scrapped in the end. This was double risk as developed alongside an unprecedented level of prefabrication with mass-production methods never used in shipbuilding before in Germany. And if this was not complicated enough, wartime conditions took their toll in a semi-predictable way all along. If a major supplied was destroyed, the whole supply chain was too, triggerring massive delays in delivering an intested type that was badly needed to reverse the situation at sea.

In fact many experts of the time were worried that completing the task as early as possible was an unsurmountable task overall, but this does not prevented a firm order for 360 Type XXI and 118 Type XXIII to be passed, added to a Mediterranean ports extra order for 90 supplementary Type XXIII. New specialized, smaller and simpler types of both were also studied for future production in 1945. The Type XXI/XXIII production was to create a basis for future developments, testing the waters.

More delays before and after commission

Even if Boats were completed on time, having crews trained on board, on such brand new boats, was not as simple as it seems. A ship and its crew needed to work like a tightly, well oiled man-machine clock. No procedure was ever done for all new systems designs, and documentation was provided along the way. With the initial production delays showed above, the whole new U-boat building programme dropped five months behind schedule. And meanwhile, crews needed to be assembled and trained on boats that were still unfinished.

The first or these U-Boats was launched as scheduled in April 1944, but needed a lot of extra work to fix its multiple issues, that would have been normally avoided if sections has been perfect. So it’s onli by June 1944 she was officially commissioned. The start was slow but after December 1944 it was believed that a rate of 20 Type XXI would be completed monthly, meaning finding and training 57 men each time (so 1140 monthly) was not easy. Shortcuts were found, as captains, usually taking command during completion, visited the boats from time to time, but mostly trained in dedicated building, on sub-sytems when available, trying to reproduce a semblancy of working environment with limited means.

Even when the crew entered the boats, after commission, actually starting proper training, at leat on the first seven boats, frequent interruptions for repair and modifications allowed the initial crew to train in not three months as it was usual, but six. Constant reporting along the way and close co-operation between the Construction Office (Blankenburg) and U-boat Acceptance Staff, plus the U-boat Training office eliminated all most serious defects in a few months. By the autumn of 1944, all these informations has been passed onto the while construction chain and incorporated into newly-built boats; The normal crew of a Type XXI consisted in fifty men and seven officers. To compare, a larger Type IX was about the same, about 56. But with a much tighter space and far worse living conditions.

⚙ Type XXI class specifications

Dimensions 76.20 x 8 x 6.32 m (252 x 26 x 21 feets)
Displacement 1,621 tons standard, 1,819 tons Fully Loaded, submerged
Crew 57 (5 officers, 52 sailors)
Propulsion 2 shafts MAN M6V40/46KBB supercharged 6-cyl. diesels 4,000 PS
2 SSW GU365/30 double-acting electric motors (4,900 shp)
2 SSW GV232/28 silent running electric motors (223 shp)
Speed 15.6/17.2 knots (29/32 km/h) or 6.1 kts silent running.
Range 15,500 nmi/10 knots surfaced, 340 nmi/5 knots submerged.
Armament 6×53.3 cm (21 in) TTs bow, 4×2 cm C/30 FLAK turrets
Max test depth 240 m (787 feets), estimated crush depth +300m

The Type XXI in action

Ed Tambunan colorized photo of the surrendered U-3034, May 1945. Note the yellow markings.

In early 1945, the Allies were prepared to strike Germany from the South, East and West. The ports in France had to be abandoned and the ships were withdrawn to German, Danish and Norwegian ports. The training divisions had to abandon their training places in the Baltic one by one: Pillau, Danzig, Gotenhafen… But despite of that, they went on with the trainings with the new vessels —now that they were launched in droves— hoping to fight until the last moments.

In the last days of April 1945, U-2511 sailed from Bergen, Norway. She went away from her sisters and gained speed as for the first time, a Type XXI would face the enemy. Men on board were already well trained and knew that they could trust her to sail fast and be kept submerged for a long time. Within days she would fight the enemy, show that all the expectations on her were right. She was commanded also by an ace, Korvettenkapitän Schnee, U-boat veteran with 200,000 tons sunken in seventeen engagements and since her had worked for the Naval Construction Commission, perfectly in tune with the Type XXI and its capabilities…

Two sorties and a controversy

Crew of U-3016 in 1945

U-2511 and U-3008 were in fact the only Type XXIs used for operational war patrols, in actual combat. … but neither sank any ship. The first’s commander claimed to have spotted a British cruiser on 4 May 1945, just when news of the German cease-fire was received and that he made a successful mock attack before leaving the scene undetected. U-2511 trained in the 31st U-boat Flotilla from 29 September 1944 to 14 March 1945 and then the only active 11th U-boat Flotilla from 15 March to 8 May 1945 under command of Captain Adalbert Schnee, making her first an last patrol on 3–6 May 1945.

However postwar analysis had completely disclaimed Schnee’s accounts as dodgy at best. It happened that already during his ten combat patrols on U-60 and U-201 he overclaimed 50% of this kills. According to cross postwar records, he did not departed on 30th april, but 3rd of May 1945 from Bergen, could not spot HMS Norfolk escorted by destroyers, as there were none, could not spot the cruiser again on 5 May off Beegrn as he was there on the 6th, and at that time, HMS Norfolk was NW of the Shetlands, bound for Scapa. He also claimed to have been taken onboard the cruiser for interrogation, which was just straight out impossile as the sub did not surrendered before the 9th, and no record of his interrogation as noted in the cruiser’s logs. Also his “eye witness”, war correspondent Wolfgang Frank was not aboard when Schnee made his “mock attack”.

Later in 1988 the investigating Gröner group was joined by Dr. Niestlé, could not find U-2511 log,s but had the one from Norfolk, and now declassified Ultra decripts pointing aout the position of U-2511, interviewed eye witnesses, and it appeared his boats hat day at 8:00 on the 5th was 110 miles south of Norfolk. He did not evaded a Corvette on the 4th allegedly, as she was too far away to the west, nor Norfolk, too far north from U-2511.

On her side, U-3008 left Wilhelmshaven for her first and also last patrol on 3 May 1945, but returned to port after the surrender. On 21 June 1945, she was seized by the Allies in Wilhelmshaven, and sent to Loch Ryan. From there, she was transferred to the United States and reached New London in Connecticut, on 22 August (see later US evaluation).

All in all, for 121 boats “commissioned” before V-Day, only about half were ever operational, making a few sorties after a training period. The very first boats completed wee riddled with problems and only fully operational by the mid-1945. Apart two active war patrols, the others performed short semi-operational training cruises. There were losses, even though no ship was ever sunk, traducing the extreme state of affait for the Kriegsmarine that late into the war: U-2503, 2509, 2514, 2515 and 2516, U-2521, 2523, 2524, 2530, 2532, 2534, 2537, 2542, 3003, 3007, 3028, 3030, 3032, 3505, 3508, 3512, 3519, 3520 and 3523 were all lost, between enemy action (in the most cases, not ASW action but rather air attacks, including in ports) and other due to accidents. In fact the attrition rate was revealing in the production rush and problems with the whole concept. The remainder surrendered or were scuttled.

General assessment: Debunking the “wunderwaffe”


Reality’s ugly head postwar basically destroyed the optimistic views/outright propaganda about the initial capabilities of the Type XXI, and it’s postwar myth of “super weapon”. It might be argued that Dönitz was eager to have his project prioritized towards Hitler and stated paper specs that were very tasty but far fetched indeed. The problem is that they were taken as such and publicized in some general public books and, notably in History Channel’s “Nazi Megastructures: Hitler’s Killer Subs”. In this documentary many claims were made.

The latter indeed was supposed to be quieter and diving much deeper than any other sub that came before.

Her top speed was 17 knots based on 5,000 shp.

With her reloading system she had the potential to sink 18 ships in 20 minutes.

Her diesels could reload her batteries in just one hour

Despite a much larger hull, the streamlining meant her acoustic signature was much smaller

The schnorchel was ingenious, allowing her to stay underwater even in rough weather

Her sophisticated echo chamber could identify, track and target multiple targets at once, so she could blindly fight from 160 feet deep.

US evaluation post-war showed the batteries could be recharged, based on far lower output, in four hours, not one. The point on top speed, 17 kts submerged was debunked in several ways. First off, she was designed to dive fast, in 20 secs. as specified. Second, as she was given for this many freeing ports, these added 28% to her drag. During a submerged run on 8th Nov. 1944 U-3506 achieved only 15.93 kts. This was compounded by British own tests, which doubted that 15 kts could be achieved, even with a one hour run. This was also confirmed by a German war log in 1-15 January, confirming 15 knots was achieved.

Also, test bed results for the two main electric motors only achieved 1800 Kw or 2413 hp, which, with fully loaded batteries, could be maintained for just an hour, not 4-5 as stated. Others stats showed 15 kts could ebe achieved at max power for just 50 minutes. It appeared also that to house the many new batteries, German engineers’s newly developed, lightweight diesels were rated at 1970 bhp and each were given superchargers driven by exhaust gas (turbo).

However it appeared in US tests that these diesels were very weak. On trials they were limited to 1700 bhp due to overheated exhaust gas, and proving hazardous when snorkeling so deactivated, which further crippled the boat’s speed on surface. Without the superchargers, their output fell to just 850 bhp, making for 12 kts on surface, but on paper only, as the British found the boats were “ploughing” and the deck was constantly flooded, creating massive drag, so it fell to 10 kts and below in practice. For loading the batteries, US tests shown this was even worse, with superchargers deactivated, and that 6 hours were necessary at max capacity.

It appeared also the “all-weather” Snorkel was not an innovation of the Type XXI but in reality was found also on the late Type VII and IX as well. What was unique however, was the Type XXI telecopic mast, but it never worked properly: Only 10.9 kts could be achieved due to eddy shedding from the mast and periscope, thus severe vibration reducing in practive top speed to just 6 knots. The British downwards hated this ‘snot head’.

For torpedo stowage, the US reported that idle positions forced a practical stowage of 20, not 23 torpedoes. The British found that if carrying 14 reload torpedoes, six were to be accomodated in the automatic reload system and these needed a classic loading, which took far more time, just as a Type VII/IX. The idea that 18 ships could be dealt with in 20 minites is therefore just ludicrous. There was also the fact the Type XXI was supposed to carry four types of torpedoes, the G7e, and others, making impossible to fire the same way 18 torpedoes.

As per the “deeper diving”, it was not that stellar: As designed, 135 m was the safe depth, 200 the test one and 330 (1073 ft) the crush one. However, when a design defect was found on the torpedo hatch during a 16 March 1945 test dive, a fix was needed, which was successful on 8th May 1945, far too late for operations. Numerous manufacturing defects were also found by the allies which restricted their operatoinal depth to 108 m (350 feets), barely better than for a Type VII (102 m/330 ft) and a test depth at 160m/520 ft. A far cry to the 280 m (919 ft) claimed in the documentary.

About the alleged acoustic stealthiness, passive sonars were not a thing in WW2, as active ones (ASDIC SONAR) were used instead, pinging the hull, which, streamlined or not, bounced back the signal. According to British reports the Type XXI had a larger, deeper hull, presenting even a larger surface on which to ping than a regular Type VII: She was less stealthy. As for the noise, even at 8-9 kts underwater she was established as noiser than a Type VII even running at 3-4 kts ! (Malcolm Llewellyn-Jones).

As for the 260 tonnes of batteries supposed to propelled the sub underwater for 11 days, allied tests deflated this to just less than seven. It was still far better than a Type VII/IX, but still the sole point that stands out. However this was done at great risks. Indeed, postwar British evaluation pointed that after their U-3017 tested in August suffered a battery explosion that crippled her, their enquiry suggested that German practice had caused a number of explosions, possibly not initially taken as loss causes. This was coumpounded by four wartime German engineers reports. Also, it was observed that the electic cables running under the battery compartment were poorly insulated, and water wfrequently seeped in the bilges, causing shorts, arcing, combined with poor ventilation and hydrogen emanations during the charge. Perfect recipe for a catastrophy.

Another innovation point was also debunked: The use of hydraulic power to spare electrical motors, used in fact for the preiscope hoist, bow/stern plates, rudder, TT doors, torpedo reloading and other sub-systems. Toroughly examined by the US and Britsh engineers, the system appeared to have been improperly designed, was over-complicated and too fragile overall for combat operations. The piping and fittings were at the mercy of manufacturing quality and were not made leakproof. Seawater as a result contaminated the network on a daily basis.

A conclusion: A Game changer ?

U 2501 in May 1945, in front of the Elbe 2 bunker with submarines pens near the Hamburg shipyard in Gowaldt. This boat arrived in March-April 1945 while the bunker was built for the final assembly and repair of the Type XXI. The only officer on board was Oberleutnant Engineer Noak, ordering its scuttling. It was flooded at 7 AM, May 3, 1945, before leaving.

The Type XXI sure had qualities, but they needed all more time to be ironed out, to achieve their true potential. The whole program was rushed in such a way it spelled disaster. But outside this, how this boat could be used tactically ? Where these old tactics were still applicable ? – It appeared that first off, the Type XXI actual performances were not ideal for the usual tactic of moving faster than the convoys. Six knots while snorkeling, or 15 kts for 50 min. were not sufficient for this. Daylight attacks were impossible, and only nigh attacks could have been planned, just like the old Type VII.

As for communications, this was possible for the Type VII to report a location and course to the others in the wolfpack, by radio for coordinated attacks, but it was impossible for submerged Type XXIs. Another set of tactic was then need to reach the potential of this new submarine.

The German HQ knew about this, and planned for these “Wunderwaffe” individual “free for all” operations, like in the early days of sub warfare. Operations in shallow waters was ruled out, and only oceanic ones were possible with that kind of boat, with the understood limitations of the absence of direct route after the lost of the French and Dutch coast. When captured and interrogated, officers stated that indeed, they had received no operational tactics or even a coherent concept of operations. At first, they operated alone, but wanted a return to the pack tactics, perhaps using the new “burst” radio tranmitter.

Pictures of the Hamburg/Elbe shipyard after the surrender. Eight submarines are visibke: U 5052, U 3042 and U 3056, and behind them U 3053, U 3043 and U 3057. A bomb explosion disloged U 3052 and crushed it. U 3042 nearby had its bow significantly damaged. Nearby in the adjacent portico, U 3060 (right) and U 3062 (left) could be seen, behind them U 3061 and U 3063. Racks are visible in another, for completed boats on April 18-20, 1945 with the U 3050 and U 3051 and U 3058, U 3059 located on the slipway nearby.

As for the possibility to locate and attack convoys, true, less boats could do a bit more. There were on paper 90 Type XXI commissioned in January 1945, but their complexity meant contrary to the Type VII of which 12% were at eas at all times, this was true for less tha 5% for the Type XXI. But they were able to make 110 miles per day instead of 60, so making possible to have 12 to 15 of them at all time in the Atlantic, a far cry to the 50 in March 1943, and less in “Black May”. Since the Luftwaffe had lost most of her FW-200 long range recce planes, finding a convoy would have been more a question of luck.

The sole paper found in the achives about the operational mode of a Type XXI to attack a convoy, alone, was to make a submerged approach to a convoy, preferrably diagonally, from forward of the beam, penetrating the screen at slow speed, underwater fully or at periscope height and then find an angle and fire a salvo of six LuT torpedoes. Next it would submerged, dive under the convoy to reload, keeping contect with it through the Nibelung Asdic and GHG hydrophones, reporting movements on a polotting table, enabling firing from deep two more salvoes.

The third and last one was followed by the boat remaining deep for two hours, and then escaping at slow speed, with 15% of her battery power until then and 80% in all by using this methodology. This implies that the boat was to surface afterwards for the long reload (up to 6 hours !). That meant an approach at noon if possible, and attack before midnight until one hour AM, and escape at around 3H AM, and a reload until dawn and in few hours in the morning, thus keeping a marging of safety for crash dives due to aviation during the remainder of the day. Knowing the enormous resources for ASW warfare of the allies in 1944-45, it was unlikely a captain would have use this tactic, knowing that he had only 20% batteries left for safety.

In the end, it is Erich Topp, Konteradmiral of the Bundesmarine until 1969, former U-Boat ace and expert in German sub-warfare in 1944, also commanding two Type XXIs, which in his 1970s memoirs judged that:

The boats did by no means live up to the boasts that Dönitz had made to Hitler and us U-Boat officers… Compared to the older Type VIIC boats, the Type XXI version undoubtedly represented progress and innovation. But it could never by itself have turned the tide on the war at sea, let alone in the overall conflict”.

He estimated anyway that an U-Boat commander needed to keep at least 60-70% battery capacity at all times to face any emergency.

So it seems clear that, unless the whole allied froze up in 1944, enabling one year to the German HQ to improve production and iron out defaults on their design, having more of them, trained with the right tactics… the Type XXI as it was indeed, could not change anything in the “real word”. It’s “wunderwaffe” status was only one of propaganda at the time.

A “wunderwaffe” that nailed the Kriegsmarine’s coffin

In the end, Dönitz’s enormous demands of materials and resources for this project accelerated the defeat of Germany, not helping the war effort one bit: As stated by Naval War College Review, Marcus Jones—an associate professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, “the program cost the war effort some five thousand tanks, a very consequential figure, and could be said to have hastened the defeat of Germany on the Eastern Front”. Because in the end, and despite having schedules respected at enormous cost and stress, there were just too many teething problems to fix still, resulting in two submarines ever truly operational on 90 commissioned, and a third lost mainly due to air attacks, for no kills, not a single allied vessel sunk.

One could argue that was also true for all others “wunderwaffe” of Nazi Germany in 1944. Eating a lot of resources that could have been turned to mass production or existing, trusted weapons systems, and a distraction in the war effort. An “irrational faith in technology” that plagued the country’s Nazi clique in the end. The lackluster results of the Type XXI, in which Dönitz gambled everything, is arguably the worst, most abject failure of any “Wunderwaffe” of the third reich. In the end, it’s legacy was rather a technological one -if anything positive could be learned for it. The Type XXI redefined the submarine type and made it the formidable naval asset it is today. It took the nuclear energy as a substitute to hazardous AIP, but the basis of what a submarine could be, were all setup by the last German U-Boat. This even had some long-term benefit for the Bundesmarine, which modern conventional subs met huge export success on the International Market, somewhat a recoignition of these earlier technological advances.

Other Elektrobbote

Type XVIII, the abandoned Walter boat

This U-boat was the original 1943 project for a main attack model using the Walter propulsion system. Only two, U-796 and U-797 were laid down in 1943. Construction however was cancelled in March 1944. In many aspects they precluded the famous Type XXI, albeit smaller and lighter due to the smaller Walter turbine. The whole complexity of the Walter system would have doomed any scale production of reliable boats before the end of 1945.

Type XXII Küsten Walter Boote (1943)

type xxii

A Coastal submarine type, with only two prototypes U-1153 & U-1154 built at the end of the program. U-1153 was laid down on September 30, 1943, but the contract was canceled on November 06, 1943. The “Advanced coastal boat” was rather short and stubby (see picture), intended for coastal and Mediterranean use. They used the Walter propulsion system. The crew was limited to a couple of officers and 10 men. Three torpedo tubes, with two at the bow and one aft was all their armament, with limited refills. The program noted the delivery of 72 contracts to Howaldtswerke (in Hamburg and Kiel) of which only two were delivered. The situation quickly deteriorating in the Mediterranean changed priorities. It was not specified if the boats had to pass through Gibraltar or were to be assembled locally after shipping them by rail and sections.

Dimensions: 27.1 x 3 x 4.2 meters. Surface displacement: 155 tonnes at 7 knots, Diving Speed: 20.1 knots, Propulsion: 1 x Diesel 12 cylinders Deutz R12 V26/340, 1 x Walter turbine 1850 hp Electrical: 1 x 77, Gas-Oil capacity 12 tons + 30 tons of H2O2, Armament: 3 torpedo tube 3 refills, Range: 1150 nautical miles in Surface at 6.5 knots, 96 nautical miles in Diving at 20 knots. Crew: 12

Type XXIII Kleine-Elektroboote (1945)

type xxiii

Conceived on the same basic request as the Type XXI, Types XXIII were a simplified coastal version of “Elektroboote”. They were to be commissioned in 1944-45 by the thousands, produced in prefabricated sections and launched from the same gigantic factories under bunkers on the great German rivers. In particular, they had only one engine similar to that of the XXI type, but with dimensions and tonnage giving them excellent performance, better than the XXI. They were in fact the fastest submarines worldwide at that time, reaching speeds unheard of.

Their limited area of operations included the British Isles. Their internal dimensions were so small that they only loaded two torpedoes in addition to those already housed in their tubes, which limited the duration of their mission. In the end, 61 boats were commissioned (out of more than 300 planned, later discovered in completion or laying in sections), six of which were able to operate around the English coast in January-March 1945. Scuttled shortly before the capitulation, none was sunk in action, but they actually had better success than the Type XXIs.

Unlike the latter, their radical concept born from desperation did not influenced future development of conventional attack submarines. They were a “viable” complement to the innumerable micro-submersibles built in mass at the end of the war, whose fate was written in advance. A future dedicated post will be made on them.

Technical specifications: Displacement: 234t surface/ 275t submerged, Dimensions: 34.60 x 3.40 x 4.30 m, Propulsion: 1 propeller, 1 diesel MAN, 1 electric motor, 1 schnorkel, 580/615 hp and 15/22 knots surface/submerged, Miscellaneous: Crew 14; Range: 6000 nautical miles at 10 knots, crushing depht 180 m; diving speed 15 sec. Armament: 2 TTs 533 mm (av, 2 torpedoes).

Other Projects

Type XXIV (1943): The Type XXIV was a 1943 design for an ocean-going boat using the Walter system. The blueprint counted 14 torpedo tubes, six bow, but also four each side, aft, which was pretty impressive and never match by other submarines types. Type XXV (1944): The Type XXV U-boats had an electric propulsion on the same style as the Type XXI, but for coastal use. The main reason was also that fossils fuels became a rarity in Germany at the time. This was a 160 ton design but the crew was 58. Armament was limited to two torpedo tubes in the bow. Type XXVI (1944): This Type XXVI was a small high-seas model with its bow fitted with the Walter system. The crew was limited to three officers and 30 men. The Type XXVI was armed with ten torpedo tubes: Four forward plus six in the “Schnee organ” arrangement but and no deck guns to keep a streamlined profile. 100 contracts were initially awarded to the Blohm and Voss yard in Hamburg numbered U-4501 to U-4600. Production was indeed started with sections already under construction for the four boats U-4501-U-4504 when the war ended.

Allied evaluation of the Type XXI

British Evaluation

unknown Type XXI

UK obtained U-3017. The three innovations were all considered with great interest: The Snorkel for example was seen as a viable invention, at least on paper, but in practice, heavy weather in the north sea and north atlantic basically precluded its use most of the time, as shown by GUPPY’s crews operating with NATO in these areas in the 1950-60s. The snorkel was not brushed aside but iot was recoignised a better system was needed to make it viable on the long run, notably longer flexible systems for example, already tested on tanks by the Germans for Operation Seelöwe, the planned invasion of Britain.

The second innovation, the Walter turbine, was also considered with great interest, but after evaluation was found too risky, and dependent on a chemical compound that was hard to procure, and overall not that reliable for combat. They came out with the same conclusions as the German commission evaluating Walter boats, eventually uling this systm out and going for the Elektroboote.

The third innovation, the massive electrical output for greater speeds, was considered with the greatest interest for more direct applications. It was simple and reliable, and while testing the war prize Type XXI, U-3017, commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS N41, the concluding all existing escorts would find attacks on a 17 knot submarine far more difficult. The early GUPPY, USS Odax managed to outrun a destroyer escort in exercizes, not once, but several times.

These faster submarines could out-range wartime sonars with ease and escape detection altogether, until reliable long-range sonars such as the US SQS-4 and equivalent came about. As late as 1973 Soviet submarines still relied on speed, rather that deep diving or silence for evasion. The HMS N41 was used for extensive tests until being scrapped during November 1949. During these, the staff found the new type more practical in intermediate speeds and underwater endurance at low speed rather than systematic high speed.

They also considered increased torpedo performance allowed fast submarines to attack from beyond sonar range, so they worked out new tiorpedo models (WW2 Japanese influence also counted a lot) and so range was tripled, speed increased. They considered the use of homing and pattern-running torpedo, adjusted for any target angle. Periscope ranging radars for torpedo fire control were to be improved looking at what the German developed for their own Type XXI, with generally better scopes. The new tactic being developed was around limiting areas of approach.

The Royal Navy concluded that a 15-knot underwater speed was not improving survivability and their own WW2 experience dictated that a sub would be detected anyway, and counter-attack with homing torpedoes was the best way. They envisioned with these new boats a next tactical step, the underwater wolfpack coordinated by underwater telephone. Fear of detection for them was over-rated as it rarely happened overall, and even in that case it was transmitting directly at an escort at high power, an unlikely, very inlucky case.

1944-1945 two courses of actions were defined, submarine development with this new propulsion technology, and concurrently new countermeasures and new ASW concept as a whole, integrating the snorkel (“snort” in the UK) fitted on ll subs, but improved and only used in the right conditions. The “A” class, which was still under construction in late 1944 had one early version, first tested on HMS Truant in 1945, and planned for the III batch, and later retrofitted on the entire “A” class and others of the earlier WW2 fleet, like the “T”.

The programme was done rapidly after the war, while an improved “A” class was designed, with relatively minor change initually until modified in July 1945 by Flag Officer Rear Admiral George Creasy, or the Pacific, at the time with Japan still at war. He wanted an equivalent of the XXI, with a large battery capacity combined to a snort and refined streamlining, no deck gun and new fin. There was hope that also to use a more reliable British version of the Walter turbine, but this was ultimately rejected for a purely experimental British Walter boat, HMS Explorer. Meanwhile, the A and T were entirely rebuilt and improved in the 1950s. The postwar Porpoise class was in fact closer to the original Type XXI. The HMS N41 was eventually discarded in 1949 and BU.

USN Evaluation

U-2513 off Key West tested by the US Commission

A classified report was written and sent to the Chief of Naval Operations, in July 1946, about the U-2513, a brand new Type XXI electro-boat allotted to the U.S. Navy as war prize. She was previously commissioned and commanded by Erich Topp, a famous U-Boat ace but had very little time to work out the crew training to their complicated machine and arrived too late to actively participate in the war.

Superficially at first, the US crew was quite impressed with with her top speed submerged under sea trials, and the way it was achieved, through six sets of storage batteries, 372 cells in all, enabling her to quietly sprint at about 16 knots for about one hour. It was deemed sufficient to escape from any ASW vessel at the time. Alternately, she could cruise submerged at slower speeds but for many, many hours, thus also giving all chances to escape after an attack ro taking all the time to approach her target unspotted.

The next most impressive feature related to, was her Schnorchel (snorkel), a breathing tube/mast having both air intake and exhaust ducts. Having the two diesels running while submerged was another great advantage, as long as there were no aircraft in patrol to spot here slo close to the surface… Also it was proven possible to rig one diesel or even both and charge the batteries, still while submerged, so that she could in theory remain underwater for most her mission, another game changer.

The US examiners also were in awe of her periscope optics and passive sonar. They estimated them much superior to USN standards. They were also fitted with an ingenious hydraulically operated torpedo-handling gear, reloading in automatic mode all six bow torpedo tubes in five minutes, with the push of a button. The third reload was just twenty minutes away, so three torpedo volleys could be fired from bow tubes during this period.

When in drydock, the examiners marvelled at the thickness and strength of her pressure hull. It was estimated enough to give the boat a 1,200 feet limit, which was twice the Gato’s safe depth limit. It put the Type XII way below all depht settings among the allies at the time. The sub was also fitted with an equally impressive “automatic pilot” for precise depth-keeping at high speeds.

These details, and others, caused an utter sensation in naval circles, experts al agrees it represented a giant leap forward and close to a “true submersible.”. Howevr admirations about the new boat by US examiners ran dry as they examined other aspects over time, and were less stellar about these aspects. They even reported these as grave design and manufacturing faults, stating in fact that, provided it would have been available one year prior, it could not have made a big difference in the Battle of the Atlantic.

-It was reported about the Type XXI poor structural integrity due to hurriedly prefabricated moduled, in 32 different rather inexperienced factories to assemble eight major hull sections. Examining other boats of the time in Germany, it was established these were crudely, did not fit together properly, so would never reach the planned max sea pressure stated, not sustain close depth charges detonations. In fact the Germans themselves reported a failure at a simulated depth of 900 feet, while the British reported 800 feet, inferior to that of a Type VII.

-Weak diesel engines: The new six-cylinder diesels had superchargers to reach the required horsepower. But it was poorly designed and manufactured, so the diesels could not use these. Therefore the on-paper 2,000 shp went down in practice to 1,200 shp, way too little to have the larger and heavier Type XXI run properly. Top surface speed fell to 15.6 knots, and this lower output also made a full battery charge much slower.

-It was also believed the whole hydraulic system was a mess. Main lines, accumulators, cylinders, pistons involved into acting on the diving planes but also the rudders torpedo tube outer doors, even the remotelly operated antiaircraft gun turrets, were a step too far in tech. They proved too complex and delicate while being outside the pressure hull. Not only they could not be repairs, but their location made them more vulnerable. They could eb the subject of saltwater leakage and corrosion also, leading to many crippling failures.

The Snorkel was not operating properly. In moderate seas, the snorkel mast dunked and thus, closed the air intake and exhaust ports, causing frequent “shutdowns” in diesel propulsion. Salt water also poured into the bilges and and noisy pumps were needed to avoid flooding, making the su easy to detect with a sonar. When closed, the diesels sucked air from inside the boat while exhaust gas backed up also inside. Snorkeling therefore in the north atlantic was quite a painful experience, usable in special occasions only.

it took years to the US Navy to integrate the process into at frist modernizaing their large numbers of Gato/Tench/Balao, making the famous “fleet snorkels” of the 1950s. New conventional attack submarines were developed in small series, prototypes, in order to test the water of the concepts seen in the Type XII. The USSR did not have the same issues with the design and right away designed their own ass-produced version of the Type XXI, the “Whiskey” class attack submarine, which necame a major concern for NATO in the 1950-60s. The developmet of a “true submarine” was eventually seen in the US as getting rid of batteries and snorkels, leading to the design of the USS Nautilus in 1952.

French Evaluation

Roland Morillot at sea c1950

The French obtained U-2518. It became the “Roland Morillot”, and retained not only for tests, but as an active unit. Indeed, unlike its allies, French submarine production stopped completely in WW2, while losses were still important. In 1945, the whole prewar fleet was considered obsolete, and any new sub, especially one with such advanced caracteristics, was desirable in the French post-war fleet.

Therefore, the ex-Type XXI was used for active service, and even operated during the Suez Crisis in 1956, staying in commission as Q426 until 1967, scrapped in 1969. This was a unique case among allies, but it left plenty of time for the crews to appreciate the design and fully evaluate it in a variety of environments and operational conditions, quite an insight about the type. Its influence on French conversions and newly built vessels was very impactful (see later, legacy).

The Roland Morillot started service on 13 February 1946, apparently it was not in French hands since August 1945*, so six months were spent evaluating the type as it is sometimes stated. Nevertheless in 1946, the French were writing an extensive report and eventually converting the boat, after repairs, for French use (notably all german-written indication onboard), and some compatibility with torpedoes (although there were enough German model stocks left in France in 1945, at Lorient notably) and general practice.

For however, U-2518 (commissioned 4 Nov 1944 under command of Oblt. Friedrich Weidner, Kptlt. Friedrich Weidner, operaring with the 31. Flottille (training) and 11. Flottille (active), having no kills, and surrendering on 9 May 1945 at Horten, Norway, was transferred to Oslo 18 May, then Lisahally, Northern Ireland on 7 June, but apparently only transferred to France on 14 Feb, 1946. So she was “Frenchified” later; This is confirmed by another French source stating she was integrated gradually from her arrival in Cherbourg on 13 Feb. 1946, and officially leased for two years by the RN, towed to Cherbourg.

It’s only on 20 August 1946, after repairs and overhaul that she started her first sea sortie and later joined the Mediterranean fleet. In 1947, she could have been scrapped, all evaluations done, but it was decided to modifiy her for active service: In 1947 notably she had a major overhaul, her FLAK 37 A.A. guns were removed, some periscopes put to French standards as her armament, staying compatible in the long run. This was all to provide her a long active service as seen above. She later received the code S-12 and on november 11, 1947 experienced a diving incident, waterway by snorkel, being repaired later in Brest. On January 1948 she made a Crossing Toulon-Casabianca entirely underwater, and in April 1, 1948, the leasing expired and she was definitively ceded to the French Navy.

Roland Morillot, ex-U-2518, with its plastic rebuilt fin, was disarmed in 1967.

She would have her FUMG radar dismounted followed in November 1948 by her major overhaul in Brest in which her turrets were removed and the entire kiosk/fin streamlined and rebuilt. She started her post-overhaul sea trials in early 1949 and by April 7, 1949 was back in the Med Fleet, Toulon. She was only officially named Roland Morillot by February 14, 1951, participating in March/April 1954 NATO exercize “Medflex Able”, the only ex-Type XXI ever seen in this. In 1955 her kiosk was modified again, with a rear and top addition in platic to improve further her streamling, and this was her last major modification in her career.

French evaluations in 1946-48 noted her surface speed was 13,2 kts, underwater speed 16 kts, less than her on-paper performances, and she could cover 5,100 nautical miles at 15,6 kts, which they found the most impressive, 15,500 nautical miles at 10 kts and 280 nm at 6 kts underwater. For them, the AA armament in a postwar context made no sense, and it was planned to remove it soon. They also evaluated her buoyancy to 227,8 tonnes and her coeficient for the latter to be 12,6%. The snorkel’s advantages were recoignised, but also its drawbacks, and it was judged more suited for the calmer Mediterranean, and even so, problems were soon found.

The electrical power however was considered a real bonus, to be applied on the reconstruction of the La Creole class, and applied to the postwar Narval class, almost a carbon-copy of the type. The French discarded the AIP system as far-fetched for the tech of the time, and in fact no serious attempt has been made to design one before the famous Australian Barracuda shortfin order in the 2000s, by Naval Group, altough the Scorpene class (all exported) was in some cases to be equiped with the MESMA AIP system, later adopted for the Spanish version.

Soviet Evaluation

Four Type XXI boats were allocated to the USSR by the Potsdam Agreement, in accordance to their contribution: U-2529, U-3035, U-3041, and U-3515. Upon arrival, they were all commissioned directly into the Soviet Navy as B-27, B-28, B-29, and B-30.

Western intelligence believed more has been catpured in fact, notably those from Dantzig. A U.S. Joint Intelligence Committee review for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in January 1948 estimated no less than fifteen Type XXIs were operational in Soviet hands, and they would simply copy it, having six more within 2 months and another 39 within a year, just using existing German prefabricated sections from captured factories assigned to the Danzig yard, all in the Soviet area of occupation.

U-3538 to U-3557 (renamed TS-5 to TS-19 and TS-32 to TS-38) remained incomplete in Danzig, scrapped or sunk in 1947 and the four boats allocated wree exnensively tested and trialled until 1955. They were then eventually scuttled or expended as targets in 1958-1973. The although knowledge about Soviet evaluation of the time remains largely classified to this day, the type formed the basis for several successive Soviet design projects, namely Pro’yekt 611, 613, 614, 633, and 644 (NATO Zulu, Whiskey, Romeo). They came with most of the original boats features, snorkel and electrical power, better optics, better sonar (although the Soviets were long lacking in this field), and early acoustic torpedoes. They got rid of the embedded AA armament, but strangely for the first batches reintroduced the deck gun.

Postwar legacy

The ex-Type XXI Wilhelm Bauer rebuilt in service with the Bundesmarine in the 1960s. Note the kiosk’s missing AA guns, replaced by a glassed section, heavy weather helm.

It would be an understatement as how important the Type XXI design was. Even without the initially projected AIP turbine, the whole package it represented was enough to have all submarine-building nations reset their software. The war prizes as we saw her a considerable influence on many WW2 boats conversion as with new designs, many still in service at the end of the cold war in 1990. It is a paradox for a boat which a so insignificant tally compared to previous Types in WW2. Despite the massive resources poured in it, it came far too late to change anything, but it’s the groundbreaking tech behind that really constitutes its legacy.

Wilhelm Bauer as preserved in Bremershaven

In Germany itself, the Bundesmarine resurrected in 1957, the sunken U-2540, scuttled in 1945. She was was raised and refitted as the research vessel Wilhelm Bauer. It was also operated by both military and civilian crews, for research purposes until 1982. Its role was also to help creating the first postwar class of German subamrine (albeit a mediocre one), the Hai class and Type 201 although they arguably were more derived from the Type XVIII elektroboote than the Type XXI. In 1984, Wilhelm Bauer was made available for display to the public, at the Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum or German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven, Germany. It is now in permanent display as a museum ship.

The Type XXI was directly the basis for the development of the Project 613, NATO “Whiskey” class, and thus, inspired the Zulu and Quebeck classes attack submarines as well. The Romeo was however a brand new generation, and the Foxtrot, the last “classic” conventional type, arguably derived from the Type XII after a long lineage. The base recipe was still there, only improved. It could be argued also that the 1970s Ming class, based on Soviet blueprints (Romeo class), also had still some Type XXI DNA in them.

USS Pomodon, 1947

In the US, the first impact was on the reconverstion of most still commissioned WW2 Gato/Tench/Balo in post-war years, starting with the long GUPPY program (Greater Underwater Propulsion Program), in what became the “fleet snorkels”, allowing them to serve for another 20 years, or even more in many NATO fleets as well. The measures taken were essentially all inspired by what the Germans did on the Type XXI, consisting in improving the electrical power massively, reworked the bow, the fin, and fit a better sonar and navigation radars, among others. Alongside this overhaul, the semi-experimental Barracuda, Tang and Darter Classes were all derived from these conversions in the 1950s.


In Great Britain, the impact of the Type XXI design on postwar conversions, which mirrored the GUPPY program, concerned the Streamlined and converted T class subs. This also concerned the “A” class designed for the Pacific, most of which already were completed too late so see action in WW2. They were later completely modernized and renamed the “Acheron class”. Another round of remaining conversion in 1955 gave an additional twenty years of service. The first true “new built”, the Porpoise class patrol submarines (1956) were in straight line with these conversions inspired by the Type XXI, as the 1959 Oberons.

La Creole class
France also had it’s “GUPPY” with the prewar built, suspended, then modernized and completed La Creole class. However only two, Artemis and Andromede, had the full rebuilt, allowing them to serve until 1961-67. The Narval class (1954) was very closely based on the Type XXI Roland Morillot. The next Arethuse and Daphne (1957, 1959) were more coastal in nature, but draw on this basic design.

Sources & more:


Blair, Clay (2000). Hitler’s U-boat War: The Hunters 1939-1942. London: Cassel & Co.
Breyer, Siegfried (1999). German U-Boat Type XXI.
Fitzsimons, Bernard, general editor. The Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare, Volume 24
Gröner, Erich; Jung, Dieter; Maass, Martin (1991). U-boats and mine warfare vessels. German Warships 1815–1945.
Kohl, Fritz; Eberhard Rossler (1991). The Type XXI U-boat. Conway Maritime.


U-2540 cutaway model

Detailed construction on
Detailed blueprints reconstructed by the Bundesmarine
Video T.Lyon “Type XXI, the true story”, Royal Institution of Naval Architects
Postwar British evaluation of the Type XXI
Type XXX on About the Type XXXI about the Type XXI tech
On the Roland Morillot
Same, late service and modifications
Some hardly known aspects of the GHG, the U-boat’s group listening apparatus
Marcus O. Jones, USN academy prof. “INNOVATION FOR ITS OWN SAKE”
On – The Type 21 fail
Many cc photos of the Wilhelm Bauer

Model Kits

Type-XXI U Boat Anatomy Ship, Anatomy of the Ship Series
1/700 Skywave

3D Renditions

In world of warships



TypeXXI U-3008 (British war prize)


U-3016 Type XXI January 1945 AGW

U-2511 Bergen

U-3003 row

German submarine U 3008

German Sub U-3008 recommission in US service for test.

U-2540 Wilhelm Bauer Type XXI berthed

Side launch of U-3001

U3505 in drydock, photo taken in in 1946

U3060 in assembly, showing the separate modules

Various captured Type XXI onning towers, dhowing various colors and patterns. The middle one seems to have been entirely painted white or yellow.

Early Type XXI in sea trials off Norway, fall 1944. Note the fair grey livery and apparently darker wornout paint of the conning tower.

TypeXXI engine room

Siemens type 2 GU-365-30 electric unit

Various CT configuratios, notably portholes designs, and masts/periscopic depth

Onboard the W. Bauer: Valves for the compressed air regulation manifolds.

View of the Torpedo Room. The four upper tubes;

Single tube interior

Flooding Valve Manifold

Stern room


Kitchen (Galley)

Crew’s bunks, there were three on each side, superposed.

The officer’s mess

Depth Gauge and Depth Pad Control

Internals of the Type XXI, BP

snorkel scheme

Sections designs

Sections designs

Conning Tower design

Sections designs

pressure hull design

Aft tail of the Type XXI

Yard’s differences between Vonning Towers

U2518 in drydock, inspected by the allies

U-2505 and other subs captured in May 1945.

Design of the Schnorchel

Design of the Schnorchel with an anti-magnetic? or anechoic? paste

Major sections being assembled

Main command center design, with the radio and sonar rooms.

Deutschland class Cruisers (1931)

Germany (1931) – KMS Deutschland, Admiral Graf Spee, Admiral Scheer

The “pocket battleships” of the Reichsmarine

These ships were mostly made famous by the Graf Spee in the southern Atlantic, in the first naval battle of ww2, at the river plate in 1939. She somewhat eclipsed the other two: Scheer and Deutschland (later renamed Lützow). Indeed the three were designed during the “rebirth” of the German Navy and despite the Versailles’s treaty strict limitations (way stricter than the Washington treaty), which applied to Germany after the first were lifted after the 1935 Anglo-German naval agreement. The idea of the “Panzeschiffe” as called in the German terminology, incorrectly dubbed “pocket battleships” by the press in 1939 were the attempt of doing more on a very limited displacement. Before the Washington treaty, no Navy went so far in this area, and all three were not designed as proper battleships but emerged as their own concept: Powerful, long range commerce raiders designed to fight cruisers and to flee battleships. Their natural predators at the time were battlecruisers, but the only ones in existence with the Royal Navy were kept at Scapa Flow.
At any rate, with the Deutschland class, German engineers managed the impossible. But in practice their battle records was somewhat disappointing. Submarines and civilian commerce raiders did more, with less, to disrupt the allied trade lanes. Nevertheless, they became the springboard on which were developed the Scharnhorst class and battlecruisers projects of plan Z.

Poster of the Deutschland class, all camouflage liveries and evolution

Development history

There are many common developments between the Scharnhorst class and earlier commerce raider projects. Emerging from the Versailles treaty, the Reichsmarine or “state navy” of a democratic, republican Germany, was severely limited in size and quality, with just six pre-dreadnought, six light cruisers and a handful of torpedo boats, also obsolete. The flower of the Kaiserliches Marine, largely untapped by WWI was laying at the bottom of Scapa Flow in the cold, barren and windy Orcades Islands. It was agreed the oldest “capital ships” were scheduled for replacement when twenty years old. But by treaty, Germany was not authorized a ship larger than 10,000 tonnes standard. Of course potential rivals by then had no limitations and the race for 50,000 tonnes leviathans was on, until limited to 35,000 long tons by the Washington Naval Treaty. Gun caliber was not regulated by Treaties for Germany, but under the strict supervision of the Naval Inter-Allied Commission of Control (NIACC). They indeed had full authority to regulate any new armament planned in the Reischmarine, and the 28 cm caliber already used by the pre-dreadnoughts seemed a good limitation, agreed by all. The Allies’s hoped these limitations would limit the German Navy to a typical Scandinavian coastal navy.

admiral Paul Behncke By that time, RMS Preussen (laid down 1902) approached its replacement date in 1922. The earliest design studies started in 1920, and the admiralty worked on two simple options: Either the new Reichsmarine was to build a heavily armored, but slow and and small warship related to Scandinavian coastal battleships like the Sverige class (Gustav V was in completion at that time, and around 7,000 tonnes) or a large and fast but lightly protected ship related to a cruiser. The first studies on the first option started in 1923 under Admiral Paul Behncke. But by 1924, the German economy virtually collapsed, and all work was halted. Admiral Hans Zenker then took command of Reichsmarine, and immediately pressed on to resume design work. By 1925 at last the first three proposals were drafted, added to the 1923 studies, for five different design philosophies.

-Design 1923 “I/10” 32-knot (59 km/h; 37 mph) cruiser, eight 20.5 cm (8.1 in) guns
-Design 1923 “II/10” 22-knot (41 km/h; 25 mph) well armored ship, four 38 cm (15 in) guns.
In addition, I/10 had turbines, oil-only boilers for 80,000 shp and 4×2 210 or 208 mm turrets, plus 4x 88m, 8x50mm
II/10 had turbines steam turbines with boilers burning coal and oil for 25,000 shp, 22 knots, 2×2 150mm, 2x 88m, 2x50mm

-Design 1925 “II/30” had six 30 cm (12 in) as IV and V. here are the details:
-II/30 – Diesel 24,000 shp 21 knots, 3×2 305 mm turrets, 4x 105mm
-IV/30 – Same, 2×3 (all fore) 305 mm turrets, 2×2 150mm, 4x 105mm
-V/30 – same, 2×3 (1 fore, 1 aft) 305 mm turrets, 6x 150mm 3x 88mm
-I/28 – same, same as above, 2×2 150 mm, 6x 88mm
-II/28 – same, 3×2 (2 offset aft) 305 mm turrets, 4x 150 mm, 4x 88mm
-VI/30 – same, 2×2 (1 fore, 1 aft) 305 mm turrets, 2×2 150 mm, 4x 88mm

The Reichsmarine eventually settled as said above for the 28 cm (11 in) caliber, well known and for which still existed molds and machining, so not to provoke the Allies. This also lifted the burden for the engineers to design and develop, adapt to their design a brand new gun. From first draft to delivery, a new gun in peacetime could be a five years enterprise. In addition, although light, the trusted German 28 cm guns had a better muzzle velocity, so potentially better range compared to the British 12 in (305 mm) before WW1, and better anyway than 8-in guns, and with mount and breech block improvement, could also be as fast as a heavy cruiser gun.

The Reichsmarine held a conference to evaluate these designs in May 1925. Results were inconclusive, and affected by the recent French occupation of the Ruhr industrial area, the result of payment default, and depriving Germany of any option of delivering quickly a large-caliber artillery. The design staff prepared two more designs:

-Design 1925 “I/35”: A heavily armored ship with a single triple turret forward
-Design 1925 “VIII/30”: Less armour but two twin turrets.
The VII/30 walked on Diesel engines for a total output of 24,000 shp providing 21 knots, and two forward 12-in (30.5 cm) main turrets, 2×2 150 mm, 4x 88mm
VIII/35 design also used a Diesel but output halved at 16,000 shp, for 19 knots, a triple forward 305 mm turret, and 6x 88mm
VIII/30 also used Diesel but output reached 36,000 shp for 24 knots, with a two twin 305 mm turrets configuration, same secondaries.

Design I/26
Design (‘Entwurf’) I/M26, alternative proposal for the Panzerschiffe

Entwurf II/30, one of the early designs, had six 305 mm/280 mm main guns in three twin turret and a top speed about 24-26 knots, and a 100 mm armor belt

Reichsmarine’s admiral Hans Zencker wanted to lay down the first of these in 1926, but the design still needed to be finalized. The Reichsmarine 1926 maneuvers had some interesting retuens: One was that a greater speed was desirable. So two new designs were prepared, closing in on the definitive concept:
-Design 1927 “Panzerschiff A”: Prepared in 1926, its first draft was ready in early 1927, but it was finalized in 1928. In between, admiral Zenker announced on 11 June 1927 that the Reichsmarine settled on the definitive armament, two triple turrets with 28 cm guns. This gave the:
-I/M26 Diesel 4,000 shp, 28 knots, 2×3 (fore & aft) 280 mm turrets, 4×2 120 mm DP, 6x 37mm
-II/M26 Diesel 54,000 shp, 28 knots, 2×3 (fore & aft) 280 mm turrets, 4×2 120 mm DP, 6x 37mm

Entwurf-3-b (): A possible successor of the Deutschland class, Similar but with larger displacement, higher speed and better Armor, up to 220mm for the armor belt.

Political opposition to the new design was considerable and in order to quell them, the Reichsmarine delayed the order until after the Reichstag elections of 1928. Social Democrats notably strongly opposed the new ships and campaigned with “Food not Panzerkreuzer.” By May 1928, the elections saw a majority in favor of the ships (notably twelve seats to the Nazi Party), and in October 1928, the Communist Party initiative of a referendum against it failed. The lead ship was at last authorized in November 1928. Of course, as soon as the the particulars of the design were known by the Allies, they tried to halt their construction. The Reichsmarine offered to comply in exchange of Germany being levelled up to the Washington Treaty, and with a ratio of 125,000 long tons (127,000 t) compared to UK’s 525,000 long tons (533,000 t) for capital ship tonnage, abrogating the Versailles Navy clauses altogether. Although Great Britain and the United States were ready to make concession, France refused to bulge (there was also the question of war reparations). Nevertheless, these new “Panzerschiffe” did not violate per se the Treaty, so the Allies had no ground to interdict them after failing to negotiated a settlement. Soon, Deutsche Werke, Kiel was granted a contract for the construction of “Deutschland”, laid down on 5 February 1929, the only one started in the “roaring twenties”. The next two by Reichsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven, with a one year gap. The lead ship name was obvious, but for the next, to proclaim a lineage with historical figures not so long ago now dead and honored, the next were named about admirals: Reinhard Scheer, in charge of the Hochseeflotte during the war, and Graf (Count) Maximilian Von Spee, the famous commander of the East Asia Squadron. Two of these ships were completed before the Reichsmarine transitioned to the Kriegsmarine, and Hitler was present for the two launches (1st April 1933 and 30 June 1934) and at the commissioning of Deutschland in April 1933 (He was elected in March 1933).

The Launch of RMS Deutschland in 1931 with President Hindenburg and naval staff attending.
Another view of the launch.
Germany April 1934: Accompanied by the Reich War Minister, Colonel General von Blomberg (2nd from right) and the Chief of Naval Command, Admiral von Raeder (2nd from left), Adolf Hitler takes a trip to the North Sea on board KMS Deutschland.

Why “Panzerschiffe” ? Since the parliament was “sold” to these ships the name was mostly a question of prestige for the German population at large. They were armoured indeed, but just slightly more than an average heavy cruiser and could have been compared to a sort of “armoured cruiser” in the old sense, although protection did not match the main caliber guns by a long shot. The Kriegsmarine reclassified them as “Kreuzer” anyway during WW2. They displaced even less than the heavy cruisers of the Hipper class.


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
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).

37 mm SK30
37 mm SK30

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
Evolution of the Deutschland, to Lützow (the blueprints)

Evolution of the Admiral Scheer
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

KMS Deutschland specifications

Dimensions 186 x 20.69 x 7.25 m
Displacement 10,600 tons standard, 14,290 tons FL
Crew 33+586, see notes
Propulsion 2 shafts, 4 diesels 9-cyl MAN, 54,000 shp
Speed 28 knots (42 km/h; 20 mph)
Armament (1933) 2×3 280 mm, 8 x 150 mm, 3 x 88 mm AA, 2×4 TT 533 mm
Armament (1939) same but 2×3 105 mm AA, 8×2 37mm AA, see notes
Armor Belt: 76-80 mm (3 in), Deck: 38-45 mm (2 in), Turrets 140 mm (5.5 in), Conning tower: 152 mm (6 in)

KMS Graf Spee
KMS Graf Spee in 1939, with its superstructures-only green camouflage

KMS Deutschland
KMS Admiral Scheer en 1944, with dark gray Northern Sea type straight angular striped pattern.
Author’s old illustrations

Sources/read more:
J. Gardiner’s Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.

Naval Camouflages of the Lützow, Scheer and Graf Spee

Lützow in 1942
Lützow in 1942

Lützow in the summer of 1943, one of the rare color photos of the time, allowing to discern four colors: Medium grey, white, medium blue-grey, and dark grey. Both were adaptated to the northern lights.

RMS Deutschland in December 1933 as commissioned
RMS Deutschland in December 1933 as commissioned

Deutschland 1937
KMS Deutschland during the Spanish civil war in 1937. Note the neutrality bands using the old colors of red, black and white.

Lützow in 1941
Lützow in 1941

Lützow in the Baltic, May 1942
Lützow in the Baltic, May 1942

Lützow in July 1942
Lützow in July 1942

Lützow in July 1943
Lützow in July 1943

Lützow in June 1944, her last known camouflage pattern
Lützow in June 1944, her last known camouflage pattern

KMS Admiral Scheer, 1936
KMS Admiral Scheer, 1936

KMS Admiral Scheer, May 1941
KMS Admiral Scheer, May 1941

KMS Admiral Scheer, Oslo September 1941
KMS Admiral Scheer, Oslo September 1941

KMS Admiral Scheer, Wilelmshaven, December 1942, major modernization
KMS Admiral Scheer, Wilelmshaven, December 1942, major modernization

KMS Admiral Scheer, in the Baltic, November 1944
KMS Admiral Scheer, in the Baltic, November 1944

KMS Admiral Graf Spee, South Atlantic December 1939
KMS Admiral Graf Spee, South Atlantic December 1939


The D class by Drachinfels

KMS Scheer in completion at Wilhelmshaven in 1934


Bidlingmaier, Gerhard (1971). “KM Admiral Graf Spee”. Warship Profile 4. Windsor: Profile Publications.
Breyer, Siegfried (1973). Battleships and Battlecruisers of the World. Translated by Alfred Kurti. London: McDonald & Jane’s.
Campbell, John (1985). Naval Weapons of World War II. London: Conway Maritime Press.
Gardiner, Robert & Chesneau, Roger, eds. (1980). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1922–1946. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Vol. I: Major Surface Vessels. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Hildebrand, Hans H.; Röhr, Albert & Steinmetz, Hans-Otto (1993). Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe. 5. Ratingen: Mundus Verlag.
Hümmelchen, Gerhard (1976). Die Deutschen Seeflieger 1935–1945 (in German). Munich: Lehmann.
Jane’s Fighting Ships. London. 1939.
Meier-Welcker, Hans; Forstmeier, Friedrich; Papke, Gerhard & Petter, Wolfgang (1983). Deutsche Militärgeschichte 1648–1939. Herrsching: Pawlak.
O’Brien, Phillips Payson (2001). Technology and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century and Beyond. London: Frank Cass.
Pope, Dudley (2005). The Battle of the River Plate: The Hunt for the German Pocket Battleship Graf Spee. Ithaca: McBooks Press.
Prager, Hans Georg (2002). Panzerschiff Deutschland, Schwerer Kreuzer Lützow : ein Schiffs-Schicksal vor den Hintergründen seiner Zeit (in German). Hamburg: Koehler.
Preston, Antony (1977). Battleships 1856-1977. Phoebus Publishing Co.
Preston, Antony (2002). The World’s Worst Warships. London: Conway Maritime Press.
Rohwer, Jürgen (2005). Chronology of the War at Sea, 1939–1945: The Naval History of World War Two. Annapolis: US Naval Institute Press.
Whitley, M. J. (1998). Battleships of World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Williamson, Gordon (2003). German Pocket Battleships 1939–1945. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.

Various views of the Graf Spee on world of warships

Model Kits

Italeri 1/700 Graf Spee
On model kit database
I made the Italeri kit of the Graf Spee, nice detail for the time. It is now distributed by World of Warships.

First Published July 22, 2016.

KMS Deustchland (Lützow 1941)

KMS Deutschland in 1936, with the early superstructure design

Here in Naples in 1938

Here in Naples in 1938 during one of her numerous good will visits

KMS Deutschland started her sea trials began in November 1932, to be commissioned on 1st April 1933, so five months later, which quite long for post-trials fixes. This time was spared on the next ships of the class. KMS Deutschland spent both 1933 and 1934 in training manoeuvrers in the Baltic and home waters. Speed trials indicated that the best speed to spare machinery was 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph) and in December 1933 she was at last ready for active service. As it was peacetime, the ship was proudly featured in the German medias of the time, as a symbol of the rebirth of the German Navy. Bearing the name of the country, she also became its ambassador around the world, and made a series of goodwill visits, starting with Gothenburg in Sweden. In April 1934, Adolf Hitler visited the ship. In October 1934, she made a state visit to Edinburgh. In 1935 she started a series of long-distance training voyages into the Atlantic, starting with the Caribbean and South American waters. After routine maintenance work back in Germany she saw the installation of extra equipment, a new fire control system and a catapult fitted between her main bridge and funnel. She received two Heinkel He 60 floatplanes. At the beginning of 1936 she participated in fleet manoeuvers in German waters, soon joined Admiral Scheer. Both started a cruise in the Atlantic which brought them to Madeira.

Heinkel He 60 floatplane
Heinkel He 60 floatplane. The three ships kept these until the end of their operations

The Spanish Civil War and “Deutschland incident”

KMS Deutschland off spain in 1936

The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, and Deutschland, Admiral Scheer were deployed on its atlantic coast from 23 July 1936. They were part of a multinational naval force tasked by the league of nations to to conduct non-intervention patrols and prevent arms deliveries to both sides. For this, KMS Deutschland received large black, white and red bands on her main turrets for aerial identification, called “neutrality bands”. All present nations did the same. She evacuated refugees and under orders started protect German ships carrying supplies for Francisco Franco’s Nationalists, infringing deliberately the neutrality policy. She also gathered intelligence for the Nationalists, using her spoter planes for reconnaissance.
In May 1937, the ship she was docked in La Palma, Majorca island with other neutral warships (notably British and Italian) when attacked by Republican aviation. Her anti-aircraft crews were scrambled into action, and the planes were driven off. As it was felt other Republican attacks were possible, the torpedo boats Seeadler and Albatross joined Deutschland in Ibiza on 24 May. And indeed, another Republican bombers raid (two SB-2 bombers) flown by Soviet Air Force pilots deliberately targeted the ship. The first bomb penetrated her upper deck, close to the bridge, managing to detonate below the thin main armored deck. The second hit the third starboard 15 cm gun, starting a massive fire below deck. This left a tolly of 31 dead and 74 among the crew.

KMS Deutschland, Library of Congress archives
KMS Deutschland, Library of Congress archives

Fearing other air attacks the ship was ill-prepared to fight, her captain ordered to lift anchor and left. She met Admiral Scheer and proceeded to Gibraltar to bury the dead with a ceremony, and start provisional repairs. Hitler ordered them to be exhumed and repatriated in Germany. Wounded sailors were treated in Gibraltar’s hospital. Hitler was adamant Admiral Scheer must retaliating by shelling the Republican-held port of Almería in retaliation but orders were intercepted by Stalin to forbid attack on German and Italian warships, while Molotov made an apology.
In 1938-1939 KMS Deutschland made training maneuvers with the fleet and further goodwill visits (like at Naples). She made another visit to Spain after the Nationalist victory and participated in a large fleet exercise with Admiral Graf Spee, Köln, Leipzig, Nürnberg, destroyers, U-boats, and support vessels. This was the largest Atlantic German fleet manoeuver before the war.

Operations of 1939

On 24 August 1939, Deutschland left Wilhelmshaven to find a useful spot south of Greenland, waiting for orders as the war was imminent. From there she would be able to prey on merchant traffic and the supply ship Westerwald was assigned to her. Her captain however was ordered to observe prize rules, meaning intercepting, warning, stopping and search ships for contraband, and only afterwards to sink them after ensuring their crews were evacuated in boats with a heading and life support. She was ordered to avoid combat with even inferior naval forces, so to keep away from cruisers and destroyers. Hitler still at this point hoped to secure a negotiated peace with Britain and France and Deutschland only was greenlight to start operations by 26 September. At that time, Deutschland had chosen the Bermuda-Azores sea lane as an hunting area. On 5 October, she sank the British transport Stonegate, but the latter managed to send a distress signal. Deutschland next turned north, and headed for the Halifax route. On 9 October, she met the US 4,963 GRT City of Flint. The freighter inspected revealed “contraband” and was seized and escorted back to Germany via Murmansk, seized by Norway and later returned to the original crew. On 14 October, she sank the 1,918 GRT Norwegian Lorentz W Hansen and intercepted and inspected the Danish steamer Kongsdal, which later warned the British Royal Navy, confirmed Deutschland’s position and heading back to the North Atlantic.
Severe weather however aborted this raiding mission.

1940 Operations of Lützow

Meawnhile, The French Force de Raid (Battleship Dunkerque’s task force) protected convoys around UK and was dispatched to search for the Deustchland. In early November because of this, she was recalled home by the Naval High Command, reaching Gotenhafen on the 17. For a first mission, this was meagre. In 1940 she was overhauled, gaining a raked clipper bow and new AA. She was both re-rated as heavy cruiser and renamed KMS Lützow as Hitler feared the propaganda effect if she was sunk. Erich Raeder pushed also for this, knowing it would cause some confusion for Allied intelligence. Indeed the name was already affected to one of the Admiral Hipper-class cruisers sold to the Soviet Navy and wanted to hide the transaction. Lützow left the drydock on March 1940, and was tasked for another raid in the South Atlantic but in April she was redirected to support the invasion of Norway.


Operation Weserübung
Lützow was assigned to Group 5 with Blücher and Emden (Konteradmiral Oskar Kummetz). Group 5’s main mission was to capture the capital Oslo, and for this carried 2,000 mountain troops, Lützow for her part having 400 of these, disembarked by using her own boats. Leaving on 8 April and crossing the Kattegat, the flotilla was attacked en route by HMS Triton, but the later missed. just before midnight on 8 April Group 5 passed the outer ring of Norwegian coastal batteries, Lützow in line behind Blücher, and Emden astern at 12 knots. between heavy fog and neutrality rules of engagement, the Norwegians which had these ships in their scopes, had to fire warning shots first. But it was not to be. Oscarsborg Fortress, on high alert, however and they opened fire without warning with their 28 cm, 15 cm and 57 mm guns. This was the Battle of Drøbak Sound. Blücher was shell hit and take also two torpedoes hits, causing large flooding. She listed rapidly and capsized with most of crew, including the soldiers.

Oscarborg Fortress
Oscarborg Fortress (src

Lützow was also hit, three times and by 15 cm shells (Oscarsborg’s Kopås battery), on her forward gun turret (center and right guns HS), the second hit penetrated both decks and started a fire in her hospital and operating theater. The third struck her superstructure (close to the port-side aircraft crane), burning a plane, killing four gunners. At that point, she pointed her aft turret at the fort and opened fire but also her captain ordered she reversed course with the rest of the squadron, and later landed her troops in Verle Bay and then covered them by providing fire support. On 9 April, thes Norwegian fortresses were captured and negotiations for surrender started. Lützow was ordered at that point to return to Germany for repairs. What left of Group 5 resumed operations meanwhile, centered on Emden. En route to Germany, Lützow, at full speed, was interecpted by the submarine HMS Spearfish. On 11 April she launched her torpedoes and scored a hit, destroying Lützow’s stern while her steering gear was blown off and seriously jammed. Dead in the water, the cruiser had to be towed back to port. There, she was decommissioned for repairs lasting a year. Lützow’s commander nevertheless was awarded the Knight’s Cross for his actions at Drøbak Sound, taking command of the task force after the flagship Blücher was lost.

Deustchland in ice, winter 1939-1940
Deustchland in ice, winter 1939-1940 (ONI)

Operations of 1942

Lützow was recommissioned on 31 March 1941 while another commerce raiding mission as planned, with Admiral Scheer. On 12 June, she headed for Norway with destroyers, but the RAF sent torpedo bombers, which attacked her off Egersund. They scored a single torpedo hit, disabling all her electrical system while she took a severe list to port. Her port shaft was damaged as well. Emergency repairs were done as she could reach Germany and stayed in Kiel for six months, basically emerging again only on 10 May 1942. It was decided to send her to Norway again.
Leaving Kiel on 15 May 1942 she arrived and mer Scheer on 25 May in Bogen Bay. The became flagship of Vizeadmiral Kummetz (Kampfgruppe 2) but both vessels were now plagued by Fuel shortages. Both Lützow and Admiral Scheer made some limited training exercises but stayed inactive, that is until Kummetz received detailed on Operation Rösselsprung. It was a planned attack on the convoy PQ 17 heding for Murmansk. On 3 July, Kampfgruppe 2 departed to soon be lost in heavy fog. Lützow and three destroyers ran aground, suffered significant damage. Meawnhile tBritish intelligence was warned of this, and decided to scatter the convoy. As surprise was lost, the destruction of PQ 17 was turned to U-boats and the Luftwaffe. It was a cranage, as 24 ships out of 35 transports were efectively sunk as a result. Lützow returned to Germany for repairs again, lasting until the end of October 1942. She was back in Norway on 12 November, but based in Narvik.

ONI recoignition photgraph of KMS deutschland, 1937
ONI recoignition photograph of KMS deutschland, date unknown

On 30 December, she made another sortie with Admiral Hipper and six destroyers. This was Operation Regenbogen, the attack of convoy JW 51B. Kummetz wanted to divide his forces, sending Hipper and three destroyers north first, drawing away the escorts while Lützow and three destroyers would attack later from the south. At 09:15, 31 December, HMS Obdurate spotted the german destroyers screening forward of Admiral Hipper, and the destroyers opened fire as soon as she was spotted. The convoy was defended by five destroyers and they all rushed to join the fight. HMS Achates however laid a smoke screen to cover the convoy, and as planned, Kummetz turned back, trying to draw the destroyers away while Captain Robert Sherbrooke (the escort commander) ordered two destroyers to stay behind in case. The remaining four were steaming north. Lützow was in sight of the convoy at 11:42 and opened fire, but visibility was poor as customary in the area in winter, with heavy weather and high waves. Accurate fire was near impossible. She stopped firing at 12:03, failing to observe any hits.By then, Rear Admiral Robert Burnett’s Force R, (cruisers Sheffield and Jamaica) in distant support until then rushed to the fight, and engaged Admiral Hipper, achieving complete surprise. Lützow was ordered to break off and rish to help Admiral Hipper, and inadvertently came alongside bioth British cruisers and engaged them. British cruisers then turned their fire on Lützow, as Hipper, and Burnett quickly decided to withdraw, having a hard time with his puny 6 in (150 mm) guns. Later, Kummetz ordered the reunited force to head back to Norway. Needless to say, the failure to sink a single ship in the convoy infuriated Hitler which showed a bout of unalterated rage, ordering the while surface fleet to be scrapped for spare metal. Kummetz was sacked, Raeder resigned, replaced by Karl Dönitz. It was the later, despite his personal agenda with the submarine force, which pleaded hitler to spare the surface fleet and persuaded him to use different tactics.

Late career 1943-45

By March 1943 Lützow was based in Altafjord. But at that time, it was not fuel shortage but her worn out diesel engines which had her inoperative. Undergoing a thorough invertigation, the propulsion system was declared unreliable and needed a complete overhaul. After staying in Norway until September 1943 as an immobile deterrent (the allied had no idea she was unable to sail out), she was sent back in Germany and the overhault ended by January 1944. She was in the Baltic for post-overhaul trials and training cruises with new naval personnel. However she would never return to Norway. On one hand, it was considered she would be transformed as an aicraft carrier, but the idea was both costly and labout-intensive and the project was dropped. Instead, she was left at anchor in Kiel, inactive for the remainder of 1944 and early 1945.

wreck of Lützow in Kiel in April 1945
Bundesarchiv, the wreck of Lützow in Kiel in April 1945 after being hit by a Tallboy bomb

On 13 April 1945, the RAF launched a massive night bomber raid, Avro Lancaster attacked Lützow and Prinz Eugen, with poor results due to a covered sky. On 15 April, another raid showed the same result. On 16 April however the weather improved just enough for eighteen Lancasters from 617 (“Dambusters”) squadron hit Lützow with a single Tallboy bomb (plus 3-4 near misses that seriously shook her) as she was berthed to the Kaiserfahrt. She sank in shallow water, her hull still 2 m (6 ft 7 in) above water, rendering her a stationary gun battery. She would soon shell the advancing Soviet forces (Task Force Thiele) until 4 May 1945, until renuuing our of battery ammunition. The crew was tasked to scuttle her, but a fire prematurely exploded the charges. Peace was signed in Europe, and Lützow waiting her fate, seized by the Soviet Navy. Sources are diverging at this point, if she was raised in September 1947 and BU in 1948–1949. It was discovered later in dclassified Soviet archives that she was sunk in weapons tests in the Baltic Sea, off Świnoujście (Poland) on 22 July 1947.

KMS Lützow in the Kaiser canal, next to the craters of RAF’s Tallboy bombs.

KMS Admiral Scheer

Bundesarchiv captain Wilhelm Marschall RMS (‘ReichsMarine Schiff’) Admiral Scheer was ordered from Reichsmarinewerft shipyard, Wilhelmshaven. The bill ordering her was delayed for obe year, and budget for Panzerschiff B “Ersatz Lothringen” only secured by poltical absention. On launching, she was christened by Marianne Besserer, daughter of the namesake Admiral Reinhard Scheer and completed by 12 November 1934, commissioned the same day. The political context had changed radically by then. Her first command was Kapitän zur See Wilhelm Marschall. She spent December 1934 in sea trials and training and in 1935, as the navy was to be renamed Kriegsmarine, a catapult and landing sail system as fitted. Contrary to her earlier sister ship she was not given He-60 floatplanes but Arado models instead, better fitted to operate in heavy seas. Until 26 July 1937 her captain was Leopold Bürkner, future head of foreign intelligence. In October 1935, she started her first long range cruise, stopping at Madeira and other ports and back to Kiel in November. She then departed for a summer cruise between the English Channel and the Irish Sea, and stopped in Stockholm when back.

Like her sister ship Deustchland, Scheer was deployed in Spain by July 1936, mainly to evacuate German civilians in areas close to the frontline. On 8 August 1936 she served with Deutschland enforcing non-intervention patrols, making four tours of duty, until 1937, officially to prevent arms smuggling, but she reported Soviet ships with supplies and protected German ones. Ernst Lindemann (future captain of Graf Spee) was her first gunnery officer during that time. After “Deutschland incident” on 29 May 1937, Admiral Scheer was ordered to shell Almería in reprisal and started at 07:29, on shore batteries, naval installations and ships present. By June 1937, she was relieved by KMS Admiral Graf Spee, but returned to the Mediterranean until October, with captain Otto Ciliax in command.

KMS Admiral Scheer before the war

ADMIRAL SCHEER in habor during the 1936 Olympic Games.

1940 Operations

In September 1939, Admiral Scheer was in Schillig roadstead (off Wilhelmshaven) with Admiral Hipperand a few days later attacked by five Bristol Blenheim bombers. The crews on high alert managed to shoot down one of these, and she was lucky with just one bomb hit, but a dud, and three near-misses, including another dud. A second group of five Blenheims arrived shortly after to be greeted by a vengeful AA and all shot down. In November 1939, Theodor Krancke took command of the ship. After a refit she was prepared for her first commerce raiding mission, in the Atlantic. Duing the early months of 1940, she was fitted with a new raked clipper bow, a lighter conning tower, modified bridge and superstructures, radar and AA, and was reclassified as “Schwere Kreuzer” (heavy cruiser). On 19–20 she was again targeted by RAF bombers but took no hits. She departed on October 1940 and slipped through the Skagerrak by night on 31 October-1st December.

AMC HMS Jervis Bay
AMC HMS Jervis Bay

In the north Atlantic, Her B-Dienst radio interception system catch emissions from convoy HX 84 from Halifax. Her Arado seaplanes took off and soon located the convoy on 5 November 1940. It was protected at the time only by the armed merchant cruiser (AMC) HMS Jervis Bay, sole escort for the convoy. As soon as Scheer was spotted, the AMC issued a report and sailed towards her in an attempt to protect the convoy, latter ordered to scatter under under cover of a smoke screen. Admiral Scheer starting firing on Jarvis Bay, scroting hits, disabling her wireless radio and and steering, the bridge, killed the staff and captain Edward Fegen and the fire went on for 22 minutes until she sank. But this decision delayed any actopn on the convoy, which escaped. Nevertheless, her spotter planes localized five ships, on 37 ships that she was able to catch up and sink. On 18 December the 8,651 tons GRT refrigerator ship Duquesa was sunk, but not before she sent a distress signal. Scheer’s captain still hoped to draw British naval forces nearby, luring them while Admiral Hipper now just exited the Denmark Strait for her own mission. This was a success as soon, Scheer became the target of aircraft carriers HMS Formidable and Hermes, the cruisers Dorsetshire, Neptune, Dragon (Polish), the AMC Pretoria Castle. But Admiral Scheer eluded them while capturing the 8,038 GRT oil tanker Sandefjord on 18 January 1941, which prize crew was landed at Bordeaux. Until 7 January, she resupplied with the Nordmark and Eurofeld, and the auxiliary cruiser Thor. Until 20 January she captured three more Allied vessels for a total of 18,738 GRT and spent Christmas 1940 in the mid-Atlantic, later heading for the Indian Ocean in February 1941.


1941 Operations in the Indian Ocean

On 14 February she met the auxiliary cruiser Atlantis and both were supplied by Tannenfels, 1,000 nmi east of Madagascar, making a brief about Allied merchant traffic in the area. They separated on 17 February. Admiral Scheer steamed towards the Seychelles, north of Madagascar. She took the 6,994 GRT oil tanker British Advocate and sank the 2,456 GRT Grigorios and latter the 7,178 GRT “SS Canadian Cruiser” (which sent a distress signal) and later the 2,542 GRT Dutch steamer Rantaupandjang. Of course the last two signals were catch by the British cruiser HMS Glasgow patrolling the are. She launched her reconnaissance aircraft, spotting Admiral Scheer on 22 February. Vice Admiral Ralph Leatham, (East Indies Station) sent in reinforcement the HMS Hermes and the cruisers Capetown, Emerald, Hawkins, Shropshire, and HMAS Canberra. Captain Krancke decided to veer south-east and reached South Atlantic by 3 March 1941. Thuis drew attention on her while Atantis started her own rampage close to Australia. The hunt was abandoned on 25 February.


Admiral Scheer was able to sail north up to the Denmark Strait which she reached on 26–27 March, spotted but evading the cruisers HMS Fiji and Nigeria. She reached Bergen on 30 March, Grimstadfjord to resupply and crew’s rest. She was joined by destroyers for her trip back to Kiel, arriving on 1 April. This was not bad for a start, covering 46,000 nautical miles (85,000 km) and with a tally of 7 merchant ships for 113,223 GRT. So far she had been the best capital ship commerce raider of the war, but it was her last raiding mission. Wilhelm Meendsen-Bohlken became her captain in June 1941 and with the loss of Bismarck in May 1941, and gradual destruction of the while German supply ship network, Atlantic raiding operations were abandoned. In September, she was based in Oslo, attacked without success by a raid of No. 90 Squadron RAF, and she departed later to a less exposed Swinemünde.

Stern view, September 1941
Stern view, September 1941

1942 Operations in Norway

On 21 February 1942, Scheer teamed with Prinz Eugen, escorted by the destroyers Z4, Z5, Z7, Z14 and Z25 and proceeded to Norway, stopping in Grimstadfjord before making it to Trondheim. On 23 February, en route HMS Trident torpedoed Prinz Eugen, causing her to retire. Admiral Scheer participated in Operation Rösselsprung on 2 July 1942, trying to catch PQ-17, with Lützow in their own group, Tirpitz and Hipper in the other in a giant pincer. However Lützow and three destroyers ran aground and the group was dismissed while Admiral Scheer joined Tirpitz and Hipper in Altafjord, detected by the British. The convoy was scattered and left by U-boats and Luftwaffe. In August 1942 Scheer was sent to participated to Operation Wunderland, in the Kara Sea, with a destroyer escort, until Novaya Zemlya. Due to heir range, Scheer was left alone from this point. The plan called for strict radio silence and captain Meendsen-Bohlken was in full autnomy on this mission. On 16 August, Admiral Scheer met thick ice in the Kara Sea, but started searching for merchant shipping with its Arado floatplanes also spotting paths in the ice fields. On 25 August, they spotted the Soviet icebreaker Sibiryakov, which was sank after launching a distress signal. Scheer then turned south and arrived in Dikson, damaging two ships in the port, shelling the harbor facilities but renounced to send a landing party as Soviet shore batteries started firing. Meendsen-Bohlken then decided to head back to Narvik, arriving on 30 August. These were meagre results to say the least. On 23 October she teamed with Tirpitz and 5 destroyers from Bogen Bay to Trondheim and they left Tirpitz for repairs while Scheer and Z28 resumed their trip back to Germany. By the end of November, Fregattenkapitän Ernst Gruber took command and in December she was sent to Wilhelmshaven for a major overhaul. There she was damaged by an RAF attack and she was moved to Swinemünde.

Admiral Scheer in September 1941
Admiral Scheer in 1942
Admiral Scheer in 1942

1943-45 Operations

In February 1943, Richard Rothe-Roth became her new captain, but until the end of 1944 she no longer took part in active raisding missions and instead she was versed to the Fleet Training Group operating in the Baltic. Her last commander was Ernst-Ludwig Thienemann, from April 1944. On 22 November 1944 she departed with Z22, Z35, and the 2nd Torpedo Boat Flotilla in support of the task force guarding the island of Ösel against Soviet incursions. The Soviet Air Force launched raids which were largely unsucessful. During the night of 23–24 November, the island was evacuated, and the heavy cruiser repatriated 4,694 troops with the help of the destroyers and flotilla. By February 1945, Admiral Scheer was based off Samland for possible Soviet sorties. On 9 February, they started shelling Soviet positions and until 24 February, she covered a counterattack near Peyse and Gross-Heydekrug.

Admiral Scheer in Kiel in 1945
Admiral Scheer in Kiel in 1945

A land connection was restored briefly to Königsberg, allwing civilian and military evacuations. However in March 1945 her guns were completely worn and she departed the eastern Baltic for Kiel, carried 800 civilian refugees and 200 wounded soldiers on board. A minefield was spotted so she had to divert to Swinemünde, disembarking her passengers and still managing to shell Soviet forces outside Kolberg until the last shell was out. She loaded then more refugees before departing Swinemünde, and her captain managed to get through minefields, and down to Kiel. She dropped anchot on 18 March and soon work started. Her aft guns were replaced at the Deutsche Werke shipyard in April and her crew was sent ashore, leaving her defenseless during the 9 April 1945 night raid by the RAF, 300 heavy bombers in all. Admiral Scheer was hit by several bombs, quickly filled and capsized. At this oint nothing was done to salvage her, the war was over. She will be partially broken up after the war, and what was left was filled with rubbled, signalled on maps and left in plane.

Admiral Scheer turned over after capziging following the 8-9 April 1945 night Kiel bombing raid.

KMS Admiral Graf Spee

KMS Graf Spee before the war

Captain_Konrad_Patzig_first_commanding_officer_Graf_Spee Admiral Graf Spee, perhaps the most famous of the three, but also with the shortest career, was ordered as “Ersatz Braunschweig”, replacing Braunschweig and christened by the daughter of Admiral Maximilian von Spee, completed on 6 January 1936 and commissioned the same day. She spend until early April in extensive sea trials and training, under command of Kapitän zur See (KzS) Conrad Patzig (photo), replaced in 1937 by Walter Warzecha. Officially joining the fleet she became the flagship of the German Navy and during the summer 1936, joined the Atlantic for non-intervention patrols off the Spanish coast, hed mostly by the Republicans. Until May 1937 she made three tours of duty here, and stopped on her way in Great Britain for the Spithead Coronation Review held for King George VI, on 20 May 1937.
In between fleet manoeuver, she made a fourth and fifth and final patrol in February 1938 in the same role. That year, KzS Hans Langsdorff took command and conducted his ship in a serie of goodwill visits, inluding Tangier and Vigo. She took part to the large fleet maneuvers in German waters, the last before the war, and a fleet review held for the reintegration of the port of Memel into Germany, in honor of Admiral Miklós Horthy, Regent of Hungary. Until 17 May 1939 she made another cruise into the Atlantic, stopping in Spain and Portugal but by August 1939, she departed Wilhelmshaven to join her probable operating area in South Atlantic as war was looming.

Von Spee’s rampage in the south atlantic

The prow of admiral Graf Spee before the war
The prow of admiral Graf Spee before the war

In September 1939, Graf Spee was ready to start her first commerce raiding mission, delayed until it was certain Britain would not propose any peace treaty and she was ordered to strictly adhere to prize rules. Thus, Hans Langsdorff was also firbidden to engage any warship, large or small and change positions as much as possible. On 1st September, she was resupplied by the Altmark, southwest of the Canary Islands, also transferring superfluous equipment as its boats, flammable paint, and two 2 cm AA guns installed on the tanker instead. On 11 September, her Arado floatplanes spotted the HMS Cumberland approaching. She was still supplying with Altmark, and Langsdorff ordered a quick to departure at high speed. He managed to evade the British heavy cruiser, and on 26 September, received at least the greenlight for unrestricted commerce raiding operations. Her first prize was spotted by her Arado planes: This was the Clement, off the coast of Brazil, transmitted the classic “RRR” distress signal. She was stopped and inspected, her captain and chief engineer took prisoner while her crew was sent out in lifeboats. The freighter was sunk using 30 main and secondary rounds and two torpedoes. Langsdorff ordered himself to send a distress signal to the nearby naval station in Pernambuco, making sure the crew’s rescue. The British Admiralty issued a warning to merchant shipping.

Overview of the Graf Spee as seen from its Arado floatplane

The hunt is on

On 5 October, both the British and French navies formed no less than eight groups to hunt for Admiral Graf Spee in the South Atlantic. The aicraft carriers HMS Hermes, Eagle, and Ark Royal, the French Béarn, escorted by the Renown, Dunkerque and Strasbourg and 16 cruisers were sent to locate her. Force G (Henry Harwood) sailed to the east coast of South America, with the cruisers Cumberland and Exeter, later reinforced by the Ajax and Achilles, sending Cumberland to patrol off the Falkland Islands. The other three cruisers patrolled off the River Plate in Argentina. Admiral Graf Spee meanwhile captured the steamer Newton Beech and sank later the merchant ship Ashlea, taking on board officers. On 8 October, she sank Newton Beech, at first used to store prisoners, but she was too slow to keep up. On 10 October, she captured the Huntsman. Lacking space of the prisoners, Langsdorff contacted the Altmark on the 15 for a meeting, to refuel and transfer his prisoners, added to the steamer Huntsman. Prisoners aboard Huntsman were transferred to Altmark, and she was sunk on 17 October. On the 22, Admiral Graf Spee sank the Trevanion and Langsdorff sailed to the Indian Ocean, south of Madagascar. His idea was to divert Allied warships away from the South Atlantic and by that time she already covered 30,000 nautical miles. Her engines now needed badly an overhaul. On 15 November she sank the tanker MV Africa Shell, and spotted but spared a Dutch steamer. Back to thee Atlantic on 17-26 November she met Altmark ro refuel and resupply, while her crew started to built a dummy gun turret and second funnel behind the aircraft catapult. The idea was to make a different silhouette and disrupt identity checking by the allies.

Arado 196
Arado 196 onboard the Scheer and Graf Spee

Her Arado floatplane later located the merchant ship Doric Star. She was stopped but able to send out a distress signal. The officers were made prisoners and crews evacuated by lifeboats, but the signalled was eagerly awaited by Commodore Harwood. he rushed his three cruisers at full speed to the mouth of the River Plate, suspecting Langsdorff to head for. On the night of 5 December, the Graf Spee sank the steamer Tairoa and a day after, met again Altmark, transferring 140 prisoners. Her last victim was the freighter Streonshalh on 7 december. On board were secret documents with maps of shipping route, and based on this, Langsdorff planned a trip off Montevideo. On 12 December her Arado 196 were lacking maintenance and could notfly. Her disguise was removed in case of a “bad encounter”, not hinder her operations.

Battle of the River Plate (13 December 1939)

KMS Graf Spee camouflage in December 1939

This famous episode started at 05:30 on the morning of 13 December 1939, when Graf Spee’s lookouts spotted masts on the horizon, at her starboard bow. Captain Langsdorff assumed thos was a convoy previously mentioned on the captured documents but as identification became finer, at 05:52 lookouts realized these were no civilian ships, and they identified warhips. Later the head vessel was recoignised to be the HMS Exeter accompanied by what was thought to be destroyers, with perspective, but revealed themselves as Leander-class cruisers. Langsdorff decided it was worth fighting due to her superior firepower, the crew’s own motivation and own possible speed with wornout engines. Battle stations was ordered, and full speed ahead to close in. At 06:08 Harwood spotted the Graf Spee and order to split gunfire of her main battery. The duel indeed opposed six 280 mm plus eight 150 mm versus eight 203 mm and sixteen 150 mm. But the German warhip had to rage advantage and opened fire first at Exeter. Her secondary battery four broadside guns were trained on Ajax at 06:17. Exeter returned fire three minutes later followed by Ajax and Achilles in a few minutes. For thirty minutes, the duel was on and Exeter was hit three times: Both forward turrets were knock out, as her bridge and her aircraft catapult. She was also crippled by shrapnell and on fire. Ajax and Achilles tried to divert attention on them by closing in so much Langsdorff thought them in position to make a torpedo attack. He decided to turn away and release a smokescreen.

Exeter was able, thanks to this manoeuver to retire but continued firing with her only operative aft turret, and deplored 61 dead and 23 wounded. Nevertheless, her captain manoeuvered as to bring her close on Graf Spee and still have her aft turret trained, but the latter spotted this and fired on Exeter again. This time Exeter was crippled and had to withdraw again, with a list to port. At 07:25, Ajax was hit, loosing her aft turrets but by then both sides broke off. Admiral Graf Spee headed to the River Plate estuary. Harwood stayed outside its range, in observation. on Admiral Graf Spee it was time for a report. Langsdorrf was informed her ship had been it around 70 times and 36 men were killed, 60 wounded including Langsdorff himself by shell splinters on the open bridge. The ship had some damage but nothing really serious, nevertheless the only wise decision was to join Montevideo for repairs ad treat wounded men.

Graf Spee entering Montevideo, battle damaged

The most urgent issue was the destroyed oil purification plant. It was problem as impacting the quality the diesel fuel for the already worn out diesels. Any long range trip was also impossible as water reserves were impacted by the destruction of the desalination plant and the galley. She had been hit in the bow too, which impacted her seaworthiness, especially if she tried to make it across the Atlantic. In addition her ammunition stocks were low. The majestic but battered warhip arriving in port and wounded crewmen were quickly taken to local hospitals, dead were buried with full military honors, and the few captive allied seamen released. Repairs were a problem, as estimated to take at least weeks. Therefore, British naval intelligence put some tricks of its sleeve, and on one hand, force the Uruguayan Governement to enforce neutrality rules, of 72h stay (Hague Convention of 1907), and in the other, that a powerful fleet was away at sea. Langsdorff weighted his options and considered an attempt to break out of the harbor, as asked by Berlin. Another option was to flee to Buenos Aires for an internment, waiting perhaps the end of its neutrality, or third, to scuttle the ship and spare his men. Being a humanist and sailor in the tradition of men such as Felix Von Luckner (Seeadler) in the last war, he choose this path.

Closer view of Graf spee’s battle damage and camouflage in Montevideo

On 17 December 1939, Langsdorff ordered to seize and destroy all important equipment, dispersing remaining ammunition and prepare explorive charges to scuttle the ship. On 18 December he sailed away with a skeleton crew on board of 40 men and moved the ship in the outer roadstead. There, the 72h delays passed in this evening, with a crowd of 20,000 watching the events unfolding. Scuttling charges were set leaving time to the crew to be loaded by the Argentine tug nearby. Explisions started at 20:55, also detonating ammunitions. This was quite a spectacle as darkness came on a bright sky. The ship slowly san to the bottom in these shallow seas and would burn for the next two days. Sadly, Langsdorff was also aware of the consequences to act against Berlin’s orders for his family and decided to shot himself in full dress uniform, lying on the ship’s battle ensign. The crew buried him with battle honors, and was later picked up by late January 1940, on the then neutral American cruiser USS Helen. Some men were able to visit the wreck of Admiral Graf Spee, and were disembark in Argentina, interned for the remainder of the war. The impressive wreck was not a threat to navigation as long as the visibility allowed it, but nevertheless it was partially broken up in 1942–1943. Later, salvage rights were purchased from the German Government via a Montevideo engineering company. Only in February 2004, her wreck was raised and gradually dismantled for good, but a commemorative plaque was left after a ceremony.

The wreck of Admiral Graf Spee off Montevideo
The wreck of Admiral Graf Spee off Montevideo

S-Bootes (E-Boats)


Germany (1934-45)
Schnellboote – 9 classes*, circa 300 total +280 ordered

The perile of S-Bootes: Called S-Boote (short for “Schnellboote”, literally “fast boats”) and known as the “E-Boats” by the allies (“E” for enemy, and also encompassing R-Boats), these nimble torpedo boats caused much concerns to the allies. Less than U-Boats though, but they still made dangerous all approaches of the occupied coast of Europe, roamed the Baltic, the black sea, Mediterranean, and all along the Atlantic wall, from Norway to the bay of Biscaye. They were especially active in the English channel, and obscured by the “big naval battles” that made headlines, there met in countless unnamed naval clashes against British light gunboats (MGB) and MTBs. They obliged the Royal Navy to develop and maintain a massive fleet of light boats. Somewhat overlooked for their action in the Kriegsmarine, they did performed quite a sizeable damage of their own:
S-Bootes in total for WW2, on all fronts, claimed 101 merchant ships (214,728 GRT), 12 destroyers, 11 minesweepers, 8 landing ships, 6 MTBs, 1 torpedo boat, 1 minelayer, 1 submarine, and many smaller craft. They damaged 2 cruisers, 5 destroyers, 3 landing ships, 1 repair ship, a naval tug and many, many merchant vessels. Also S-Boote and R-boote laid minefields which claimed 37 merchant ships (148,535 GRT), a destroyer, two minesweepers, and four landing ships during the war. Development started during the interwar, but really took of during wartime. Indeed at the outbreak of WWII, only 18 Schellboote were in service. Howver until 1945, 230 more were build, and more planned and latter cancelled. All shared the same basic design, propulsion and armament, and were designed and build at Lürssen, Vegesack.

German E-Boat S-204 surrenders at Felixstowe
German E-Boat S-204 surrenders at Felixstowe, 13 May 1945

Early developments: The inheritance of WW1

Experience with Fast torpedo Boats started during the Great War. Development of these German torpedo boats launch really started in 1922, when earlier units ordered for the Hochseeflotte in 1917 were completed or remained on slip. These were the LM20s, 21, 22, 22, 23, 26, 27 and 28, which served as testbeds, reformed in the 1930s. The Versailles Treaty was unclear concerning this type of ship, used rather for defense. But as a precaution the first researches were carried out secretly by S. Lohmann in 1923, culminating in Abeking & Rasmussen’s making of the “K”, a prototype capable of 40 knots, based on a Thornycroft type, purchased and studied. Called the Lür it was built by Lürssen, Vegesack. She was capable of 33.5 knots. Later, Caspar Werft’s Narwhal was able to reach 34.8 knots. All of these early units were reclassified as submarine hunters (U-Boote zestorer) or UZ11-18 in 1929.

While the German navy managed to create an effective training system in 1925, was taken the decision by Admiral Fortlotter, of studying a new generation high-speed torpedo boats and the first flotilla was organized. The first exercises were held in 1925. In 1928, the leadership of the Wehrmacht began to show interest in the Fr. Lurssen Bootswerft, where speed boats were built. And already in 1929 the first torpedo boat was built at the shipyard after a long break at the initiative of Admiral Raeder. On July 7, 1930, the UZ(S)16 U-BOOT Zerstorer entered service, renamed by March 16, 1932 “S1”. This 40 tons boat was armed with two 21 inches (533 mm) torpedo tubes and was capable of 32 knots. Soon it was named in the Kriegsmarine ordnance, the “Schnellboote S-type”, under the general category of Kleinkampfverbande.

The Reichsmarsine always had this option and opportunity to build a maximum of these inexpensive ships, not limited in any way. But the Navy leadership was still worried however about a possible reaction to the rapid development of this new class of warships. Early development and testing within the Reichsmarine were carried out under the strictest secrecy, via civilian shipbuilding, and Lürssen, well known for its yachts, was the perfect cover. From 1932 already, the Reischmarine ordered four more of these to be built, S2-S5. In 1933, the S6 marked a new standard and it became a decisive step forward. The German navy was indeed the first to procured these vessels with powerful diesel engines. They both allowed a far superior cruising range while keepin the top speed up to 36 knots, which was destroyer standard.

Early S-Boat before the war
Early S-Boat before the war

In 1934-1935, while the fleet was in full transition oto becom the Kriesgmarine, seven more (S7-S13) were ordered, and by July 1935, a first torpedo boat flotilla was created. Next appeared the 92 tonnes serie S14-S17, fitted with three diesel engines for 2000 shp and 39.8 knots. They went into the first flotilla of S-boats and the olest went to the 2nd and 3rd flotillas. In all, 12 of these standardized S-Boats were ready for defense. In 1936-1938, the tactical and technical requirements changed, as these nimble ships were now to be able to patrol up to 700 miles, from the west coast of Germany and deep into the North Sea, and Baltic Sea eastwards to the islands of the gulf of Finland. Diesels were improved, and speeds up to 45 knots could be reached. There was no shortage of young commanders for these vessels, armed with deadly torpedoes and AA, and lightning speed. S-Boat Sailors however were carefully selected and had a special training, including mechanics and navigators.

In the Kriegsmarine, S-Boats tasks were defined, and first their primary mission was to attack large ships, and secondary, to infiltrate harbors and bases, preying on merchant lines following sea routes, and raiding bases and installations along and enemy coast. In addition, S-Bootes should be capable of defensive operations, ASW patrols and coastal convoy escort, but also reconnaissance and minesweeping. Torpedo boats had also many advantages of speed and discretion, minimal crews and supplies and low cost.

About Lürssen Vegesack

Four years after the proclamation of the German Empire, on 23 July 1875, Fr. Lurssen founded the company in Bremen. Already in 1890, the yard was producing the first German high-speed boat. By 1910, 700 left the shipyard’s slipways, well noted internationally for their top speed for that time. In 1917, Fr. Lurssen Bootswerft received an order from the Navy for a first torpedo boat, launched and active. The company in 1916 provided also remote-controlled boats to enter occupied ports or attacking heavily armoured ships for the fleet. The yard swelled and started to built shallow minesweepers (F boats) and submarines and also its first military launches of the ML class.

Lürssen also produced large quantities of coastal minesweepers/Minelayers during WW2 (Raümboote or “R-Boats”), but wartime production was taken over by Abeking & Rasmussen, Lemwerder and
Schlichting, Travemünde.

After world war I, treaties focused on large warships and measures taken to limit the fleets never applied to surface ships below 600 tons. Each country could develop and launched these in any quantity which it saw fit, at discretion. The role of TBs was largely underestimated by the naval powers in 1919, and the idea of speedboats used for combat operations seemed ludicrous or a waste of time fr the admiralties, for which the only credo t of the time was still Mahanian, revolving around battleships. This view prevailed, even despite some spectacular successes, like the Italian MAS. Lürssen meanwhile had shrink from 700 to 100 employees. Since the main plant in Aumund was entirely burned down, a new plant was established to Vegesack by 1924, which became the main yard we know today. Civilian production restarted, and the company, still searching advertising sold in the USA the world’s fasted yacht, Oheka II, equipped with three Maybach engines for 34 knots. In 1929 the Reichsmarine ordered the UZ (S) 16 for testing, 28m long and weighting 51.6 tons. It became the S1 in 1932 and by 1933 the model became the basic pattern for German military TBs, an activity which was now played in the open. In 1929, minesweepers restarted in cooperation with Abeking & Rasmussen. Before and during the war, the company (with a network of suppliers and subcontractors) produced some 250 S-Boats, with 280 more on order in 1945. These boats became much more important as the war became defensive. The loss of the French coast curtailed however their use.

Jaguar type
The Jaguar class were classic MTBs of the 1960s very much in inheritance of WW2 S-Boote. The next decade saw the company looking for FACs

Lürssen Vegesack returned to civilian production after the war, starting in 1946 to produce fishing cutters, and back from captivity in 1947, the brothers Gert and Fritz-Otto Lürssen reorganized the company, which became in 1952 Lürssen-Werft, obtaining orders for fast patrol boats. But the game changer truly was the building of the Jaguar in 1959 for the Bundesmarine. Inspired by WW2 era S-Boats, it was larger and more powerful, and attracted a lot of attention of many navies around the world. Exports started to built in the 1970s as the company teamed with France for the “La Combattante” serie of large, fast patrol boats (FPB). The company also built large patrol vessels and minesweepers. Official website. The company also never stopped its yacht production, breaking new records.

Elster (P6154), a fast attack craft of the Tiger-class
Elster (P6154), a fast attack craft of the Tiger-class

Technical evolution and specifics

S38 and S100 group, Author’s illustrations. more are awaited.

In 1930 Kriegsmarine’s design department took over the design of the fast yacht Oheka II built for an American customer, and the Lür, to design the new generation of VLTs. It was, in 1930, the S1, built by Lürssen, like all those who followed until 1945. It was followed by the S2 to 5, all sent in 1938 to Nationalist Spain. These first units, 27 meters long for 40 to 46 tons, ran 34 to 33.8 knots but all had only two torpedo tubes for two in reserve.

Propulsion of S-Boote

MB518 diesel, credits Newly discovered German photos of this V20 Type MB 518 used in late E Boats later captured at Menai Bridge, inspected by Saunders Roe staff. The Expert Kalle Scheuch suggested MB 501 or MB 511 were more common, the latter likely used on the S701 boats.

Almost of boats were propelled by Daimler-Benz engines, generally diesels, but with a few exceptions:
-The experimental S1 had petrol engines, as well as the S-2 group in 1932. The S3 group had MAN diesels in 1934, and the standard arrived with the S-10 group of 1935, the first with Daimler-Benz diesel engine, which procured the range which was lacking on previous series, while still able to procure them 35 knots.
These Marine Daimler-Benz models were upgraded constantly. On the S-100 group they were of the MB 501 model, procuing together an output of 7,000 bhp. This was truly remarkable for 100 tonnes ships, allowing a top speed of 44 knots. Power output always splitted betwene three shafts, three engines from the S1, rose indeed from 2,700 bhp to 1960 on the S6 to S30, 6000 on the S38 group and 7,000 on the S100 group, and 5,00 bhp more on the S701 group.

Armament of S-Bootes

S-204 of the S80 group
S-204 of the S80 group.

S-Boats were armed with torpedoes, followed by light QF autocannons and machine guns. This light artillery by September 1939 was typically a single 20 mm Rheinmetall C/30 FLAK autocannon on a L/30 mount installed aft on a platform, and two pintle-mount Mauder 7.92-mm MG 34 LMGs. On the S-38 serie, a second autocannon was placed in a deck turret on the forecastle. The S-30 were retrofitted that way at the end of 1941. These guns however had a relatively low rate of fire and reliability, which caused frequent criticism and by 1941-1942 they were replaced by the C/38.

Due to frequent clashes with Royal Navy’s MGBs drastic measures were taken to strengthen the armament. The standard 37-mm semi-automatic C/30 was no longer suitable as only capable of 40 rpm. The obvious alternative was the Swedish 40 mm Bofors and from October 1942, three boats in each of the 1st, 2nd and 4th flotillas, two in the 5th and 6th fleets, received a Bofors at the stern. In total, 14 S-Boats were so rearmed: The S-29, S-39, S-42, S-44 – S-46, S-51, S-81-S-83, S-98, S-99, S-112, and S-117. However the Bofors still had a low rate of fire and no armor-piercing shells. It became clear for the Kriegsmarine, that there was no other weapons suitable for these S-Boats. Still, the 50 mm Flak 41 developed for destroyers weighed over 3 tons, and a lightened version of the MK-103 30 mm airborne cannon was under development for future marine applications.

2cm Flak C38 in a M43U Zwilling Mount
2cm Flak C38 in a M43U Zwilling Mount

Nevertheless, some S-boat commanders improvised, and fitted at the stern a paired 20 mm autocannon (S-65) or a quad mount (Flakvierling). Another favorite location was behind the wheelhouse, and there a single or twin 20 mm or a twin or triple 15 mm MG-151/15 MG could fit. There is even evidence of the use of 20 mm MG FF cannons in improvised mounts. Cramming the deck with such installations, this went up to eight cannons and MGs. In early 1944, the 30 mm autocannon became available and were fitted from the S-170 onwards, in complement of twin C/38s installed behind the wheelhouse as a standard. Late 1944, stern mounted with a single 37 mm (Flak 36/Navy M42) was alternative to a 40 mm Bofors. The planned rearmament by a 30 mm MK-103 gun was never fully implemented. The twin 30 mm mounts never achieved its development, and two single MK-103 were installed instead. In 1944, some S-Boats even had a 86 mm RAG M42 multiple rocketed launcher system with AA rockets, in standard 30 fragmentation rockets and 60 incendiary rockets.

Designers found it much easier and faster to develop self-protection of E-Boats, than practical way to launch torpedoes. The great advantage was to use large tubes to carry standard anti-ship 21-inches models (53 cm). They were powerful and largely available. Steam-gas models were improved, but electric models were also tested by S-Boote but not used operationally. They were stealthy, not betrayed by a trail of bubbles but slower with a lesser range and only used by U-Boats which approached masked. Stastically torpedoes were not very successful however as for all the torpedoes fired during the war, destroying 369 warships it took on average 82 torpedoes to sink a single ship. On E-Boats, German engineers wrapped their head around problems such as avoiding the torpedo to explode just after launch at high speed, when colliding with a wave. Fixed bow, low above water, seemed the best way, as the missile nose forward. Launch from the stern, the old way of WWI, was more complicated and dangerous.
The typical L7 models carried was 718 cm long for 53,3 in diameter, weighting 1,528 kg. and hed three speed settings: 30, 40 and 44 knots with cruising ranges respectively of 12,500, 7,500 and 5500 m. They carried a 280 kg warhead using a fuse detonator of the KHB Pi1 or KHB Pi1 8.43-8.44 types, which could be setup for non-contact explosion.

General advantages and issues of the E-Boats
E-Boats were strongly built. Accidental fires were rare, and they could resist the ramming blow of a destroyer, a mine explosion or 4-in shells. As an example, on March 15, 1942, S-105 came back to base riddled by 80 shell fragments, bullets and shell holes. Their enormous cruising range, up to 800-900 miles at 30-knot was an eneormous advantage over traditional MTBs, but they operated mostly by night, early on during the conflict. They were also very stabled due to their elongated round bilge contours. From the S-100 in particular, the armoured forecastle and built-in torpedo tubes improved the overall seaworthiness, and S-Boats were still able to fire and function on a force 4-5 gale, while keeping a low silhouette. Comparative tests were made between German and British boats after the war. They showed by night, E-Boats were more stealthy while still able to spot the enemy first. The main criticism revolved around their on-board artillery, falling behind the British. In terms of detection also, S-boats lagged behind their opponents as they never received a small-sized radar. When the Germans deployed the Naxos radio intelligence station, the situation improved, but this was still not worthy of a radar. By 1944, the British adopted the Foxer, a ship-towed device diverting the torpedo towards itself, with a “bait” which was the device own acoustic field, more intense than the ship’s propellers noise. Until the German deployed their Lerche wire-controlled torpedoes.

ASW equipments:
Late schnellboote were equipped with two aft grenade throwers and racks for six WBF depth charges 139 kg each for ASW warfare. Commanders indeed had the idea of droppin these depht charges into the wake of pursuing vessels.
Active protection:
Smoke canisters were also carried (Nebelkannen), two, and up to eight, including German and French models. Each layed a blanket of smoke lasting 20 minutes.

Mines were not included as standard but experiments started before the war and the first S-Boat minelaying mission took place on the night of July 11, 1940, in British waters. It was a success, to they started to be more widely used by S-Boats and became more effective at the end of the war. Due to the allied air superiority, these missions were mostly performed by night in 1944.

S-Bootes in action

S-Boat high speed

The Kriegsmarine started the war with the S38 group; with their two tubes and four torpedoes, two 30mm FLAK and 42 knots, they could create a fear factor in coastal operations.
Operations with the Kriegsmarine started with the Baltic Sea in 1939, and the north sea German coast, until the western campaign in May-June 1940. The fall of France opened the while French coast to S-Bootes, which now could prey at leisure in the English Channel. They started earlier, thanks to their range, intercepting shipping from and to English ports. This became a reisky business, forcing the British to devise a brand new category of gunboats to patrol the channel. Slow, but with long range and bristling with guns, their main task was to intercept and destroy E-Boats. In May 1940 already at Dunkirk, E-Boats were roaming the channel, preying on troopships.

The Dunkirk evacuation (May-June 1940)

The press started mentioning S-Boote at the end of May 1940, during the nine-day evacuation of the BEF and some French troops from Dunkirk and other coastal cities. They just republished German radio announcements; Like in May 22, 1940 when a British auxiliary cruiser was sunk in the English Channel or in May 26, in Ostend, when it was a Bitish destroyer and off Gelder, a submarine.
In June, these were the destroyers HMS Basilix, Keith and Havant and in all 24 vessels were lost, less than E-Boats than from mines, U-Boats and the Luftwaffe. The British established three routes across the English Channel to be defended: The central, western and eastern roads. On May 28, British and French ships used the eastern route down to the Quintwisle buoy, one hour from Ostend, from where German torpedo boats operated. On May 29 they sank HMS Wakeful with troops on board as she broke in half. HMS Grafton and the minesweeper Lidd picked up survivors, later joined by the drifter Nautilus and pilot ship Comfort, but Grafton was torpedoed by another S-Boote, unnoticed.

HMS Comfort and Nautilus moved away and panic led to friendly fire which added to casualties. HMS Comfort was also torpedoed. The English historian D. Devine analysed and compared document records of opposing forced in Dunkirk, and found the British lost in reality 226 out of 693 ships including 6 destroyers, 5 minesweepers and around 200 small ships and about the same number more or less seriously damaged. Three German torpedo boats flotilla took part in the operations by late June, but it only started from 21 May, when two flotillas were transferred from Norway, operating on the southern part of the North Sea. This was not a spectacular single battle at open sea, and the press seldom mentioned it. The operation cost far more than the press was relating, not to cripple the nation’s morale. Many mines were laid by the German aviation, which recorded most of the kills.

S-Boote Flotillas

After the Dunkirk evacuation and from other French cities along the coast, several flotillas were based, but they also soldiered on in Norway. Here are these records.
– 1st flotilla Baltic 1939, Polish campaign, Operation Weserubung, transferred to the West, Baltic summer 1941, Finland. 1942-44 Black Sea (Romania), 1944 Baltic.
-2nd flotilla: North Sea 1939 (S-10-S-17), Operation Weserubung, Ostend, to operate in the English Channel. Summer 1941, Baltic, Finland. 1942-45 English Channel. They were supplied by the requisitioned ex-Chinese tender and floating base KMS Tanga.
-4th flotilla: Created 1.10.1940, North Sea, English Channel. 1944: Belgian Canal Zone, HQ Rotterdam.
-5th flotilla: Created 07/15/1941 Finland. 1941-44 English Channel, 1944 Helsinki & Reval. In 1944–45 Swinemunde, Baltic, and English Channel.
-6th Flotilla: Created 1.3.1941 station “Nordsee”. English Channel, 1942 Norway, and back. 1944 Finnish waters, and back.
-8th flotilla Created 11/01/1941 Norway, Kola Bay area, Murmansk convoys. disbanded 1942, recreated, Norwegian coast. 1943 North Sea/English Channel, 1945 Baltic.
-9th flotilla: Created 1.4.1943 North Sea, English Channel.
-10th flotilla: Created March 1944, North Sea/English Channel.
-11th flotilla: Created 5/20/1943 Feodosia (Crimea) with Italian ASW VAS Boats. 1943 Romanian Navy. Re-established May 1944 Sassnitz, June 1944 English Channel.
-21st flotilla: Created Sept. 1943 in Eckernfjord, srved in Norway.

When the RCAN (Royal Canadian Navy) joined the fray in 1942, they were given a wealth of motor gunboats (MGBs), motor torpedo boats (MTBs), motor launches in addition to their frigates and destroyers to patrol the north sea and channel, down to the Bay of Biscaye, frequently encountering S-Boats and R-Boats along the way. These small clashes never received much publicity. Operations went on until preparations for operation Overlord, and a large scale landing exercise Operation Tiger in April-May happened to be a disaster, with friendly fire and a battle opposing an US amphibious group and E-Boats:

The Battle of Lyme Bay (28 April 1944)

Battle of Lyme Bay 28 April 1944
The Battle of Lyme Bay, 28 April 1944 src: Mark Beerdom via pinterest

The battle happened off Portland, Lyme Bay in the English Channel and an US Convoy went apparently off-course, comprising 8 LSTs protected by a Corvette. The battle resulted in the loss of two LSTs while two other were badly damaged, 749 killed and more than 200 wounded, for no loss on the German side, which deployed a whole squadron of nine Schnellboote. Convoy T-4 was carrying vehicles and precious staff and personal from the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. It was spotted in Lyme Bay by nine German E-boats which left Cherbourg shortly after midnight and evaded successfully the barrage of patrolling British MTBs. Around 0130 hrs the first six E-boats of 5th S-Boot Flottille (Korvettenkapitän Bernd Klug) spotted eight dark ships, and deployed into three pairs to torpedo attack, Rotte 3 (S-136 & S-138), Rotte 2 (S-140 & S-142), and Rotte 1 (S-100 & S-143).

Three more E-boats from S-Boot Flottille Götz Freiherr von Mirbach (S-130, S-145 & S-150), later spotted red flares and joined in at full speed. S-100 collided with S-143 and were damaged enough to leave under over of smoke while S-145 attacked the convoy at short range with gunfire. The attack ceased around 0330 hrs and the corvette HMS Azalea was at the end of the straight line and missed the battle. HMS Scimitar also missed the batle due to repairs, and it went missing in communication because of different standards. HMS Saladin was dispatched but never arrived in time. It could have change the outcome. The Corvette had a single gun and was mostly fitted with ASW grenades. LST-289 basically was set on fire but survived, LST-507 torpedoed and sunk, as LST-531 and LST-511damaged by friendly fire from LST-496.

E-Boat award One month later on June 6, E-boats of the 9th flotilla left Cherbourg harbour at 5 a.m. on 6 June 1944, spotted the entire invasion fleet and closed in, moving in pair to divert attention and counter fire, laying smoke to cover their approach, and fired their torpedoes at maximum range. They quickly retreated and returned to Cherbourg, not achieving a single kill.
These numerous clashes were celebrated at home, less than U-Boat exploits, they never were that popular. Crew members could earn the “Schnellbootkriegsabzeichen” a badge depicting an E-boat passing through a wreath as a dedicated award. The criteria were good conduct and distinction in action, plus participating in twelve enemy actions. It could be also awarded under special circumstances or upon proofs of the utmost gallantry. In all until the end of the war, E-boat crewmen were awarded 23 Knight’s Cross and 112 Gold Cross.

Clashes in the Mediterranean

Some Schnellboote were transferred in small numbers to the Mediterranean, by land and river. There was always the possibility to sail along the French and Spanish coast down to Gibraltar, but crossing it afterwards would havve been a suicide and there was no way to cross spain via canals or river west to east. Two operational units were created, the 3rd flotilla (3.schnellbootflottille), which was created on 15.5.1940 first fot the coast of the Netherlands and Belgium. It was transferred to Vindava in Eastern Baltic in 1941 and by the fall of the year, to the Mediterranean Sea. In 1943 it was part of the 1st division of torpedo boats. Also the 7th flotilla created on 10/01/1941 in Swinemunde and trained until April 1942 were under command of the 5th flotilla, stationed in the Baltic. By November 1942 they went along European rivers down to the Mediterranean Sea.

Clashes in the Black sea

Some Schnellboote were based in the Black Sea. Ordered by the OKW, these were the six E-boats of the 1st S-flotilla, released from action in the Baltic and refitted. They operated from the Romanian port of Constanța. It was quite a logistical feat to transport them: Superstructure and all weapons were removed and carried by train, and the hulls arrived at Ingolstadt, and were transferred to water, reaching Linz. There, they were reunited with their superstructures and equipment and proceeded down the Danube to Galați, to receive their main engines and interio fittings. Complete, they headed by themselves for Constanța, and then supplied with ammunition and the last equipments, in 24-26 May 1942. S-27 was lost in operation after a malfunctioning torpedo, and later four more boats to be kept in reserve were setn the same way, S-47, S-49, S-51, and S-52. S-28, S-72 and S-102 were in heavy maintenance, leaving the S-26 and S-49 in operatio but by January 1944, the 1st S-flotilla had an operational strenght of six boats. S-28, S-40, S-45 and S-51 decommission for long maintenance work. Three more S-boats arrived and on 1 June 1944, the stranght was 8 boats (S-28, S-40, S-47, S-49, S-72, S-131, S-148 and S-149) but not sorties often due to fuel shortages. Four were later transferred to Sulina (Danube mouth). On 19 August, three were destroyed by a Soviet air attack. S-148 was lost to a mine off Sulina and later S-42, S-52 and S-131 in turn were destroyed by Soviet air attack. For all this time, they disrupted the traffic, attacking merchant convoys.

Operation Jungle: NATO’s Spec-ops S-Boats

At the end of the war about 34 E-boats were surrendered to the British and three of them, P5230 (ex S-130), P5208 (S-208), P5212 (S-212) were intensively tested. The Gehlen Organization was an intelligence agency created by the US occupation forces in Germany, manned by former Fremde Heere Ost (Foreign Armies East). They used these three Royal Navy’s E-boats to infiltrate the Baltic states and Poland. The idea came from RN Commander Anthony Courtney, the operation planned and carried out by John Harvey-Jones (Naval Intelligence Division). P5230 was modified to reduce its weight and has two extra cruiser, silent Napier Deltic engines (2,500 hp each). Operation Jungle also tried to preventing Soviet navy vessels from interfering with German fishing boats and destroy stray mines. They were based in Kiel and they landed Lithuanian agents in 1949 up to 1955 replaced by three new Bundesmarine motorboats.
The Royal Danish Navy bought twelve former S-Boote after the war, augmented in 1951 by six more formerly in the Royal Norwegian Navy. P568 Viben, the last active, was retired in 1965.


Yugoslavian Orjen class

Outside Germany, Yugoslavia was the first country to use the S-Boat. Indeed, the Orjen class were built in Germany by Lürssen, based on the S2 class in 1936. They had a 7kts cruiser speed thanks to a single 100hp Maybach engine which propelled a central shaft. Numbered at first 1-8, they became the Orjen, Dumitor, Suvobor, Kalmakclalan, Velebit, Dinaira, Rudnik, and Triglav. On 16 april 1941 Durmitor and Kajmakcalan successfully escaped to allied-occupied Crete, and later sailed to Alexandria. They went back in service with the new Yugoslavian Navy as TC5 and TC6, discarded 1962-1963. The others were captured and reused by the Regia Marina (MAS3D-8D and MS41-46 by 1942). Two scuttled September 1943, other captured, used by the Kriegsmarine and scuttled in 1944.

Italian MS boats:

The limited seaworthiness of MAS boats used at the start of World War II led the Regia Marina to order vessels similar to German E-boats, the CRDA 60 t type, “MS” (Motosilurante). The prototype was derived from one of the earlier E-boats from the Yugoslav Navy, captured in 1941. In all, 36 MS-Boats were built, in two batches of 18 (Type 1 and 2) by CRDA in Montfalcone. They both had two 21-in TTs, two 20 mm Breda guns and LMGs, but the Type 2 in addition had two 18-in TTs two more Breda 20 mm guns, and all possessed Depth charge racks. Later, the Italians devised a derivative called VAS boats specifically tailored for ASW warfare, circa 60 boats. MS-boats scored the biggest kill fo this kind of boats of the war, sinking the cruiser HMS Manchester in August 1942. They stayed in service during the early cold war as well, some until the 1970s.

Spanish Schellboats (motolancha)

S-Bootes also saw service with the Spanish Navy as Franco was awarded six E-boats during the Spanish Civil War, and six more during WW2 plus six more built in Spain with Lürssen assistance. They were not numbered but named. “Falange” allegedly laid two mines off Almería crippling the British destroyer HMS Hunter on 13 May 1937. They served until the 1960s-70s for some.

Romanian S-Boats:

Germany sold four E-boats to Romania on 14 August 1944, 65 tons boats capable of 30 knots thanks to their three Mercedes diesels totalling 2,850 hp. They were peculiar as having smaller, 500 mm (19.7 inch) torpedo tubes. These were the former S-151, S-152, S-153 and S-154, renamed and active in the black sea in the Romanian Navy until 1954.

Chinese S-Boats:

The Chinese Nationalist Navy operated three S-7 class boats during the Second Sino-Japanese War: Yue-22, 253 and 371. The first was destroyed by Japanese aviation, Yue-371 scuttled to avoid capture and Yue-253 captured by the PLAN in 1949 during the civil war. It was renamed HOIKING and was used as a patrol boat until 1963. The Chinese Nationalist government ordered also eight S-30 class boats and a tender (Qi Jiguang) to Germany but they were requisitioned in September 1939, the tender being renamed KMS Tanga.

extra photos:

Nomenclature of S-Bootes

Lürssen S 1 (1930)

S1 boat
While the Reichsmarine was renamed in March 1935 the Kriegsmarine the S 1 entered service, later integrated into the 1st Schnellboothalbflotille. It was supported by the escort ship “Tsingtau”. Built in 1930 at Lürssen Vegesack, S1 derived from a long lineage started by Kaptain Lohman and his Seetransportabteilung. In 1923-26 already, former Imperial LM20-23, 27, 28 were modified and in 1926, Abeking & R. delivered the “K”, a 40 knots copy of the British Thornycroft 55ft CMB. Lürssen “Lür” followed at the same time, pitted against a third competitor, Narwhal from Caspar Werft Travemünde. These three boats were renamed UZ-11 to 18, officially sub-chasers. But Lürseen collaboration with K-Amt wich alreayd signed the yacht Oheka II. In 1930, UZ-16 (ex-Lür) became W1 and in 1932, S1. The boat mostly was used for trials and was operational in the 1st flotilla until 1938, when it was sold to Franco’s Spain.

Tech profile of S1. The S2 serie was about one meter longer.

Displacement: 39t, 50t FL
Dimensions: 26.80 x 4.20 x 1.06m
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz petrol, 2,700 hp. 34.2 knots.
Armament: 2x 500 mm TTs, 1x 20 mm gun.
Crew: 18

Lürssen S 2 group (1932)

S4 bearing the Reichsmarine flag, after commission. Slightly longer hull but essentially similar to the S1, they had the same engine arrangement but with upgraded petrol engines for a better output but apparently a slight loss in speed (33.8 versus 34.2 knots). Armament was also the same. In 1938 these four boats were sent to Franco and were no longer in the inventory in 1939.

Displacement: 46t, 58t FL
Dimensions: 27.95 x 4.20 x 1.06m
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz petrol, 3,300 hp. 33.8 knots.
Armament: 2x 500 mm TTs, 1x 20 mm gun.
Crew: 18

Lürssen S 6 group (1933)

The first series of 4 units, S6 to 9, S10 to 13, S14 to 17, and the eight of the group of S18 were in service in 1939. They went from 32.40 to 34.62 meters and from 80 to 92 tons empty. They were capable of 35 to 37 knots. The S6 group adopted MAN diesels for the fist time, which benefited to range, but they proved unreliable. Output was better, but due to much increased dimensions and almot sdouble displacement, top speed was limited to 35 knots. Upgrade in armament as they now carried larger standard 53 cm torpedoes and were large anough to carry two spare torpedoes. Reloads operations were complicated at sea. The crew was slightly larger to 21, which stayed standard until the S701 of 1944.

With the “S 6”, the Reichsmarine received its first diesel boats. Their three MAN L-7 four-stroke diesels delivered 960/1320 hp each. With 36 t their first speed trial showed only a top speed of 32 knots. S7 and 9 were commissioned in 1934 and 1935. The risk of explosion was reduced and low fuel consumption also reduced operating costs. These were given a foredeck with kinked ribs in order to improve seaworthiness.
In September 1934, Captain Günther Schubert took command of the second semi-flotilla and all the S-1 to S-8 boats were combined in 1935 as the 1st Schnellbootshalbflotille conducted by the escort ship “Tsingtau” in service by September 24, 1934.

S6 Specifications
Displacement: 78t, 92t FL
Dimensions: 32.40 x 4.90 x 1.21m
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz diesels, 6000 hp. and 39.5 knots max.
Armament: 2x 533 mm TTs (2 in reserve), 1x 20 mm gun.
Crew: 21

Lürssen S 10 group (1934)

No big changes in this serie, slightly lighter becayuse equipped with more compact and more reliable Daimler Benz engines, which procured the same output, also for 35 knots. The rest of the specs were identical.

Same but displacement: 78t, 95t FL
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz diesel, 3,390 hp. 35 knots.

Lürssen S 14 group (1936)

Since the top speed of the S 10 group did not meet the military requirements, Lürssen for the next S 14 commissioned in 1935 adopted larger MAN four-stroke diesel engines L 11. This required a larger hull and greater displacement, but the prize was a sustained 37 knots but burst of 39.8 knots. The rest was basically a repeat of previous boats.

Displacement: 92t, 114t FL
Dimensions: 34.62 x 5.10 x 1.44 m
Propulsion: 3 MAN diesel, 6,150 hp, 37.5 knots.

Lürssen S 18 group (1938)

Basically a repeat of the S14 group with minor modifications, and faster. S18-25 entered service in 1939.
Displacement: 92t, 115t FL
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz diesel, 6,000 hp. and 39.5 knots max.

Lürssen S 26 group (1940)

The four of the S26 group dating back to 1940 prefigured the large wartime series. These were the first with torpedo tubes cast into the hull. There were also 16 additional type “export”, close in characteristics of the S10 group. (S30-37, 54-61). All were completed in 1940-41. They were capable of 36 knots. Their hull was a tad longer at 34.92 m and deeper at 1.52 m.
This increased the reserve buoyancy, protected exhausts from the weather, and the command post was moved back to the front of the bridge. On August 1st, 1938 2.SFltl was deployed in exercises, assisted by the escort ship “Tanga”. Two flotillas were subordinate to the TB leader (FdT).

Lürssen S 30 group (1939-41)

S30 group
Basically export models, slightly smaller, lighter, but also less powerful and fast than the S 26 group. Same armament. When the war broke out, eight boats of this group were under construction for export customers and requistioned, renamed S 30 – S 37, deployed until the summer of 1940.

Displacement: 81-82t, 100-102t FL
Dimensions: 32.76 x 4.90 x 1.21 m
Propulsion: 3 DB diesel, 3,960 hp, 36 knots.
Crew: 16

Lürssen/Schlichting S 38 group (1939-43)

S38 group IWW
S38 group – IWW

S-bootes of the S38 group derived directly from S26. This became the “standard” wartime type, valid until the end of the war, with weapons additions in later developments. This S38 group consisted of 90 units, the latter entering service in 1943. Some were built in Schlichting, Travemünde, and from S 67 they received a new armored bridge, reshaped in a “tank turret” style adopted by the S 100. AA additions ranged from 3 x 20 mm and a 40 bofors/37 mm FLAK to two twin 20 mm, a Bofors and a 37 mm. They were also capable of carrying mines and depht charges. Between November 1940 and September 1941 S 38 to S 53 were kept in port for trials and training, with three MB 501 diesels. They also had a brand new 2 cm Flak embedded in the forecastle, served by a ring mount. Reinforced, it was later able to carry a twin mount.

Specifications S38
Dimensions: 34.94 x 5.10 x 1.52m
Variable armament, rest as S 26.

Lürssen S 100 group (1943-45)

E-Boat S100

The S100 group of 1943 included 86 units, equipped with new more powerful Mercedes Benz diesels. It allowed them to be much faster. For the first of the series, these engines gave 7,500 hp for 42 knots and the rest of the order 9,000 hp for 45 knots. They were fitted with a 40 mm AA Bofors gun instead of a 20 mm gun. The series stopped at S 500 but in reality after 347 units ordered. 261 were never completed or even never started, leaving 85 in active service.

Specifications as S38 but:
Displacement: 100/105/107 tons standard, 117 to 124 DP.
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz diesel, 7,500/9,000 hp, 42-45 knots.
Armament: 2x 533 mm TTs, 1x 40 mm, 1x 20 mm guns, see notes.

Lürssen S 701 group (1944-45)

Hannibal S Boote

S-Bootes of the 701 group of 1944 had four tubes loaded and ready to fire, bow tubes and additional two set obliquely on the aft deck. The group S701 of 1944 was destined to a larger and faster mass production to counter the long awaited allied landing operation. The Yard was repeatedly bombed by the RAF and under Albert Speer, construction was delegated to multiple units, built in tunnels, underground, old quarries and transported by train, by the Danziger Waggonfabrik. Of the planned 100 units (S701-S800), only 8 were ever completed, early in 1945. They were the first to have four torpedo tubes, and twin 30 mm FLAKs which proved troublesome and were replaced in completion by standard twin 20 and 40 mm guns.
Danziger Waggonfabrik commissioned the first boats based on the plans of the model 219. Their two stern torpedo tubes were firing astern, covered and hidden by canvas. No reloads therefore were necessary at sea. The planned armament of three twin 30 mm automatic cannons was quite ambitious but never ready in time, but would have procured the best firepower of any light boat of that time.

S701 group schematics
S701 group schematics – From Steve Wiper: German S-Boats

Displacement: 107t, 114t FL
Dimensions: 34.94 x 5.10 x 1.52m
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz diesel, 7,500 hp, 42 knots.
Armament: 2x 533 mm TTs, 1x 40 mm, 1x 20 mm guns, see notes.
Crew: 23

Midget S-Bootes: LS1 class (1942-45)

The Leichte Schnellboote (LS)


When the war broke out, mini-speedboats LS 1 and LS 2 had been designed to be carried and deployed by auxiliary merchant cruisers and German well-armed merchant raiders. Indeed some were carried in the first missions, but proved disappointing in operations. These light metal boat were developed by Dornier, an aicraft manufacturer, completed and brought first carried by the auxiliary cruiser “Komet” (HSK 7) and “Meteor”. The planned 45 cm torpedoes (airbone model) was not ready in time, so these boats carried three mines and could be used as a fast minelayers for port entrances. The built-in aircraft engines also caused problems. In the spring of 1940, four more boats were commissioned from Dornier. They had the new Daimler-Benz light diesel engines MB 507, which equipped LS 3 and LS 4. They also received a new mine release device, allowing to carry four mines. LS 3 was delivered on October 14, 1940, used onboard “Kormoran” (HSK 8). LS 4 at last received its intended two stern torpedo tubes and the newly developed propeller allowing to reach 42.5 knots. It served on the “Michel” (HSK 9). For the next batch, LS 5 and 6, only Junkers aircraft engines were available. Both were prepared under OKW instructions as ASW vessels, with depht charges, and deployed in the Aegean Sea. Howevr their associated vehicle MR 7 was relocated to the Black Sea and both LS boats were left unusued. The LS 7-LS 12 serie were given the MB 507 engine and carried torpedoes. LS 7 was delivered on October 8th, 1943 and the last, LS 12, on July 12th, 1944. LS 7-LS 11 were deployed in the Aegean Sea but LS 12 ended in Yugoslavia, used by the torpedo research institute, and became a Russian war prize.

Riverine S-Bootes: KS class “Hydra” (1945)

At the end of 1944, the Construction Office of the High Command of the Navy (OKM) made comparative tests of prototypes “Hydra”, “Kobra”, “Schlitten” and “Wal” anwsering to a navy spec for light coastal TBs. “Hydra” won the contest but still failed to meet requirements. It was longer than the required 10 m maximum to be carried on a standard truck trailer. It was powered by two Avia-Hispano-Suza Otto aircraft engines with an output of 650 HP each, without reversing gear. These boats also carrier two aviation torpedoes of the F5b type, 45.7 cm, launched by the stern, and a single an anti-aircraft machine gun for self defense. The design was shortened and eventually approved on December 4th, with a series of 50 boats ordered from various shipyards: Lürssen, Kröger, Danziger Waggonfabrik, Schlichting, and Vertens. A second order for 115 boats was made on 02/08/1945. But in May 1945 only 39 had been completed, organized under the Hydra special command (‘1st Hydroflotilla’). No Operational deployment registered. This unit comprised the KS-201, 202, 212, 213, 215, 219 and 220.


Picture, Fock “Schnellboote Bd. 2”

This class of small fast attack boats were designed as light coastal minelayers able to carry up to 4 mines, and operate close to enemy coastlines. Very small, less than 16 meters they were lightly armed and counted on their small size and speed to evade. 36 boats were ordered, plagued by unreliable engines, so theyr were used for riverine operations on the eastern front instead. 20 were equipped with torpedo tubes and some re-equipped as mine hunters. Most were captured or gave as war prize to the Soviets. In 1943/44 some KM boats used for coastal minelaying were converted as small speed boats. They were were built at six different shipyards and redesignated “KS” boats, assigned to the 22nd Schnellbootflotille deployed in the Adriatic, and then handed over to the small Croatian Navy in the autumn of 1944 and then taken back by the Kriegsmarine after the latter returned their jacket and started a partisan war.


Type 3, Type 4 and UTR-type fast attack crafts, unbuilt K-Verband projects (from pinterest)

Kleinstschnellboot Projekt:

A Project of a small fast attack boat, called “Typboot 3”. It was the result of the evolution of small attack craft designs by K-Verband in 1944/1945. These were intended for coastal areas after the invasion in Normandy, counting on its speed and small size. It was the base for further developments notably in the area of Hydrofoils. None was built.
Known specifications: Dimensions 14,2 m x 3,0 m x 1,2 m, armed with no less than five 2 cm autocannon and a single 1,3 cm AA Machine Gun, four 86 mm Rocket Launcher and two 45,7 cm Torpedo tubes, or in alternative ten Depth Charges. Propelled by a 3-shaft arrangement for aviation high octane petrol engines for 2100 hp total, 47 to 50 knots (est. trials)

Tragflügelboot Projekt:

A Project of a small hydrofoil attack boat, it was based on the previous design, but fitted with foils. Called Typboot 4, this design was the result of earlier studies to reach faster target approaches and disengagement. In addition to the foils there was a 400 hp power increase, for an additional 8 knots, so around 55-56 knots top speed. However at that stage, Germany had no operational experience for hydrofoils whatsoever. Specs were about the same as the Type 3, but it towered at 3 meters above the waves when up. Armament was reduced to four 20 cm autocannons in the nose, and five rocket launchers. None built.

Turbojet Tragflügelboot Projekt:

Another hydrofoil using a small turbojet, this was an incremental step to reach better speeds, and facilitates disengagement and approaches. The shaped hull have made wonder some authors of its possible stealthy qualities, in addition to a wood construction. Called Project 5B, this hydrofoil possessed the same tripod foil arrangement (two forward, one aft), and general specs were unchanged but the weight with the additon of two Jumo turbojets. Tests were already performed by K-Verband in 1944, with the “Tornado”, which underline several issues, notably its use by calm sea only and control problems. But the boost it procured was seen as a real advantage as with the addition of the two TBJ adding a total of 2900 kp top speed reached now 65 knots.

Submersible Tragflügelboot Projekt:

This was a small submersible hydrofoil attack boat, not unlike the Manta, which was even more radical. Another way to approach allied fleets, was to have a submerged MTB. It was a submersible hydrofoil, so capable of 55+ knots top speed when surfaced to attack, but also equipped with a Schnorchel and periscope. It could be used for stealthy approach and in shallow waters. It had dive tanks and rear torpedo tubes. Technical data is unavailable, but estimated comparable to other Wendel FACs.

Read More:
On alternate history

Schnellboote: A Complete Operational History by Lawrence Paterson
Bellars, Robert A. & Freivogel, Zvonimir (2010). “Question 24/46: German E-Boats Based in Sicily”. Warship International.
Dallies-Labourdette, Jean Philippe (June 2003). German S-boote at War, 1939–1945. Histoire and Collections.
Krakow, David (August 2013). Schnellboot in Action (2nd (Warships) ed.). Squadron/Signal Publications.
Krakow, David & Connelly, Garth (January 2003). Schnellboot in Action (Warships). Squadron/Signal Publications.
Williamson, Gordon; Palmer, Ian (September 18, 2002). German E-boats 1939–45. Osprey.
Macpherson, Ken. Ships Of Canada’s Naval Forces (Warships). Collins Publications.
Williamson, Gordon (2011). E-boat vs MTB: The English Channel 1941–45. Oxford ; Long Island City: Osprey.
Margaritis, Peter (2019). Countdown to D-Day: The German Perspective. Oxford, UK & PA, USA: Casemate.

The models’s corner:

Italeri made the S-38 and S-100
Italeri made the S-38 and S-100 at 1/35 scale


Stukas Of The Sea – German Speedboats In World War II

Mark Felton, the last E-Boat

German Patrol Boats of World War 2 (Deutsche PatrouillenSchiffe des zweiten WeltKriegs)

Bismarck class Battleships (1940)

Bismarck class Battleships

Germany (1940) KMS Bismarck, Tirpitz
Introduction: The most formidable battleship in the world, 1941.
The Bismarck is perhaps after the YAMATO, the most famous battleship class of WW2. However this status is certainly exaggerated in the light of its cost-effectiveness and battle records, as well as the encounter between axis propaganda and the scare associated it represented on the allied side. Churchill’s nightmare was that this “monster”could be on the loose in the Atlantic, decimating convoys at will. Everything was deployed in order to stop it, and stopped it was. Her sister-ship Tirpitz was completed later and lived longer, as the “solitary queen of the north”. The British tried to eliminate her by using all tricks in the book. She was indeed the wolf waiting to fall on the Murmansk convoys. The Bismarck class were also the forerunners of the mighty navy planned for 1950, in Z plan, and their iconic status as the largest battleships of Europe don’t hold modern scrutiny: They were perhaps the largest, but certainly not the best.

Battleship Bismarck
Bismarck prow seen in Hamburg harbour, 1940.

Design development

A serie of conceptual designs started under supervision of admiral Karl Zenker for the Reichsmarine the year 1932, to determine ideal characteristics of a battleship built to the 35,000 long tons (36,000 t) limit defined by the Washington Naval Treaty. Needless to say, this study was a prospective one, in case a new treaty after the ten years vacancy would be signed on behalf of Germany, which became indeed the Anglo-German naval treaty of 1935.
The probable adversary of the time was not the United kingdom, but France, and recently the Scharnhorst class answered the French Dunkerque class which “opened the ball” after the Washington treaty vacancy. These early studies determined that this future ship needed an armament on at least 33 cm (13 in) guns (like the Dunkerque) with a top speed of 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph), and sufficient armor protection compared to the Scharnhorst. At the time, the German Navy was still constrained by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles so to respect a maximum displacement of 10,000 long tons (10,000 t). A sketch design was produced by the Construction Office in 1933, while the final design was accepted in 1936.

Organization of the Kriegsmarine scheme
Organization of the Kriegsmarine scheme

Project’s head: Hermann Burckhardt

Admiral H. Burckhardt H. Burckhardt was the ministerial advisor in the Reichsmarine responsible for the project, also later managing the launching of KMS Tirpitz. The naval staff was confronted with a variety of issues on the strategic and operational level. Some was about the best propulsion system. War games were practiced by the German admiralty as well as in other navies of the time. They suggested that the new projected battleships were tailored to attack French shipping at long range, but also capable of close combat with smaller French and Polish units, the immediate threats. The French had a clear numerical advantage, so the German fleet was to be used at relatively close range in the North Sea and stability and armor protection were privileged. For the first point, it was important to adopt a very thick vertical belt heavy integral citadel armor plating plus extensive splinter protection, also in the bow and stern, most often absent from foreign designs.

Bismarck class - Click to purchase
The Bismarck and Tirpitz appareance: Click to Purchase and support naval encyclopedia !

In between the Reichsmarine learned in June 1934 that Italy started two 35,000-ton battleships, armed with 35 cm (14 in) guns. Knowing the state of rivaly with the Marine Nationale, it was obvious to trigger a response (which was the the Richelieu class). Therefore to keep pace Germany needed a similar size and armament knowing that it was preparing negotiations with Great Britain, securing a bilateral naval agreement abrogating the naval restrictions of the Versailles treaty. Germany was nonetheless to cap its fleet to a third of the Royal Navy in global tonnage, but now the path was freed to study two 35,000-ton battleships.

ONI recoignition drawing of the Bismarck
ONI recoignition drawing of the Bismarck

Early preliminary designs in 1934-35

The German naval design staff started work by late October 1934. The first reunion’s objective was to agreed upon the best requirements for armament armor and speed. In November 1935, a preliminary design was completed, showing a configuration with four twin turrets armed with 33 cm guns, and protected by an armored belt 350 mm (14 in) thick. Top speed was set to 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph). However the team admitted exceed that 35,000-ton limit was not to be respected, and alternative designs were proposed with the solution of a triple or, even quadruple turrets which allowed to concentrate armour and respect the limit.

But discussions within the board eventually agreed four twin turrets better distributed the main battery, notably maximizing the firepower forward and aft and arc of fire as well as simplify fire control. This arrangement immediately drawn comparisons with the Bayern class, in effect the last class of battleships built in Germany, during WW1. That similarity in the arrangement of the main battery also joined the three-shaft propulsion system. Design work went on into January 1935, now under direction of Generaladmiral Erich Raeder, the new and last commander of the Reichsmarine. Raeder discussed with all department and section’s head which helped him to make more precise design requirements.
The Naval Ordnance Department proposed for example to increase the gun caliber to 35 cm guns, just to reach the level of the Italian and (estimated caliber) for the French ships, and it was approved by 19 January.

By March 1935 the same Ordnance Department proposed the caliber of 38 cm (15 in), initially rejected because of the massive increase in displacement, but Raeder formally approved the 35 cm version on 1st April 1935, allowing an upgrade option depending on what was done in France and Italy. On 9 May, because of the preference of the Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Raeder approved the 38 cm caliber, knowing the new ship will not met tonnage limits.
Another aspect to be settled was the propulsion system, the rsult of discussion about strategic planning. Senior officers wanted the new class to be a raider in Atlantic Ocean, and required for that long range, therefore the design staff looked at diesel engines, in alternative to steam turbines, but also examined the possibility of using turbo-electric drive engines. The latter, tehnologically was more appealing, and documentation of its effectiveness was known from the use of the two American Lexington-class aircraft carriers, but also the brand new French passenger line, the S.S. Normandie. Increasing range range to reach the Atlantic, was also dictated by the lack of overseas bases, but this was later toned down by the use of numerous supply ships.

Signing the Anglo-German naval agreement, June 1935

This was an important step. Whe the German delegation met the British in London in June to discuss an “appeasement” naval, the staff was supposed to know their new projected battleships was already illegal. The treaty indeed only allowed Germany to swap from Versailles limitations to Washington limitations, therefore, still capped to 35,000 tonnes battleships, while her global capital ship tonnage was capped to 35% for the total Royal Navy, which was generous: UK indeed had ten dreadnoughts by the time, totalling 350,000 tonnes of battleships, not counting to the Hood and the two Repulse which were “battlecruisers” and already answered by the Scharnhorst class. These 35% translated into 122,500 tonnes, versus 175,000 for France, giving Germany at least a parity with its arch-rival in allotted tonnage. This tonnage in terms of standard battleships (35,000 tonnes) meant 3.5, but at least granted a provision for two “future battleships” with 38 cm guns and margins for lighter battlecruisers (the successors of the Scharnhorst class).

Shipbuilding planification

Propulsion changes

Admiral Raeder after these discussion ordered the new battleships would be using for the first time turbo-electric propulsion, and contracted the manufacturer Siemens-Schuckert, for this. This only that had some experience in this area. However the latter eventually could not meet the navy’s requirements after extensive studies and preparation work. Siemens-Schuckert declared its withdrawal from the project, just a month before construction. This was a blow to the technical staff, and it was decided in emergency to rearranged plans for classic high-pressure steam turbines, which there was plenty of expertise. This in fine also eliminated the use of diesels.

Kiel naval yard, aerial recon photo – SRC

Yard and canal limitations

The class eventually received a name, proposed by Hitler: Bismarck. The Prussian chancellor that basically funded the new unified German nation seemed obvious to all. The second ship was to honor the grand admiral of WWI. The construction however was hampered by another issue, just before construction began: The limited capabilities of existing infrastructure, namely in Kiel and Wilhelmshaven. The other one was the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal which could not have been deep enough. On 11 February 1937, the Construction Office (Schiffbaubüro, or SBB) informed Admiral Raeder that these limitations forced a maximal tonnage of only 42,000 long tons (43,000 t). The SBB also proposed to built a third vessel in this class so to ‘consume’ the 35,000-ton treaty limit to the full and gaining time.

Tonnage revisions 1935-37

Admiral Werner Fuchs by the time at the head of the General Command Office (Marinekommandoamt) of the Oberkommando der Marine (OKM) which headed the SBB, advised Raeder and Hitler of modifications needed to adjust the displacement to respect legal requirements as defined by the London Naval Treaty. Japan on its side eventually rejected to sign the new treaty. On 1st April 1937 an escalator clause now allowed treaty signatories to raised the limit to 45,000 long tons (46,000 t), and went into effect. Therefore the previous design revisions were abandoned as the new displacement of 41,400 long tons (42,100 t) allowed to design to be completed as defined by the agreed specifications in 1935.

Nevertheless, the role of the new battleships stayed the same and Raeder and the rest of the staff still wanted Bismarck and Tirpitz act as commerce raiders, chiefly against French shipping, and in case, British shipping in the Atlantic. But they also knew this mission was contracted by the Bismarck’s design, steam turbines bein excellent for top speed, but bad for cruising radius while decisions about armament and armor layout were all destined for a traditional naval battle, at relatively close range in the North Sea, a view close to the origin of the project and in line with the officers that served during WWI (most of them). The raiding option was however the only one valid at a time the Kriegsmarine was not realistically capable to engage the Royal Navy and could only wage an asymetric warfare with whatever was available. In the end this created a gap between the mission and the way the ships were designed, but it made sense later in the light of the Plan Z, as the first of the promised battleship force capable of taking on the Royal Navy head on if completed in 1950.

Bismarck's design schematics
Bismarck’s final design schematics,_1939)

Final design

As defined in 1937 in the final draft, the Bismarck-class battleships featured the following specifications:
-251 m (823 ft 6 in) long overall, 241.60 m (792 ft 8 in) waterline.
-36 m (118 ft 1 in) for the beam
-9.30 m (30 ft 6 in) draft as designed, 8.63 m (28 ft 4 in) standard, 9.90 m (32 ft 6 in) fully loaded.
Designed displacement: 45,950 metric tons (45,220 long tons)
Standard displacement: 41,700 t (41,000 long tons)
Fully loaded displacement: 50,300 t (49,500 long tons).
Due to the gap in construction, design revisons made the Tirpitz heavier at 42,900 t (42,200 long tons) standard for 52,600 t (51,800 long tons) fully laden.

General characteristics

US Navy recognition drawing about the Tirpitz
US Navy recognition drawing about the Tirpitz

Double bottom existed for about 83% of their hull’s length (22 watertight compartments) and they were assembled at 90% by welding. The armour was concentrated in the citadel in conformity of whwat was done at the time, with additional strays above the steering compartment, but the stern was weak, and this showed later in action, in particular for the Bismarck in the heavy seas of the North Atlantic and her only combat mission. Total building cost for KMS Bismarck was 196 million Reichsmarks, her sister ship a bit less as expected, at 191.6 million Reichsmarks. The design characteristics showed several good points:
-Great stability because of their wide beam, good for their artillery’s accuracy, especially at long range.
-They were Good seaboat, only with slight pitching and rolling seen in sea trials in the heavy seas of the North Atlantic.
-They were relatively agile, responsive to commands from the helm and rudder deflections close to just 5°, heeling only 3° hard over, but to the cost of 65% of their top speed.
Trials showed also however they handled poorly at low speeds and travelling astern, and needed tugs in confined waters. When commissioned, both battleships also had a degaussing coil fitted, as the danger of magnetic mines was recoignised. Also final equipments included four minesweeping paravanes placed on either side of the aft superstructure deck and used in conjunction with the bow protection gear.

Pics wow close bismarck/tirpitz details

The crew comprised in peacetime 103 officers and 1,962 enlisted men for the Bismarck, But in wartime it rose to 108 officers + 2,500 men by 1943 on the Tirpitz, acting as flagship. Equipments comprised two sets of cranes, seven searchlights for night combat, and a fleet of service boats consisting in three picket boats, four barges, one launch, two pinnaces, two cutters, two yawls, and two dinghies which were placed alongside the funnel and the mainmast aft, basically either side of the central catapult anc over the hangars. A striking element compare to many designs of the time was the relative “spread” of the main artillery along the hull rather than extreme concentration in the center. The hull’s profile was elliptical as seen from above to preserve for the underwater protection sufficient depht and the hull lines were greatly based on the Scharnhorst class and just widened and variations tested in basin. The clipper prow underwater design was straight, but with a slight bulge in width at the base, insignificant compared for example to the Yamato.

Differences bwteen the Bismarck and Tirpitz

Design revisions led to slightly different designs between the two sister-ship, but in a lesser extent than between the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.
-The funnel cap on Bismarck was silver-grey, black on Tirpitz.
-Cranes on Bismarck placed 3.5 m (11 ft) further outboard and 3 m (9.8 ft) further aft, Tirpitz superstructure deck.
-Two starboard and port 10.5 cm (4.1 in) flak guns were mounted 5 m (16 ft) further inboard on Bismarck.
-Bismarck had a straight stem while Tirpitz had “an Atlantic bow” on completion.
-Bismarck had a single aircraft hangar either of the funnel, double hangar at the mainmast while Tirpitz had two double hangars abreast the mainmast base.

wow rendition of KMS Tirpitz

Tirpitz rendition by WoW

Design of the Bismarck class


Bismarck in drydock
Bismarck in drydock, showing the three-shaft arrangement

The Bismarck-class had three sets of geared turbine engines like the Baden class back in 1916 and more recently the Scharnhorst class. Their manufacturer was Blohm & Voss. Tirpitz however used British-built Brown Boveri turbines purchased before the war. Each set was driving a three-bladed propeller screw 4.70 m (15 ft 5 in) in diameter. Why choosing a three-shaft arrangement ? It saved weight.
This combination of high and medium-pressure turbines ran at different speed, 2,825 rpm for the HP, 2,390 rpm for the low pressure. Steam was provided by twelve Wagner ultra high-pressure, oil-burning water-tube boilers. An estimation made on the alternative electric-transmission turbines gave an approximate figure of 46,000 shp (34,000 kW) for each one, making it for a higher top speed, but at a much grater tonnage. The lighter geared turbines had slight power to ratio advantage and procured the advantage of a reliable and well known construction.

Top speed as contracted was 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph), on trials, this was surpassed slightly at 30.01 knots (55.58 km/h; 34.53 mph) for Bismarck, 30.8 knots (57.0 km/h; 35.4 mph) for Tirpitz. Tirpitz was heavier, despite being rated for 163,023 PS (160,793 shp; 119,903 kW), versus an output of 148,116 shp for Bismarck. They also differed by their fuel store capacity: Bismarck carried 3,200 tons of fuel oil as designed, pushed in wartime to 6,400 tons in standard, and with extra fuel bunkers filled, up to 7,400 tons. Tirpitz carried less, only 3,000 tons of fuel, but more in wartime fue to its additional bunkers, up to 7,780 tons. Range was 8,525 nautical miles (15,788 km) for Bismarck at 19 knots cruising speed and 8,870 nautical miles (16,430 km) for Tirpitz.

However this arrangement also caused issues with the design. As noted by Robert Ballard that discovered and surveyed the wreck of Bismarck, the center shaft weakened the keel at the point it emerged from the hull while the four shaft arrangement would have procured greater hull strength, allowing to steer with propeller revolutions. When Bismarck’s rudder was jammed in May 1941 by a torpedo hit, she was caught in course which could not have been be corrected by using alternated screw revolutions as foreign battleships. This problem was known already at the time of sea trials, but it was too late to do anything.
Electric power was distributed by many generators, the most important being two electric plants, made of of four 500 kW diesel generators, plus two electric plants each, which provided a total 7,910 kW at 220 volts, plus five 690 kW turbo-generators (2600 kw), one 460 kW generator connected to a 400 kVA AC and another 550 kVA AC diesel generator for distribution. These were manufactured by Garbe, Lahmeyer & Co.


Main battery

Turret “Anton” on the Bismarck in completion.

KMS Bismarck and Tirpitz main battery was made of four turrets, A and B fore and C and D aft, named Anton, Bruno, Cesar, and Dora respectively. These were all of carrying a 38 cm (15 in) SK C/34 gun in deck level and superfiring pairs. These turrets were tailor-made around the independent gun mounts. Here are the specifics:
Development of the 38 cm (14.96″) SK C/34:
It was not the first time the German Navy developed such caliber guns. The first time was for the Baden and their successors.
Amazingly, during some time, it was more important to deliver more Linienschiffe than to take the time of researching a new generation of gun, which took years. So in 1914-18, German Battleships jumped directly from the 12-in to the 15-in caliber without intermediaries. The Baden incarbated such leapfrog in artillery for the Kaiserliches Marine.
The new generation 38 cm guns created for Bismarck class battleships, as often referred as 47 calibers long whereas they were 51.66 calibers as some auuthors of the time thought they carried the same 38 cm L/45 guns of the Bayern class. These were a completely new design with only their caliber as common.
Design development started in 1934, and they entered service in 1939.
The use of four twin turrets in symmetrical configuration, again, like the Baden class, was a design practice which emerged during WW1. This was a peculiar choice as most capital ships, if not all designed in the interwar choose to respect treaties by grouping their guns in triple or quadruple turrets in order to save protection weight. This made for a shorter armored citadel and magazine length, plus more compact vessel overall. At some point triple turrets were considered for the Bismarck class, bu the idea was dropped because of three reasons:
-Lowering the overall rate of fire in each turret
-The risk of a single well-aimed hit disabling more firepower at once.
On the contrary, four twin turrets allowed for a better field of fire and made a more effective use of successive salvo, also lowering the stresses on the hull which were spread more heavenly, not counting concerns about the displacement which was “freed” in order to cope with unsurmountable design dilemna. The Germans simply could use this configuration, by lying on the displacement.

skc-34 APC shells in a German ordnance manual SRC

Gun Specifications:
-Loose liner A tube, four rings 2/3 of the length from the breech
-Jacket shrunk over 2/3 ring layer
-Breech end-piece and block supporting piece
-Horizontal sliding breech block.
-Gun Weight, with breech: 244,713 lbs. (111,000 kg)
-Gun Length overall: 772.8 in. (19.630 m), 724.6 in. bore length
-Rifling Length: 629.2 in. (15.982 m), 90x 0.177 in deep x 0.306 in grooves
-Twist RH 1 inches 36 to 1 inch 30
-Chamber Volume: 19,467 in3 (319 dm3)
-Rate Of Fire: 2.3 to 3 rounds per minute
-APC L/4,4: 1,764 lbs. (800 kg)
-HE L/4,5 base fuze: 1,764 lbs. (800 kg)
-HE L/4,6 nose fuze 3a: 1,764 lbs. (800 kg)
-HE L/4,6 nose fuze AA 4a: about 1,740 lbs. (789 kg)
Bursting Charges:
-APC L/4,4: 41.4 lbs. (18.8 kg)
-HE L/4,5 base fuze: 71.9 lbs. (32.6 kg)
-HE L/4,6 nose fuze: 141.5 lbs. (64.2 kg)
-HE L/4,6 nose fuze AA: 141.5 lbs. (64.2 kg)

Fire characteristics:
-Elevation 30°
-Maximum range 36,520 m (39,940 yd).
-820 meters per second (2,690 ft/s) velocity on average.
-115–120 shells per gun, 940–960 shells stored in total.

These were Krupp-made wit the sliding wedge breech blocks requiring brass cartridge cases for the propellant charges. The turrets were electrically trained while elevation was hydraulic-powered. This elevation also could be controlled remotely. But they could only load at a 2.5° elevation. Tirpitz received time-fuzed shells in order to combat Allied bombing attacks. These guns became thus the largest FLAK guns ever used in combat !

Besides the Bismarck class, this gun was intended to rearm the Scharnhorst class as well. Gneisenau was too badly damaged in 1942 for transformation, and the spare turrets were reallocated to coastal artillery. Cap de la Hague, Paimpol (France), Oxsby (Denmark) had facilities built for them but never completed. The Soviet Union was interested and ordered sixteen of them for the battlecruisers Sevastopol and Kronstadt (Project 69), never delivered as the war broke out. One of these survived until today, at the Kristiansand Cannon Museum in Norway.

Secondary battery

One of Bismarcks 15 cm gun turrets
One of Bismarck’s 15 cm gun turrets

For ships’ secondary battery, designers were in familiar ground as it was chosen to use the same battery as for the Scharnhorst and Deutschland class. But repartition and management changed.
This battery of twelve 15 cm (5.9 in) SK C/28 guns were indeed mounted in six twin turrets, whereas they were only four on the Scharnhorst for lack of space and four more, but in single mount under shields. The Bismarck’s dual 15 cm gun turrets were the same as on the Scharnhorst class.
-Elevation 40°, depression −10°
-Rate of fire: 6 per minute.
-Ammunition: 45.3 kg (100 lb) shell
-Muzzle velocity: 875 m/s (2,871 ft/s).
-Range: 23,000 m (25,000 yd).
Tirpitz’s 15 cm guns were supplied with time-fused shells in 1943 to act also as “FLAK”.
Naval historians notably Antony Preston, criticized the choice of pure antiship guns while allied (and Italian) opted for dual-purpose guns. William Garzke and Robert Dulin also noted if dual, these would have considerably bolstered the anti-aircraft battery, at the expense of the defence against destroyer attack, but German naval expertsof the time estimated it was more important. Again, these battleships were intended for classic battles, not the way they were used.

FLAK (AA batteries)

FLAK 105 mm

Bismarck and Tirpitz received an anti-aircraft battery in three stages, like for the Scharnhorst, and with the same types:
-Sixteen 10.5 cm (4.1 in) C/33 65 guns: 8×2 mounts
-Sixteen 3.7 cm (1.5 in) C/30 guns: 8×2 mounts
-Twelve 2 cm (0.79 in) C/30 guns, individual mounts.

The 10.5 cm guns were mounted on the first superstructure deck but two amidships guns were moved forward on Tirpitz on completion to give them better fields of fire. These eight mounts were guided by four fire-control directors. Tow were installed aft of the conning tower, and a third positioned aft of the main mast. The fourth and last, behind turret ‘Caesar’. Tirpitz had its directors covered by light armoured protective domes to avoid shrapnel damage.

The 3.7 cm/83 guns mounts were placed in the superstructure and were hand-operated butautomatically stabilized in roll and pitch. A total of 32,000 rounds of ammunition wre stored for the, a fraction of which were ready round in close by ammunition stores.

The 2 cm guns were twelve, all in single mounts, but this was augmented on Bismarck and, moreover on Tirpitz, notably by swapping on Flakvierling quad mounts, protected by better shields. In total, they were provided with 24,000 rounds in total. Bismarck received its first quadruple mountings in 1941, raising the total to twenty 2 cm guns. Tirpitz’s went to 78 guns in single and quadruple mountings in 1944 and up to 90,000 rounds in store.

Torpedo armament:
The intitial design eliminated them, but Tirpitz was fitted with two spare quadruple banks of of 53.3 cm (21.0 in) torpedo tubes at the end of 1941 or early 1942, placed on the sides, 24 torpedoes in store. They were placed on the deck, abreast the main mast aft, close to a 105 mm mount and the aft 150 mm twin turret.

Armor Protection

Armour scheme of the Bismarck class – credits

This is a controversial topic, because as we will see, the ships were not “impervious” to enemy fire. The whole armour scheme was copied over the Scharnhorst and improved, but not that far. Given the latter were almost considered battlecruisers, this tells volumes about the level of protection of the Bismarck class. The test for the “best treaty battleship” SRC: – The Bismarck class is indeed given the score of 146, pitted against the Iowa class (best in class), and behind the South Dakota (193) Richelieu (175), Yamato (170), and… the King Georges V (152). It is however better than the Vittorio Veneto (130). Indeed Bismarck’s armor figures were only slightly improved compared to the Scharnhorst, and with thicknesses still inferior of designs such as the King George V and Richelieu.

The armor plating in its majority was made in Krupp cemented steel, containing an assembly of 0.34% carbon, 3.78% nickel, 0.31% manganese, and 2.06% chrome. It was classified either Ww for soft, and “Wh” for hard. The armored deck was mounted low in the hull, reducing the internal volume protected by the citadel in contrast to allied designs featured a single armored deck high in the ship. The main citadel was designed so to resist a 380 mm (15.5 in) hit weighting 1,016kg fired in the “magic square” comprised between 10,793 meters and 21,031 metersup to 23,319 meters over the magazine. Safety valves of course were present to flood these, as well as safety anti-flash doors.

A comparison between contemporary armour schemes

-Armored belt: From 220 to 320 mm (8.7 to 12.6 in), thickest in central portion around the barbettes and in-between.
-Transverse bulkheads 220 mm thick.
-Upper deck 50 mm (2 in)
-Armored deck from 100 to 120 mm (3.9 to 4.7 in) amidships,
-Bow deck armor 60 mm (2.4 in)
-Tern deck armor 80 mm (3.1 in).
-Forward conning tower 350 mm (14 in) walls, 200 mm (7.9 in) roof
-Aft conning tower 150 mm walls, 50 mm roof.
-Fwd Range finder 200 mm sides, 100 mm roof.
-Aft range finder 100 mm sides, 50 mm roof.
-Main battery turrets faces 330 mm, sides 220 mm, rear 130 mm, roof 180 mm (7.1 in).
-15 cm Secondary battery turrets: 100 mm face, 40 mm sides, 35 mm (1.4 in) roofs
-10.5 cm shielding 20 mm (0.79 in), roof 40mm (1.6 in).
-Underwater main protection design to resist a 250kg TNT blast.
-Uw Armour depth 5.5 meters (216.5 in)
-Longitudinal bulkhead 53 mm (2.1 in) thick
-Bottom protection 1.7 meters (66.9 in) depht.

Construction of the Bismarck class

Wilhelmshaven: Launch of Tirpitz in 1942.

Bismarck being launched

KMS Bismarck was laid down at Blohm & Voss shipyard, 1st July 1936, assigned construction number 509 (contract name Ersatz Hannover), as a replacement for the pre-dreadnought of the same name. She was launched on 14 February 1939, so after three years of work, and a delighted Adolf Hitler was in attendance. This was also a grand ceremony and propaganda coup for the regime as the ship was flagged at the time the “largest battleship in the world”. Hitler and all the staff knew perfectly this class was way over all treaty limits. But war was just a few month away. The granddaughter of Otto von Bismarck christened the battleship for the occasion. At the time she was completed with a straight bow but the yard modified it to a clipper bow during the fitting-out. Tirpitz on her side was designed with the original clipper bow. Bismarck was commissioned on 24 August 1940 and Kapitän zur See Ernst Lindemann took first command. After trials in the Baltic Sea by December 1940 fitting-out work took place to iron-out all defects spotted during trials. Trials and tests went on after that also in the Baltic while the tcrew trained, all along in March and April 1941 and she finally was active in May, ready for her first -and last- operational sortie.

KMS Tirpitz on her side, was laid down at the Kriegsmarinewerft Wilhelmshaven, 20 October 1936, construction number 128 (Ersatz Schleswig-Holstein) as she was to replace the old schoolship pre-dreanought that opened fire on Poland in September 1939. Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz’s daughter Ilse von Hassel, was present for the launch and christened the Bismarck 1st April 1939, while fitting out went on until February 1941 and she was commissioned on 25 February 1942, so one year afterwards. All in all she was not only cheaper, but faster to built. Trials started in the Baltic and the North Sea and she went back for post-trials fixes. By that time, the situation had changed and was not so favourable for the kriegsmarine after many surface losses and U-Boats seemingly the focus of operations. Her career was far longer than er sister-ship, as Hiter did not wanted to throw her away like the Bismarck and she spent much of her career in Norwegian waters as the “solitary queen of the North”.

Links/Read More

Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.
Ballard, Robert (2007). Robert Ballard’s Bismarck. Edison: Chartwell Books.
Bercuson, David J. & Herwig, Holger H. (2003). The Destruction of the Bismarck. New York The Overlook Press.
Breyer, Siegfried (1973). Battleships and Battle Cruisers 1905–1970. New York Doubleday.
Breyer, Siegfried (1989). Battleship “Tirpitz”. West Chester: Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
Campbell, John (1985). Naval Weapons of World War Two. Naval Institute Press.
Garzke, William H. & Dulin, Robert O. (1985). Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II.
Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Vol. I: Major Surface Vessels.
Koop, Gerhard & Schmolke, Klaus-Peter (2014). Battleships Of The Bismarck Class.
Maiolo, Joseph (1998). The Royal Navy and Nazi Germany, 1933–39 A Study in Appeasement and the Origins of the Second World War.
Mulligan, Timothy P. (October 2005). “Ship-of-the-Line or Atlantic Raider? Battleship “Bismarck” between Design Limitations and Naval Strategy”.1013–1044. doi:10.1353/jmh.2005.0246. S2CID Preston, Anthony (2002). The World’s Worst Warships. London: Conway Maritime Press.
Sturton, Ian, ed. (1987). Conway’s All the World’s Battleships: 1906 to the Present. London: Conway Maritime Press.
von Müllenheim-Rechberg, Burkhard (1980). Battleship Bismarck, A Survivor’s Story. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Williamson, Gordon (2003). German Battleships 1939–45. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
Killing the Bismarck: Destroying the Pride of Hitler’s Fleet by Iain Ballantyne
Hunt the Bismarck: The Pursuit of Germany’s Most Famous Battleship by Angus Konstam
The Sinking of the Bismarck by William L. Shirer
Bismarck: The Final Days of Germany’s Greatest Battleship by Michael Tamelander and Niklas Zetterling
The Battleship Bismarck by Stefan Draminski
Die Entdeckung der Bismarck by Rick Archbold
Battleship Bismarck: A Design and Operational History by Robert O. Dulin, William H. Garzke, and William Jurens

The Bismarck on wikipedia
The Tirpitz on wikipedia
Visiting Bismarck, Explorers Revise Its Story
more sources on
Video: WoW Naval Legends
Discussion on the turrets colors

The model’s corner

The subject is perhaps the best liked model of all times for maritime ww2. It was covered by virtually all model manufacturers, and at all scales. In addition, some amazing scratch-built models has been built, sometimes at scales for radio-command large enough to allow a kid to fit in. A friend of mine made a 1/72 scale Bismarck, and my very first warhip kit ever, which basically drew my passion for ww2 model kits afterwards, was a 1/700 Matchbox kit (see above). It also showed me the limited precision and detail of grape pieces in thermoformed plastic. I learned a great deal from there. Between the price of these kits and their rarity i learned to scratch-built my own 1/700 scale ships, making about 200 of them of all eras, not only WW2. It was 20 years ago. To simplify the process, they were all waterline, made on a light cardboard of about 170 g/m2, 400 g/m2 for small pieces, Rhodoid, and molded plastic from all these grapes, or very thin paper (for boats). Hair-thin molded plastic made excellent wiring, guns and masts depending on the stretching, Rhodoid for windows, barriers, ladders, cranes…

-Academy 1/350
-Tamiya 1/350
-Revell 1/350
-Trumpeter 1/350
-Tamiya 1/700 WLS
-Airfix 1/600
-Matchbox 1/700
-Heller 1/400
-Meng 1/700

The Bismarck in 3D

Bismarck 3D

Bismarck specifications

Dimensions 248 x36 x10.6 m
Displacement 42,300t/52,600t FL
Crew 2600
Propulsion 3 screws, 3 Brown-Boveri turbines, 12 Wagner boilers, 138 000 cv
Speed 30 knots (55.58 km/h; 34.53 mph)
Range 8,870 nmi (16,430 km, 10,210 mi) 19 knots (35 km/h, 22 mph)
Armament 4×2 380 mm, 12×150 mm (6×2), 8×2 105mm, 8×2 37mm, 12 20mm AA, 4-6 hydroplanes.
Armor Belt 317mm, deck 50mm, torpedo bulkheads 44mm, turrets 362mm, blockhaus 356mm

KMS Tirpitz
The KMS Tirpitz in june 1944, in its “Norwegian livery”, author’s old illustration

KMS Bismarck in August 1940
KMS Bismarck in August 1940. Freshly Commissioned, she missed the four aft 105 mm FLAK turrets, some AA guns, and more crucially its telemeters and radars. The ship stayed in this guise until October.

Bismarck in the winter of 1940-41 in Hamburg
Bismarck in the winter of 1940-41 in Hamburg, she received her new distinctive new camouflage with dazzle stripes, false bow and stern waves and darkened ends called Tarnanstrich-Muster, applied from 18 May. She also carried dark grey (or red on other sources) turret tops, including the slopes.

Bismarck on 21 May 1941 in Norway, at the start of Unternehmen Rheinubung. She was repainted there, all her camouflaged painted over for a dark grey hull/light superstructures, but the bow wave (see below).

The Bismarck’s camouflage on 26 May 1941 as she steamed towards France. Her turret tops, main and secondaries, has been painted yellow for the Luftwaffe.

Tirpitz in July 1941, post trials fittings in Kiel, darkened hull, dark turret tops

Tirpitz in May 1942, transitional camouflage and painted canvas to blend in nearby hills, Norway

Tirpitz in June-July 1942, with a complex, provisional camouflage blending over the hills of Faettenfjord.

Tirpitz standard camouflage in July 1942

Tirpitz in July 1943. This was the straight stripes, high contrast, probably dark grey the battleship carried in Altafjor dand other locations until March 1944

Tirpitz after modifications to be used as a floating FLAK battery, November 1944

Tirpitz in Norway, October 1942

Tirpitz fitting out in November 1940 in Wilhelmshaven, painted to mimick a brick factory

kms Tirpitz in kafjord in 1943, colorized by irootoko JR
kms Tirpitz in kafjord in 1943, colorized by irootoko JR

KMS Tirpitz in 1942

World of Warships’s rendition of the Tirpitz


“Sink the Bismarck” (1960)

Documentary, James Cameron expedition in 2002

KMS Bismarck in action

Post-completion trials

KMS Bismarck (contract “F”) from Blohm & Voss shipyard (Hamburg) started her first sea trials in September 1940, just three weeks after commissioning in Kiel Bay. She was escorted to Arcona and Gotenhafen for prolongated trials in the Gulf of Danzig. Most of this was about fixing problems with the powerplant. She made the compulsory measured-mile and high speed runs, testing her stability and manoeuvrability. When steering while altering propeller revolutions, Bismarck showed it could not stay on course. The outboard screws at full power in opposite directions even barely were able to procure any turning ability. The main battery guns were also test-fired in late November, showing she was indeed, as predicted by engineers, a very stable gun platform. These sea trials lasted until December and she was back to Hamburg on 9 December for fixes and alterations, at the very end of the fitting-out routine.

KMS Bismarck as completed, colorized by Irootoko Jr. This was in late 1940 or January-February 1941. She was camouflaged from 18 May

March-April 1941: Endless Delays

She was due to return to Kiel on 24 January 1941, but was blocked by a merchant ship which sank into the Kiel Canal and later heavy weather further delayed the salvage operations. Bismarck could cross the canal by March 1941, a delay which greatly frustrated her captain, Lindemann, as these long delays hampered her first mission deployment. During her long inactivity, the battleship hosted Swedish Captain Anders Forshell, naval attaché to Berlin, which returned to Sweden and which description leaked to Great Britain. This was only a first glance description but lacked many classified information such as her true displacement, and top speed or her radius of action.

On 6 March 1941, KMS Bismarck proceeded to Kiel escorted by Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters and two armed merchant vessels preceded by a an icebreaker. At 08:45, 8 March, she ran aground on the southern shore in the Canal, but quickly freed by the tugs present. In Kiel, her crew was busy loading ammunition and fuel plus supplies for a first mission. She also received a coat of dazzle camouflage painting with bands, and her turrets roofs were also painted, in red. Kiel on 12 March was attacked by the RAF which knew the new battleship was here. Between the local, dense FLAK and bad visibility, the battleship was never hit. On 17 March, KMS Schlesien screened Bismarck as iceabreaker, through the thick ice to Gotenhafen. There, she resumed training and final preparations, waiting further orders.

Planification of a fleet in Being in the Atlantic

The Oberkommando der Marine (OKM), under leadership of Admiral Erich Raeder, had plans for their now, pricy and deadly toy of war. They would try to send her as a commerce raider in the Atlantic, against Allied merchant traffic. Previously, the two Scharnhorst-class made such mission with moderate success, called Operation Berlin, and were now anchored at Brest in the French Atlantic coast. While Tirpitz approached completion the long term project was to have both Bismarck and Tirpitz making a sortie in the Baltic and met the two Scharnhorst-class ships mid-way in the Atlantic. This would have made the msmost formidable battelship force Germany ever put at sea during WW2. The operation was initially scheduled for 25 April 1941, waiting for the new moon but completion of the Tirpitz dragged on, to the point she was not ready in May 1941 nor at the end of the year. Meawnhile Gneisenau was torpedoed in Brest and bombed in drydock, so in prolongated repairs.
Scharnhorst had powerplant problems after Operation Berlin and also needed work to be operational again, compounded by the fact replacing the boilers was not an easy task. To add insult to injury, the RAF multiplied air attacks over Kiel, destroying supply depots, and two other warships were delayed in their planning, Admiral Scheer and Admiral Hipper, also planned for the operation, and scheduled to be ready again in the summer.

Appearance in May 1941
Appearance in May 1941 (box cover, trumpeter kit). Needless to say, swatiskas were painted forward and aft (there, empty circles to avoid censorship)

At the time, the sortie planned for May was codenamed Operation Rheinübung (“Exercize Rhein”) and Flottenchef Admiral Günther Lütjens took its head and expressed his wish to delay the operation until either Scharnhorst or Tirpitz were ready. But delays amounted and eventually the OKM decided to proceed anyway, (perhaps under pressure of Hitler), mobilizing what was available, Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Raeder met the naval staff in Paris on 26 April and persuaded the Kriegsmarine flotte chief, Lütjens, to proceed, perhaps to take British intelligence on its back foot, at perhaps they were too, awaitng a more important fleet gathering.

Operation Rheinübung, Bismarck’s first and last sortie

The last voyage of Bismarck, by Drachinfels

On 5 May 1941, Hitler, accompanied by Wilhelm Keitel (German field marshal) and his “court” of officers, arrived in Gotenhafen to see the Bismarck, and nearby Tirpitz still completing. They made a comprehensive tour of the ships, and Hitler had a head to head with Lütjens, making the point on his mission. On 16 May, Lütjens reported both Bismarck and Prinz Eugen ready to depart, but was only ordered to proceed on the evening of 19 May. Eighteen supply ships already departed since a while ago in order to refuel both ships at pre-positioned points and in addition four U-boats were to reach their reconnaissance areas along the known convoy routes between Halifax and UK, providing intelligence.

Map of Operation Rheinubung initial deployment and actions at sea
Map of Operation Rheinubung initial deployment and actions at sea.

When she rolled up anchor and steamed up, Bismarck’s crew comprised a grand total of 2,221 officers and enlisted men, because it also included the admiral’s staff, 65 me, and a prize crew of 80 sailors which could man the transports captured along the way. At 02:00, 19 May, Bismarck left Gotenhafen, heading for the Skaggerak, the Denmark strait. She was joined at 11:25 by KMS Prinz Eugen, departed already a night before at 21:18 from Cape Arkona. They were not alone, but given an escort of the three destroyers Z10 (Hans Lody), Z16 (Friedrich Eckoldt) and Z23, plus minesweepers to open the way just in case. The Luftwaffe also was in the sky, providing cover over German waters. At noon, on 20 May, Captain Ernst Lindemann loudspeaked the crew of the mission. Shortly afterwards,a squadron of 10-12 Swedish aircraft flying reconnaissance planes crossed this German flottilla and reported it, and information passed to British Intelligence, causing a great deal of alarm.

The Prinz Eugen, which profile superficially looks like the Bismarck, and is very large for a cruiser, hence perhaps some confusion in early reports

The passage of Kattegat

Still early, the German flotilla crossed the Swedish cruiser HSwMS Gotland which shadowed them for two hours, all along the way in the Kattegat. The Swedish cruiser transmitted his report to the Swedish naval headquarters with these worlds: “Two large ships, three destroyers, five escort vessels, and 10–12 aircraft passed Marstrand, course 205°/20′.” The Kattegat crossing was not a concern for the OKM, nor Gotland, anthough at that point both Lütjens and Lindemann knew their secrecy had probably vanished as they feared -rightly so- leaks to British intelligence. The report indeed made its way in Captain Henry Denham’s hands, the British naval attaché to Sweden. Code-breakers at Bletchley Park confirmed the upcoming Atlantic raid based on previous informations, decrypting reports of the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen preparations, notably about the prize crews and navigational charts requests. Two Supermarine Spitfires soon took off to fly along the Norwegian coast, searching for both warhips.

Reconnaissance photos of the Bismarck in Norway

Stop in Norway

German aerial reconnaissance confirmed the British had one aircraft carrier and three battleships, plus cruisers at Scapa Flow, which reassured Lütjens about the secrecy of the operation. On 20 May in the evening, the flotilla reached the Norwegian coast as planned, and short of fuel, separated from their minesweepers, but the destroyers remained. During the morning hours, radio-interception on board Prinz Eugen catch a British reconnaissance aircraft message to look for them (to be more precise “two battleships) as the Swedes believed the Prinz Again was Bismarck’s sister ship), off the Norwegian coast. At 7:00 AM on 21 May, the Germans spotted four unidentified aircraft and after 12:00, they reached Bergen, laying anchor at Grimstadfjord to be repainted with their standard “outboard grey” livery used to operate in the Atlantic.

Bismarck and Prinz Eugen in the Denmark Strait

During the stay in Norway, two Bf 109 fighters stayed in flight as long as possible to procure a ready defense in case of an RAF attack. But despite of this, Michael Suckling managed to get through on his reconnaissance Spitfire and took a evealing photo of the German flotilla from 8,000 m (26,000 ft). Admiral John Tovey now fully informed ordered HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales escorted by six destroyers to join the cruisers already in patrol off the the Denmark Strait. The Home Fleet was on high alert and eighteen bombers were scrambled until the weather over the fjord made their find impossible, and they headed back for home.

Bismarck left the port 200 t (200 long tons) short of a full load as she already spent around 1,000 t (980 long tons) of fuel since Gotenhafen while Prinz Eugen resupplied 764 t (752 long tons) of fuel. In the evening, around 19:30, on 21 May, the flotilla left Bergen, heading for the North Atlantic. At midnight, Raeder was confirmed the mission by Hitler, reluctant at that time to the raid as he thought the forces were not enough. The three destroyers left at 04:14 the following day, 22 May, short of fuel, and the force was off Trondheim at mid-day when Lütjens ordered the break-out in the Atlantic.

The Prinz Eugen, colorized by Irootoko Jr

On 23 May, around 4:00 AM, Lütjens ordered to increase speed to 27 knots for the dash through the Denmark Strait, and both ships activated their FuMO radar. Bismarck was ahead of Prinz Eugen, separated by around 700 m (770 yd) and in mist, they could barely see farther than 3,000–4,000 m, crossing some ice along the way. By 10:00, speed decreased to 24 knots to avoid hitting ice and at mid-day, they were in the north of Iceland, zigzaging to avoid ice floes. At 19:22, both the onboard hydrophones and radars detected the HMS Suffolk at 12,500 m while Prinz Eugen intercepted and decrypted radio signals, learning they had been located. Soon, the British heavy cruiser was in range and after permission by Lütjens, started to engage HMS Suffolk delayed because there was no clear view of the target. This helped Suffolk to retreat to a safe distance, continuing to shadow the two German ships. At 20:30, HMS Norfolk, of the same class, joined the fray, but approached the Germans too closely, and she was engaged immediately: Bismarck fired five salvoes, three of which straddled Norfolk, raining shell splinters on her decks. To save her neck, Suffolk laid a smoke screen and fled into a fog bank, ending the brawl. However the concussion caused by the 38 cm when firing were enough to disable Bismarck’s delicate FuMO 23 radar set, prompting Lütjens to send Prinz Eugen ahead so she can provide radar cover and scout for the formation.

Bismarck firing on the Hood, seen from the Prinz Eugen

At around 22:00, Lütjens ordered Bismarck a 180-degree turn to head for the two heavy cruisers as she was obscured in the rain squall. But HMS Suffolk’s still can track her on radar and saw the manoeuvre, and evade in time. Both cruisers remained their course during the night and relayed the position and course of both German ships. At noon on 24 May, the sky was clear. At 05:07 the hydrophone operators of Prinz Eugen detected two large vessels approaching their position at 20 nmi (37 km; 23 mi) and reported “Noise of two fast-moving turbine ships at 280° relative bearing!”. These were Hood and Prince of Wales…

HMS Suffolk in May 1941
HMS Suffolk in May 1941

The Battle of the Denmark Strait (24 May)

At 05:45 on 24 May, the weather was clear, and German lookouts atop the bridge spotted smoke on the horizon. This came from the Hood and Prince of Wales under the command of Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland. But at that time, the ships could not be identified by the Germans. Nevertheless, Lütjens ordered battle stations. By 05:52, the range was now 26,000 m (28,000 yd) and both ships were identified, on both sides. However Hood opened fire first, followed by HMS Prince of Wales, just a minute later. Hood at first engaged Prinz Eugen, mistook for the Bismarck, and this was Prince of Wales that fired on Bismarck. It should be noted at this point, that the hood’s condition, fight, and demise, had been amply covered in the post dedicated to the Hood. For the Prince of Wales, this was another affair: She was fresh from early trials, and there were still many civilian workers working to fix multiple issues on board. Against their will, they were found hostages of this battleship, knowing full well what would be the consequences, but everybody was confident, even the POW’s inexperienced crew. This would play a role in the following events.

HMS Hood, colorized by Irootoko Jr.
HMS Hood, colorized by Irootoko Jr.

Adalbert Schneider, first gunnery officer aboard Bismarck, twice requested permission to return fire, but Lütjens was still muted, until Captain Lindemann intervened, and asked in turn permission to fire from Lütjens, granted at 05:55. Three minutes had passed until then. The British ships approached head on, using their forward guns and presenting a shot silhouette, while Bismarck and Prinz Eugen had their broadside turned at them. So this was sixteen guns, eight 38 and eight 20 cm, versus four 38 and six 35 cm (10 heavy calibers). Prinz Eugen was in range indeed and well played her part. Several minutes had passed when Holland ordered a 20° turn to port to pesent their own broadside. Both German ships now concentrated on Hood, probably assuming she was a bugger threat/prize or the weaker of the two. Prinz Eugen scored a hit with a 20.3 cm (8.0 in) HE shell on Hood, which detonated stored ammunition close to the aft mainmast and secondary artillery, out in the open. The large fire that started was however quickly extinguished. On Bismarck, three four-gun salvoes went on until Schneider found the correct range. He ordered rapid-fire salvoes from the eight guns as well as the 15 cm secondary guns to engage Prince of Wales, now in range too. Holland ordered a second 20° turn to port, to create a parallel course while Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to concentrate now on Prince of Wales. The latter was hit by two shells which started a small fire.

sinking of HMS Hood
The sinking of HMS Hood (painting)

At some point later, Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to drop speed and be stationed behind Bismarck, whe she can continue to monitor the Norfolk and Suffolk in case they were closing in. On paper, the Prinz Eugen had the same artillery, eight 20 cm guns, but she was much larger, had much better optics and range and was ten year more recent. She was quite a match for each of these.
The fight was now ranging at 10-12 nmi (19-22 km) the tow lines heading east. At 06:00, Hood made a second turn to port she was hit by Bismarck’s fifth salvo. Two AP shells fell short, but at least one struck Hood, penetrating her deck armour, and as the consensus goes on the matter, penetrated her rear ammunition magazine. There 112 t of cordite propellant were stored. There was no time to flood it, the hot metal of the shell and splinters were enough to ignite the whole stock, which detonated. The tremendous explosion broke the the ship in two, just forward of the main mast. The forward section still moved forward before the rushing ater at its back made it drop by the rear and rise rapidly into the air, reaching eventually a steep angle. The stern also rose the same way, separated by an enormous mushroom. The scene baffled everyone, even if this kind of events was awaited. Schneider shouted “He is sinking!” over the loudspeakers. The pride of the British navy was gone after eight minutes, taking with her 1,419 men. It was the worst disaster so far for the Royal Navy.

Bismarck shifted fire on Prince of Wales, the tables were turned. HMS Prince of Wales managed to score a hit on Bismarck with her sixth salvo, but Bismarck was spot on at her first salvo. One shell struck the bridge and exited the other side, killing everyone in the command centre but Captain John Leach. Both Prinz Eugen and Bismarck rained fire on upon Prince of Wales, making more damage until guns malfunctioned. With those still operational, HMS Prince of Wales scored three hits on Bismarck, striking the forecastle above the waterline, below the armoured belt blasting the torpedo bulkhead and flooding a turbo-generator room and partly the adjacent boiler room while the third passed through one boat and landed in the floatplane catapult but failed to detonate.

At 06:13, Captain Leach gave knew with his artillery partly disabled and command center out of action, he might better retreat than loose his brand new ship. Indeed at that point he only had five guns operational and had taken major damage. She made a 160°, laying a smoke screen to cover the manoeuver. The Germans ceased fire later, although Lindemann wanted to chase Prince of Wales and finish her off, he was marred by Lütjens which had strick engagement orders. This fight was not possible to avoid, but now the path was open again to resume their trip to the prepositioned refuelling point and repair. Bismarck fired by that time some 93 AP (armour-piercing) shells, hit by three in return, but sunk a battlecruiser and badly damaged a fast battleship. Not bad for her first encounter. Her damage ws limited to flooding, about 1,000 to 2,000 t through the forecastle, contaminating the fuel oil reserves of the bow. Lütjens refused to reduce speed to ease repairs, and meantime the shell hole widened with the force of the waves entering the ship above the armour deck. The second hit also caused flooding and splinters damaged a steam line in the turbo-generator room. This did not hampered much power on board however. The combined flooding had the hull listing 9-degree to port and 3-degree trim by the bow. Despite of this and the near-heavy weather, Bismarck could still run almost at max speed.

24 May: Start of the chase

After the engagement, Lütjens reported to Berlin “Battlecruiser, probably Hood, sunk. Another battleship, King George V or Renown, turned away damaged. Two heavy cruisers maintain contact.”. At 08:01 he transmitted his damage report and intentions to the OKM: He wanted to detach Prinz Eugen for commerce raiding while making it for Saint-Nazaire with the Bismarck for repairs. At around 10:00, ordered Prinz Eugen to fall behind Bismarck and examine the severity of Bismarck’s oil leakage. The latter conformed “broad streams of oil on both sides of her wake”. An hour later, the squadron was spotted and identified by a British Short Sunderland flying boat. The latter reported the oil slick also, to the still shadowing Suffolk and Norfolk now protecting the the Prince of Wales. Rear Admiral Frederic Wake-Walker commanded the two cruisers and ordered Prince of Wales to stay behind his ships.

PM Winston Churchill by that time was informed and voiced to Tovey his most famous order: “Sunk the Bismarck !“. He ordered all warships available in the area to join in the concentration sent against the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Tovey’s Home Fleet was already at sea by that point on the morning of 24 May, but he was still 350 nmi (650 km; 400 mi) away. Manchester, Birmingham, and Arethusa which previously were in escort, were detached to patrol the Denmark Strait in case Lütjens tried to get back home. Rodney, escorting until then the RMS Britannic on her way to be refitted at the Boston Navy Yard also was ordered by Tovey to join the fray at full speed. HMS Revenge, from Halifax, and Ramillies escorting Convoy HX 127 were also scrambled to take part in the chase. By that time it respresented six battleships and battlecruisers, two aircraft carriers, thirteen cruisers, twenty-one destroyers, all fully committed to find and sink the battleship. At around 17:00, Prince of Wales’s crew and workers managed to fix nine main guns, and therefore Rear admiral Wake-Walker allowed her to take the lead of his two cruisers and take part in a future attack Bismarck if needed.

24 May: New fight, the force splits

As the weather worsened, Lütjens wanted to uses the bad visibility to execute his new plan at 16:40 and detach Prinz Eugen. However both were still shadowed by Wake-Walker’s cruisers, maintaining radar contact. Prinz Eugen was recalled and detached again at 18:14, this time for good. Bismarck then turned towards Wake-Walker’s formation. Suffolk turned away at high speed but Prince of Wales closed in an fired twelve salvos. The second time during this engagement. These were answered by nine salvos from Bismarck. But due to the weather and poor visbility, non scoere any hit. The engagement allowed Prinz Eugen to slip away however. Bismarck then resumed her initial course while Wake-Walker’s placed themselves on their shadowing parralel course with Bismarck, on her port side. Bismarck at that point was still able to maintain 27-28 knots and unless she could be slowed, she would be able to reach safely Saint-Nazaire. There was nobody on her interception course yet indeed. So on 25 May around 16:00 Tovey detached the Carrier Victorious and four light cruisers in the best interception course to launch her torpedo bombers. At 22:00, Victorious the first wave took off, with six Fairey Fulmar fighters escorting nine Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers, 825 Naval Air Squadron (Lt Cdr Eugene Esmonde). Inexperienced they mistook HMS Norfolk in the mist and later the U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Modoc on their interception course, giving some early warning on their approach on Bismarck, and the anti-aircraft gunners were prepared.

Air attacks

A squadron of Swordfish approaching
A squaron of Swordfish approaching

When the Swordfish were spotted by Bismarck, the first top open fire were not the 105 mm FLAK but the secondary batteries, of 15 cm (6-in) firing at maximum depression in the war, in order to create massive splashes, right into the paths of incoming TBs. Amazingly enough, none of the attacking aircraft were shot down initially. This led to numerous rumors, including the fact German AA guns setup worked for modern places capable of at least 300 kph, whereas the Swordfish made 143 mph (230 kph, 124 kn). There was even a video about this, from Military History Visualized. According to a crossing of various sources this was a combination of factors:
1-The Fire control systems for the heavy FLAK (10.5 cm) were a tech in infancy at the time, and were easily saturated*
2-The pilots flew very low during their approach, basically to the point of almost dodging waves, FLAK guns could not be depressed enough
3-Time fuses defective or bad setup
4-Less precise observation in heavy weather
5-The use of outliers
6-Basic targeting issues for the guns themselves
7-Interwar classic training called for the use of sleeves as targets, not drones
*Too many parameters to combine and send in real time: The target speed and location, piching/rolling of the ship, and the wind.
It should be added that if no plane was downed, most were hit by splinters, but survived thanks to their rugged construction. It was even aknowledged by a British pilot present during the event,
the German FLAK was “extremely accurate, and followed them until seven miles from the target”. Swordfish 4C later landed with 175 holes in its tail, wings and fuselage. Several pilots were also wounded (Mark Horan).

Damage control work (24-25 May)

On the other hand Bismarck evaded eight torpedoes, but the ninth, the last one, struck amidships the main armoured belt. It made one dead and five injured, caused minor damage to electrical equipment, but the most serious concern were the hard over manoeuvres made to evade the torpedoes, notably loosened collision mats increasing flooding. In the end it was decided to devacuate port number 2 boiler room, a second boiler now lost, meaning, in addition to fuel losses and increased submersion, a drop to 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph). Later, past the attack, the ship slowed down to let divers repairing the collision mats in the bow,. The ship was able to proceed to 20 knots during which the pumps were hard at work on the bow. It was not the fastest, but most economical to reach France’s St Nazaire yard, the only dock in occupied western Europe to house the giant battleship.

Bismarck and Prince of Wales engaged for a thord time afterwards, exchanging shells, but again, neither scored any hit and soon damage control teams coild resume work but could only contained the damage. The pressure in the flooded number 2 port side boiler was such water was seeping in and threatening the turbo-generator feedwater system. Once saltwater reached the turbines, they would have badly eroded the turbine blades the the ship’s top speed would have plummeted again. Such was the pressure on the teams, which worked al night. On the 25 May in the morning, they had done the impossible. Bismarck had slow down to 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) for a second time in order divers to pump fuel out of the forward compartments, and to the rear tanks, using two hoses connected in turn. In all, they saved a few hundred tons of fuel, allowing more range.

25 May: The situation becomes tense for both sides

The chase opened an area frequently roamed by U-Boats and Wake-Walker’s squadron started a serie of zig-zag to avoid offering an easy target. This slowed them down a bit, but they still could maintain pace with the Bismarck, alternating turns port and starboard every ten minutes, staying on course. During one of these, Bismarck disappeared from Suffolk’s radar while around 03:00, Lütjens ordered maximum speed, at 28 knots to evade the British. He ordered a turn westward, then northwards. This manoeuvre combined with the radar blank allowed the battleship to effectively reached the objective of disappearing. In addition, he managed to circle back behind her pursuers, all by night. Suffolk’s captain assumed Bismarck veered westwards and steamed that way, but after half an hour, no contact was made, and Wake-Walker ordered the ships to disperse at daylight and try to spot these visually. The weather that day was better, visibility range too.

In the Royal Navy HQ underground bunker in London, the ambiance became frantic, as it was known Bismarck was now lost, and the chasing ship were low on fuel. Tile was running out, and again, the HQ ordered Victorious and cruisers westwards while Wake-Walker headed south and west, and Tovey to the mid-Atlantic. Force H, now was scrambled. The Mediterranean fleet, which can be rapidly in the gulf of Gascoigne, was ordered to depart Gibraltar. The force comprised the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and her escort. Meawnhile, not knowing the forces unleashed against him and that he successfully evaded, Lütjens contacted Berlin and the Naval Group West, Paris. Of course these signals were intercepted by the British and bearings determined. This corrected an error in Tovey’s plotting table, King George V jeading in the wrong direction for seven hours now. However, meanwhile, Bismarck was now out of reach of the British ships. She just could not be catch by anything afloat. Lütjens was confident he could make it to France on the 26.

Catalina I
RNAS Catalina Mark I from 209 Squadron, Lough Erne, May 1941. This plane located Bismarck on the morning of 26 May.

British code-breakers were able to after analysis of German signals, knew the Luftwaffe was called for help, and prepared to take off around Brest, while the French Resistance confirmed Luftwaffe units were redeployed in this sector. The idea was notably to send fighter intercepting possible Swordfish attacks on the way, at extreme range limit. Tovey tried to order all his naval assets to concentrate on the most probably path of the Bismarck, while at the same time, a squadron of Coastal Command PBY Catalinas took off from Northern Ireland and joined the search, trying to locate and conform the Bismarck heading. At 10:30 on 26 May, one of these Catalina, piloted by Ensign Leonard B. Smith (US Navy) located the battleship some 690 nmi (1,280 km; 790 mi) northwest of Brest. At that point, Bismarck was even close enough to reach the protection of U-boats, but now they were close to enter the Luftwaffe’s oprational range from France.

26 May: The last ditch air attack

Bismarck was close to safety now, and the Royal Navy only chance by that time was Sommerville ‘s Force H Ark Royal, while HMS Victorious, Prince of Wales, Suffolk and Repulse were now heading hom at slower speeds to spare fuel. Still in the chase were King George V and Rodney, still hours away. The pilots on Ark Royal knew the stakes when they took off with squadron of Swordfish and were already in the air, searching in complement to the Catalinas. They confirmed the location, some 60 nmi (110 km; 69 mi) away from HMS Ark Royal and Somerville had to wait for the Swordfish to return, and be armed with torpedoes fitted with new magnetic detonators. Bad weather was there again, and the squadron mistook the cruiser Sheffield and started to attack her. It went so far as torpedoes were launched, but fortunately their faulty magnetic detonators destroyed them when touching water. Adding much stress to the situation, now the Swordfish had to return to the Ark Royal and be rearmed with torpedoes fitted with contact detonators.

HMS Sheffield
HMS Sheffield

In this second attack, fifteen planes took off, at 19:10. It was 20:47, so with the night falling and heavy clouds, that the Swordfish started their last dicth attack. Wen this happened, Bismarck had located the shadowing Sheffield and was firing at her. The cruiser was hit by the second salvo and the shell fragments killed three and wounded many more, and she retreated under the cover of a smoke screen. Swordfish fel on the Bismarck, until then placed to present her broadside, and she started to turn violently to face the squadron, all anti-aircraft guns blazing. It was too late though, as a first torpedo hit amidships on the port side below the bottom edge of the main armour belt. The underwater protection absorbed most of the blast, and there was a minor flooding, but the second torpedo struck Bismarck in her port side stern, very close to the port rudder shaft and its coupling was badly damaged by the shockwave. As a result, it was now locked in a 12° port position. As the planes retired, Bimarck’s safety crews were busy fixing the new problem, and had success with the starboard rudder, but not the port rudder. A diver suggested to blast the port rudder with explosives but Lütjens was fearful it can also dislodged the shafts or damage the screws. At 21:15 he reported to Berlin his ship was now unmanoeuvrable. A severe blow, now a few hours, by night, to safety. Options were considered, but there were few, and the grim reality started to seep in the crew.

The Swordfish aircrews that torpedoed the Bismarck rewarded (HMs Ark Royal)

26-27 May: The Last battle of Bismarck

Now with her port rudder jammed the battleship was forced in a large circle, and Lütjens knew this put him in the path of Tovey’s forces, hard on his heels. The latter had now the King George V, Rodney, Dorsetshire and Norfolk converging on the Bismarck. Lütjens signalled at 21:40, on the 26, “Ship unmanoeuvrable. We will fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer.” The return messages were encouraging but still cannot hide the truth, and the crew started to depress, some bound to desperation. At that point, only FW-200 “Condor” could reach the Bismarck, but there was little they could do. During the night, Bismarck dtected the Sheffield again and fired on her, and the latter lost contact. Meanwhile Captain Philip Vian’s five destroyers squadron was ordered to shadow the Bismarck during the night’s hours. These were the HMS Cossack, Sikh, Maori and Zulu, and the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun.

They were spotted by Bismarck’s lookouts at around at 22:38, and fired upon with main battery. At the third salvo, ORP Piorun was hit (a Polish destroyer), but still closed the range to try to torpedo her, when a very close near miss at 12,000 m from Bismarck convinced the captain to break off, taking evasive manoeuvers, and join the pack. Vian’s destroyers did not stayed idle during the night, they constantly illuminating the battleship with star shells and firing dozens of torpedoes at long range, taking risks when closing, but made no hit. Around 06:00, Bismarck launched one Arado 196 floatplane loaded with the ship’s war diary footage of the fight with Hood and documents but the catapult has been damaged by the Prince of Wales several days sooner, and cold not work, so the plane was pushed overboard, as it was full of aviation gasoline; The men were given their last meal, with the best reserves, and some schnapps to try to lift them up.

HMS Rodney, colorized by Irootoko Jr
HMS Rodney, colorized by Irootoko Jr.

HMS King Georges V, colorized by Irootoko Jr
HMS King Georges V, colorized by Irootoko Jr.

On 26 May, Tovey was litteraly weeping his ships away, around 15:00 they sailed at 22 knots, maximum speed for Rodney, while King George V only had 32% fuel in store Rodney only until 8:00 on the 27. Admiral Tovey signalled his battle plan to Rodney before sunrise, stating she was free to manœuvre independently, in visual coordination to King George V. Both were also to close range to 15,000 yards (14,000 m) to avoid confusion and be more precise, and using broadside fire.
On 27 May, King George V spotted the Bismarck, followed by Rodney on her port quarter. Tovey made a direct course about 8 nmi (15 km; 9.2 mi) and turned south to present his broadside to Bismarck, and around 08:43, her lookouts spotted Bismarck at 23,000 m (25,000 yd). Four minutes were spent for Rodney to close in and point at first only her two forward turrets, and the six 16 in (406 mm) muzzle lighted, followed immediately by all ten King George V’s 14 in (356 mm) guns. Bismarck answered at 08:50, but only with her forward guns and straddled Rodney at the second salvo. However because of the battleship’s jammed steering, she moved erratically in heavy weather, making calculations useless. So her accuracy fell down pretty quickly.

Rodney firing on the bismarck, burning fiercely at this point in the background
Rodney firing on the Bismarck, burning fiercely at this point in the background

At some point, both British battleships opened fire their their secondary batteries while Norfolk and Dorsetshire were now close enough to join the fray, raining HE 8 in (203 mm) shells to blaze her superstrucures. At 09:02, one lucky 16-inch AP shell from Rodney hit the forward superstructure, killing most of the leading crewt there and staff while disabling both forward turrets. It is likely than Lindemann and Lütjens were killed at this moment, making the ship leaderless; Survivors accounts are contradictory on that point though. The main fire control director was knocked off soon after and the forward main battery was hit again, only managing to fire a last salvo at 09:27. Nevertheless, Lieutenant von Müllenheim-Rechberg the officer in charge of the rear control station still directed fire for rear turrets, and managed three more salvos before his gun director was destroyed. He gave the independent fire order but shells eventually disabled around 09:31 the remaining turrets. The only shell was scared Rodney fell off 20 feet from her bow, damaging her starboard torpedo tube. So this was very much an execution at this point.

The end of Bismarck, she was sinking, nearly all guns shut.

CDR Hans Oels took command from his station, deep in the Damage Control Central. At 09:30 he decided to abandon ship, but also to scuttle her to avoid any risk of capture and reduce casualties. The men below decks were gathered to evacuate first, the engine room crews were to close the watertight doors and prepare scuttling charges while chief engineering officer Gerhard Junack ordered a 9-minute fuse setting. He waited for confirmation, sent a messenger that never returned and activated the charges. The expplosions were setup to 10:10 while the crew was still making their way up when the first detonated. Oels then carried himself the order to abandon ship while there was a massive explosion, which killed him and many others. At 10:00 already, the battleship was silent, but apprently still did not struck the colors. Anyway, Tovey ordered to cease fire and avoid further bloodshed.

In all his two battleship had spent 700 main battery shells, the last fired at point-blank range in straight trajectories, about 2,700 m (3,000 yd), All combined, 2,800 shells rained at Bismarck with probably more than 400 hits. Yet, the battleship was still not sinking but, only through the bow damage seawater. The superstructure and all that was over the waterline was badly damaged, but the citadel and underwater compartimentation held on. Rodney fired two port torpedoes, claiming a hit, probably the only such done by any battleship in history. The scuttling charges detonated at around 10:20 and the Bismarck started listing at 10:35 to port. It grew until she capsized slowly and started sinking the stern. Bzfore that Tovey recalled his battleships, very low on fuel, and ordered Dorsetshire to to stay behind, torpedo the Bismarck (she fired two), with one hit. Dorsetshire moved around on her opposite (port) side to fire another, and another hit but the ship was already partly submerged. Her burning hull completely disapperaed at 10:40 while survivors were picked up. 400 men were in the water, and many were also picked up by HMS Maori, but the effort was stopped at 11:40 when lookouts spotted a U-boat persicope (allegedly). On 400, they both saved 85 and 25 me respectively, so just a quarter. A U-boat indeed arrived on site, but much later, only managing to pickup three men, and later a German trawler two, more. The total was about 114 survived, which recollections many years later were crucial to give an insight in the battleship’s final hours and previous events.
This led celebrated historian writer C. S. Forester in 1959 to published his novel “Last Nine Days of the Bismarck” adapted for a movie “Sink the Bismarck!” in 1960 while Johnny Horton was singing “Sink the Bismark”.

Survivors picked up by HMS Dorsetshire – Only 1/4 of the men which made it in the water were rescued because of the fear of U-Boats. The specter of Hogue, Cressy and Aboukir in 1914 was still there.

Aftermath: Finding the wreck, and controversy

The pounding of the bismarck and unknwon specifications at the time, made all believed they had destroyed a nearly “invincible, unsinkable ship” as the propaganda made believe. So it was important to locate the wreck to investigate and settle some questions. This was done in 1989 by Dr. Robert Ballard, made famous for his dicovery of the RMS Titanic previously. Bismarck was resting on her keel at around 4,791 m (15,719 ft) underwater, 650 km (400 mi) west of Brest, and had slided along an extinct underwater volcano, 1,000 m (3,300 ft) nderwater, the only relief in this abyssal plain. The 50,000 tonnes of steel created a massive landslide along the way. Bismarck stopped along the way, about 2/3 down. Exact location had been kept secret since as she is now considered as a war grave according to international law.

What was revealing was a serie of holes above the waterline and the evidence of internal implosions, conforming the scuttling, while the hull was found in relatively good condition, and so she “did not implode.” It appeared many compartments were flooded after the ship sank, and it was not damaged either by the descent and impact, although the stern had broken away, probably after the torpedo hit. There was another expedition in June 2001 (Deep Ocean Expeditions) with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, using Russian-built mini-submarines and an Anglo-American expedition in July 2001 by British TV channel, using ROVs to film the hull, led by David Mearns. And of course the 2002 documentary by James Cameron “Expedition: Bismarck” using small Mir submersibles and exploring the ship’s interior more in detail. This showed the main side belt armour had been penetrated twice, on the starboard side amidships, probably close-range shelling. The armour deck was left virtually intact. He also found the torpedoes were near to completely ineffective, somle even possibly explode prematurely in to the heavy seas. The torpedo bulkheads were largely intact. More damage was cause however by the contact and slide on the ocean floor, disproving some conclusion from David Mearns in 2001. Most experts esteemed that the ship could have floated about a day more if not scuttled. She could have been captured by the Royal Navy.

Painting by Ken Marschall depicting Argo exploring the wreck
Painting by Ken Marschall depicting Argo exploring the wreck

Whatever the case pointing the exact cause, the single lucky hit by a Swordsfih, by a relatively puny 45 cm aerial torpedo, had severe consequences fo the Kriegsmarine, which ran deep. The rage caused by the loss of Bismarck turned Hitler against his surface navy and gave Raeder more lift in his advicacy of total submarine warfare. He was given more credits and eventually replaced Raeder at the head of the Kriegsmarine. What would happen if Bismarck made it to Saint Nazaire ? The port would have been an almost daily target for the RAF. And in the end, the Bismarck was more exposed there than in the Northern Ports, at some point the battleship could have waged another raid nortwards and tried to reach home, or join the Tirpitz in the mid-atlantic. Both battleships together in 1942, in open sea, would have been indeed quite a threat for the convoys.
But after the loss of Bismarck, surface raiding in the Atlantic was almost brought to a full stop. The remaining ships would be for now used for shorter missions, the only exception being the raid from Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which ended later in a dangerous crossing of the channel in 1942. But from then on, only Norway, with its close proximity to Germany and numerous, deep fjords, made perfect hidehouts for a squadron able to threatens the northern convoys. Such was the fate of Bismarck’s sister, KMS Tirpitz.

KMS Tirpitz in action

The baltic squadron

Tirpitz and Hipper in Norway, late 1942
Tirpitz and Hipper in Norway, late 1942 – colorized by irootoko Jr.

KMS Tirpitz was (Ersatz Schleswig-Holstein, contract name “G”) emerged from Kriegsmarinewerft shipyard in Wilhelmshaven, launched on 1 April 1939 and completed by February 1941, with great hopes of making a binome with her sister-ship Bismarck. But during this period, the RAF raided the shipyard. They missed Tirpitz but badly damaged everything around and considerably slowed down the completion work. Commissioned on 25 February for sea trials in the Baltic she was stationed in Kiel and returned training in the Baltic in March to May. Back in Kiel in July, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and a provisional Baltic Fleet was created to intercept the Soviet fleet of Leningrad if it tried an escape to UK (there was no such plan). Tirpitz served as the flagship of the squadron, also comprising the Deutschland-class (now Lützow) Admiral Scheer, and the light cruisers Köln, Nürnberg, Leipzig, and Emden, destroyers and two flotillas of minesweepers. This Baltic Fleet was commanded by Vice Admiral Otto Ciliax. Its first mission was to patrol the Aaland Islands until 26 September 1941. When there was no proof the Soviet Navy would make any breakthrough and the rapid advances of the German Army, it was understood the Luftwafe would deal with Leningrad, which was besieged. The squadron was disbanded and Tirpitz made another training cruise. She tested her primary and secondary guns on a moving targer, the old converted battleship Hessen as a radio-controlled target ship. The RAF launch other bombing raids on Tirpitz in Kiel, but never succeeded. In May previously, Bismarck had been sunk, so there were less hopes of mounting an atlantic surface raiding mission again. Instead, Norwway looked les exposed and risky, while more effective now the allies started to supply the Soviet Army through the “northern road”; The battleship would from then on spend most of her career and end there as the “solitary queen of the north” as nicknamed by the Norwegians.

Deployment to Norway

Tirpitz camouflaged in the Fættenfjord
Tirpitz camouflaged in the Fættenfjord

Erich Raeder, still Grand Admiral and commander of the Kriegsmarine at the time proposed on 13 November Tirpitz be deployed to Norway, this was not an idea of Hitler, which would rather secretely wanted all surface ships scrapped for spare steel. From Norway, Tirpitz would be able to prey on nearby convoys and be the centerpiece of a fleet in being tying down British naval assets, and deter an Allied invasion of Norway as well and the precious metal road. Hitler agreed to the proposal. Tirpitz made a session indrydock and received additional anti-aircraft guns, with new 10.5 cm guns on the superstructure, while the catapult were moved outboard to improve the AA field of fire. Two quadruple 53.3 cm torpedo tube mounts were also installed, in case the ship would have dealt with the escort and was now close range in a convoy. Kapitän zur See Karl Topp took command and toured his ship, and later declared her ready for combat operations, on 10 January 1942. She left for Wilhelmshaven in order to conceal her actual destination on the 11.

On 14 January after dark, Tirpitz left for Trondheim and British military intelligence decrypting Enigma messages knew about the departure but poor weather prevented any RAF action and Admiral John Tovey was not informed of the Tirpitz course until 17 January. By that time she was already in Norway since a while. She had been detected by reconnaissance planes in Trondheim a day before indeed. Tirpitz moved to Fættenfjord, a deep fjor north of Trondheim that was thought better protected against air raids. This ws called Operation Polarnacht (Polar Night), and she was escorted by Z4 Richard Beitzen, Z5 Paul Jakobi, Z8 Bruno Heinemann and Z29, but the move was spotted by the Norwegian resistance, and signalled to British intelligence. Moored next to a cliff that forbade air attacks from the southwest she had trees cut down and placed on provisional framing and netting to camouflage her. She was also entirely painted in a new, wavy, complex and green-brown camouflage, including the deck. The crew was trained to create a smoke cloud or artificial fog in any aerial alert, using water and chlorosulfuric acid. To defend the fjor approaches, anti-aircraft batteries were installed around it. Also close to the anchorage, anti-torpedo nets and heavy booms were placed. As in Grimm and Andersen’s tales, the “Lonely Queen of the North” was born. She would have a rather dull active life from then on, due to the few opportunities to launch a raid, and and life for the crew was monotonous and lackluster. She was also plagued by fuel shortages and little training coild be done. The crew just maintained the ship and trained with the anti-aircraft defences, while sports activities and sorties in nearby countryside were organized to keep everybody physically fit.

Operations against Allied convoys

Tirpitz moored in Kaafjord while a artificial fog is generated to hide her.
Tirpitz moored in Kaafjord while a artificial fog is generated to hide her.

-Jan-February 1942: Tirpitz’s inaction could be explained by several factors, the first of which were shortages of fuel and the withdrawal of the German destroyer force, sent to support Operation Cerberus, the channel dash of Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen. At the same time, the convoy PQ 8 by end of January was missed. A first British air attack at the end of the month was mounted, with heavy bombers, but also abandoned due to poor weather. In early February, Tirpitz took made a diversion to distract British attention before Operation Cerberus was launched. She steamed out of the fjord and set a course for the North Sea, only to cruise back to safety. By late February 1942, the Admiral Scheer and Prinz Eugen arrived with several destroyers to reinforced the “fleet in being”. However, just before arriving at the Fættenfjord entrance, she was ambushed by a British submarine and sent into repairs.

-March 1942: Unternehmen Sportpalast Tirpitz and Admiral Scheer sorties with Z14, Z5, Z7, Z25 and two torpedo boats to attack the convoy QP 8 and PQ 12 in “Operation Sports Palace”. Admiral Scheer however by then was only capable of 26 knots (znd could not keep up so she was left in the harbour with the destroyer Paul Jakobi ad the two torpedo boats. By 5 March, the Luftwaffe spotted PQ 12 off Jan Mayen Island but failed to note the HMS Duke of York and HMS Renown in distant escort and four destroyers. This was Tovey’s trick, to bait the Germans while there was an even more distant cover with HMS King George V and the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious, the cruiser HMS Berwick and six destroyers. Enigma messages warned the admiralty in advance of Tirpitz’s attack so both convoys were re-routed. But Tovey tried to pursue the Tirpitz anyway on 9 March. In between, Admiral Otto Ciliax already decided to get back.
The same 9 of March, as the squadron as exposed steaming back, they were attacked by twelve Fairey Albacore torpedo bombers from the Victorious. Tirpitz evaded the torpedoes but deplored three men wounded. The well trained anti-aircraft gunners shot down two of the attackers. Tirpitz headed for Vestfjord and to Trondheim, arriving 13 March. On 30 March the suquadron was attacked by thirty-three Halifax bombers, scoring no hits while five were downed. Two other raids were made in late April and a 31 Halifax night raid on 27–28 April. Again, no hit but five shot down. Next, 23 Halifaxes and 11 Lancasters the following night, again, no hit, two shot down. It that was needed, how better proof that these bombings were innacurate ? But the RAF persisted.

-27 June 1942: Unternehmen Rösselsprung
Tirpitz in the altafjord
Tirpitz in the altafjord

Tirpitz until then had consumed some 8,230 tonnes (8,100 long tons) of fuel oil and it would take three months to replenish this reserve for other sorties. Convoy PQ 17, which left Iceland on 27 June and the German fleet departed, in what was called “Operation Knight’s Move”. To escort the convoy, battleships Duke of York and USS Washington watched over it, as well as HMS Victorious. The German attack force wa composed of Tirpitz, Admiral Hipper and six destroyers. They sortied from Trondheim, with behind another force composed of the slower Lützow, Admiral Scheer, and six destroyers which were gathered from from Narvik and Bogenfjord. Ciliax’s hope was to lure out the British escorts to this second force and alltogether that can put a good show. However, Lützow and three destroyers struck uncharted rocks underway and were too damaged to go on, they folded back. The Soviet submarine K-21 spotted Bismarck and fired torpedoes but missed although claiming the contrary. Swedish intelligence had previously signalled the German moves, and the British Admiralty rdered the convoy to disperse. While the Germans aborted the surface operation to convoy was now easy meat for to U-boats and the Luftwaffe, and was decimated with 21 of the 34 isolated transports sunk. So this was after all a German victory. Tirpitz was by now stationed at Altafjord.

October 1942-March 1943 Operations

The prow of Tirpitz in 1943
The prow of Tirpitz in 1943

Tirpitz moved again to Bogenfjord near Narvik and needed a major overhaul, but Hitler forbidden her return to Germany, so she was to be refitted in Trondheim, but not in drydock. She left Bogenfjord for Fættenfjord, outside Trondheim. The anchorage defenses were much strengthened many additional FLAK, and double anti-torpedo nets. The refit was fractioned so Tirpitz would remain partially operational, and eventually partially “drydocked” when a caisson was built around her stern to allow replacing her rudders. Meawnhile for the first time, the British made a Chariot human torpedoes attack, aborted because rough seas. The fishing vessel towing them, lost them. By 28 December, Tirpitz started her post-refit sea trials followed by gunnery trials on 4 January 1943, in Trondheim Fjord. On 21 February 1943, captain Topp became Rear Admiral, replaced by Captain Hans Meyer. On 26 Febrary, Scharnhorst arrived to the Norwegian squadron now under command of Vice Admiral Oskar Kummetz.

The raid on Spitzbergen
In March 1943, Allied convoys to Murmansk ceased and Admiral Karl Dönitz, replacing Raeder after the Battle of the Barents Sea on 31 December 1942 found a mission for the squadron, attacking Spitzbergen, and destroying the British weather station and refuelling base here, important for the northern convoys. The island was only protected by a garrison of 152 men from the Free Norwegian Armed Forces. The two battleships departed with ten destroyers on 6 September while Tirpitz flew the white ensign on the approach on 7 September, to fool the defenders about her nature. The squadron then mercilessly shelled the island’s instalaltion to smitherine. Tirpitz fired herself 52 main-battery HE shells plus 82 15 cm turret shells. This was the last time during the war she had to occasion to fire her main battery in anger… After the preparatory shelling, an assault force installed explosives to finish off shore installations and captured 74 prisoners. After this was all over, the fleet headed back to Norway, in separate fjord for better safety.

Operation Source (September 1943)

x-craft profile, by the author, scale 1/350

The British admiralry wanted, before resuming convoy activity in the area, to eliminate Tirpitz for good. The air attacks, so far all failed, as well as an attempted Chariot attack in October 1942, inspired by the Italian X-MAS quadron in the Mediterranean. In between, were deigned another British secret weapon: The X Craft midget submarines. Their carefully planned attack was called Operation Source. Thse targeted not only Tirpitz but also Scharnhorst and Lützow. These midget subs were towed by larger submarines and released close to the anti-torpedo nets, slipping beneath, and once at destination, would drop each two powerful two-tonne mines under their target’s belly. Ten of these X-voats were assigned to the operation, which was to start on 20–25 September 1943. But eight reached Kåfjord for the attack, starting on 22 September. X5, X6, and X7, performed their mission and managed to breach the defences, while X6 and X7 made theier way as intended close to the bottom of the battleship and laid their mines. X5 was detected sooner, emerging by accident 200 m (660 ft) from the nets and was spotted and sunk.

The first mine exploded aft, abreast turret “Caesar”, the second detonated about 44-55 m (148 to 180 ft) to the port bow. This ruptured a fuel oil tank and the armour plating was torn and bulkheadsof the double bottom buckled. Tirpitz was flooded with about 1,430 t (1,410 long tons) seawater and her fuel tanks were submerged as well as most void spaces in the port side double bottom compartments, so he listed 2°, later rectified by counter-flooding. The turbo-generators in room No. 2 were damaged, and there were broken steam lines and severed power cables. Turret D (“Dora”) left its bearings because of the blast and there was no equipment to have her lifted and readjusted, so she became fixed. Also Tipritz’s Arado Ar 196 floatplanes were destroyed also. Repairs were made on situ, by the repair ship Neumark, and the repair work, which lasted until 2 April 1943 was remarkably fast. She was ready for full speed trials on 3 April Altafjord.

Operation Tungsten

After Neumark’s departure Tirpitz was nearing operational readiness so in emergency, a major air strike was mounted, by combining naval air assets. Hundreds of planes were to be launched from the carriers HMS Victorious, Furious and the escort carriers HMS Emperor, Fencer, Pursuer, and Searcher and the operation scheduled for 4 April 1944 and advanced after enigma decriptions showing Tirpitz was to depart on 05:29, 3 April for sea trials. Out of the open, she would be more vulnerable. In total, the combined forces would launch 40 Fairey Barracuda dive-bombers, each modified to carry anti-ship 1,600-pound (730 kg) AP bombs escorted by 40 fighters, launched in two waves. They fell on Tirpitz and scored no less than 15 direct hits, 2 near misses. One was shot down of the first wave as the crew needed 12-14 minutes to manand prepare the anti-aircraft batteries. When the first attack commenced, 05:29 tugs were just about assist Tirpitz out of her mooring to depart, and the second wave made it over their objective an hour later after 06:30, and retired after many hits and just one plane short down.

While the main armour was intact, the bombs blasted the superstructure and caused about 122 men KiA and 316 wounded (William Garzke, Robert Dulin) or 132 + 270 (while Hildebrand, Röhr, & Steinmetz) including commander KzS Hans Meyer. Two 15 cm turrets were destroyed, as well as the new Ar 196 floatplanes, serious fires started while the concussive shock disabled the starboard turbine engine, and saltwater contaminated the feed water. Also seawater infiltrations amounted to 2,000 t mainly from two holes in the side created by shell splinters of near-misses, but also water used to fight the fires. Dönitz ordered repairs regardless of the cost, even knowing its insufficient fighter support. This started in early May, parts and equipments ferried by destroyers plus workers from Kiel in just three days three days. By 2 June 1944, another feat, Tirpitz was ready again and was making gunnery trials at the end of the month. While replacing the 15 cm guns they received high-angle mounts for AA fire, while 38 cm fuzed shells were provided for AA fire. This was a siilar “shotgun” type of shell like those used by the Yamato.

Operations Planet, Brawn, Tiger Claw, Mascot and Goodwood

Fairey Barracuda taking off from HMS Furious during Operation Mascot, 17 july 1944
Fairey Barracuda taking off from HMS Furious during Operation Mascot, 17 july 1944.

The good results compared to previous heavy bomber raids confirmed the admiralty to program more carrier strikes over three months. But in September bad weather had them cancelled. Operation Planet, was planned for 24 April 1944 and cancelled. Operation Brawn, (27 bombers, 36 fighters) on 15 May, Operation Tiger Claw, 28 May. Victorious and Furious made these, joined later by HMS Indefatigable which took part in Operation Mascot. It was planned for 17 July 1944, and no less than 62 bombers escorted by 30 fighters were planned, but postponed until the weather improved by late August. Operation Goodwood started. It consisted in a serie serie of attacks called Goodwood I and II (22 August, Furious, Indefatigable, Formidable, Nabob, Trumpeter) In these 38 bombers escorted by 43 fighterstook off and raided the ship twice, but they failed to inflict any damage while three were shot down. Goodwood III (24 August) grouped 48 bombers escorted by 29 fighters. They scored two hits but only minor damage. One bomb made it through two armour decks and ended in the No. 4 switchboard room but failed to detonate while the second was a lighter 500-pound (230 kg) bomb which exploded but made only superficial damage while six planes were missing. Goodwood IV (29th) consisted in the launch of 34 bombers, 25 fighters but marred by heavy fog while the battleship’s gunners shot down a Firefly and a Corsair and also fire fifty four 38 cm FLAK rounds and 161 from the 15 cm guns, 20% of her AA ammunition supply.

Operations Paravane (15 Sept. 1944)

Tirpitz on 3 April 1944 during a fleet air arm attack and covered by a smokescreen in Kafjord.

As the Fleet Air Arm by mid-1944 recoignised its failore, the relay was passed onto the RAF’s No. 5 Group, using Lancaster bombers. Just for the task preparations and tests were made since a year, and the result development was Barnes Wallis 6-short-ton (5.4 t) Tallboy. It was made to penetrate the Tirpitz heavy armour. Operation Paravane took place on 15 September 1944 from Yagodnik in Russia. 23 Lancasters (17 with a Tallboy, six with twelve JW mines) arrived over the ship and scored a single hit at the bow, by a Tallboy bomb. It had enough weight and velocity to make it through the keel, exploded just under the ship’s belly. The whole ship’s bow was lifted by the force, and flooded by 800-1,000 t of seawater. This cause a trim and Tirpitz was by then deemed unseaworthy, limited to 8-10 knots was severed damage was caused to the fire-control equipment. This extensive damage was such that at that point, the admiralty reduced the reppairs to reduced the battleship to a giant floating gun battery, basically anchored for good. Repair needed months but was made in stages, holes patched in a few weeks, so she could be moved further south to Tromsø. On 15 October 1944 she made the last voyage of her career.

Operation Obviate (29 October 1944)

Wit this success confirmed by recce planes, the 9 Squadron and No. 617 Squadron were planned for another raid on 29 October. The battleship was moored off Håkøya Island, off Tromsø when 22 Lancasters bombed the Tirpitz with Tallboys. But bad weather reduced accuracy and there was just a near-miss. Nvertheless, the underwater explosion torn off the port rudder and the port shaft, resulting in some flooding. The Tirpitz’s fired 38 cm fragmentation shells, which proved totally ineffective at this high altitude, just one Lancaster was damaged, but by ground AA. Tirpit’s anchorage was improved afterwards, notably with a large sandbank constructed under her, and around her hull, preventing any future capsizing, plus new anti-torpedo nets while she was prepared as floating artillery platform, with very limited fuel, for the turbo-generators, the crew reduced to 1,600 officers and men, but there was no other AA improvement.

The end: Operation Catechism (12 November 1944)

The last attack on Tirpitz followed in mid-November 1944 with 32 Lancaster of 9 and 617 Squadrons, also carrying Tallboys, of which 29 fell close to the German battleship. Warned of their arrival, Tirpitz fired its “FLAK” 38 cm at 09:35 and dispersed them, but they regrouped and attacked. The weather was good, so this was accurate, and the RAF reported two direct hits and one near miss. The anti-torpedo net barrier was blasted by other near-missies and the seabed was cratered, making the sandbank disperse. More critical was the bomb which entered between the forward turrets, ‘Anton’ and ‘Bruno’. Fortunately for the crew, it failed to detonate, probably because again, the fuze was damaged during the penetration. The second fell between the aircraft catapult and funnel. The ship’s side and bottom was blasted away, an entire section of belt armour was gone, and according to various reference, as thord impact fell on the port side of turret Caesar.

Flooding was massive enough so that the ship started to list to port up to 20 degrees. In ten minutes it went to 40 degrees, and at this point, the captain ordered to abandon ship. It reached 60 degrees at 09:50 (15 min. after the attack) seemed to stabilise until at 09.58 turret Caesar was destroyed by a large explosion. Her roof and some of her barbette rotating structure were ejected, crushing survivors swimming to shore. She rolled over completely, her superstructure embedded in the sea floor, also trapping 82 men of the crew inside. They were rescued by cutting through the exposed bottom, surviving in air pockets, but the toll eventually was about 950-1,204, 200 survivors. They were repatriated by the Lützow in January 1945.
The Luftwaffe was criticised, and commander of III./Jagdgeschwader 5 Major Heinrich Ehrler blamed for for failing to intercept the bombers. He was court-martialled in Oslo and sentenced to three years in prison, kater demoted and transferred in Germany. Investigations indeed highlighted the poor communication between the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe at this point. Ehrler was just not informed of the new position of Tirpitz two weeks prior to the attack.

Tirpitz capsized in Tromsö
Tirpitz capsized in Tromsö. Her wreck was still there after the war, eventually scrapped by a German-Norwegian company in 1948-1957.

Scharnhorst class battleships (1936)

Scharnhorst class battleships (1936)

Germany (1936)
Battleships: Scharnhorst, Gneisenau

The Kriegsmarine “terrible twins”: The Scharnhost and Gneisenau were the first Kriegsmarine battleships, completed shortly before the start of WW2. They were fast battleships, with an true emphasis on speed over protection. The second issue was the lack of a suitable artillery, as the 2,8 cm used since the Deutchsland class were quite light, although long range and fast-firing. The optional 3.8 cm also developed for the Bismarck however were never installed. In any rate, the Scharnhorst class were transitional schlachtshiffe (“Battleships”), the first true ones being the Bismarck class. Their main asset was their speed, superior to any other capital ship of the time, only matched by battlecruisers such as HMS Hood (31 knots) or the Dunkerque class. This was this high speed which perhaps more than the protection level made them assimilated to battlecruisers at that time. During WW2, KMS Scharnhost and Gneisenau used this high speed in many occasions to their advantage, mostly against merchant traffic, but their biggest success was their escape from Brest through the channel, before joining Norway. For the duration of the war, they were used indeed as merchant raiders, due to their light artillery and protection, unsuitable for battle lines. They were also the only capital ships to sink an aircraft carrier in European waters (hms Glorious), and after their inconclusive duel against the battlecruiser HMS Renown also during the campaign of Norway, Scharnhorst was sunk in another famous duel at the battle of the North Cape in 1943, while her sister ship, badly damaged several times by air raids, was in repair in Kiel when the war ended.

Schlachtschiff “Gneisenau”

The German first fast Battleships

Technically, the Scharnhorst pair not always have been called “fast battleships”. They were designed in answer to the French Dunkerque class which were slightly less armoured than battleships, so to be called at the time “battlecruisers” too. However, historians considered by simplifications this new generation was to be called “fast battleships” for simplification since their level of protection was still much superior to the WWI era battlecruisers.

The Scharnhorst class was a class built prior to World War 2, and first true capital ships of the Kriegsmarine, especially compared to the previous Deutschland class “pocket battleships” which in reality were overgunned cruisers. KMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were named after two Prussian historical figures of the Napoleonic era which helped organize resistance and regain freedom.
KMS Scharnhorst being launched the first, the class is named after her although some sources talk of the Gneisenau class as she was the first to be laid down, but also commissioned. They were in effect the first ships in the ambitious German naval rearmament’s list, when Hitler decided to rip off the Treaty of Versailles. They were largely seen as transitional ships, armed with nine 28 cm (11 in) SK C/34 guns, in three triple turrets, although from the beginning it was planned to arm them with six 38 cm (15 in) SK C/34 twin turrets guns.

Both were commissioned by early 1939 and were planned as commerce raiders operating together in the early World War II as mutually supportive contrary to the Deutschland class which operated solo. Sorties into the Atlantic had mitigated success, Operation Weserübung off Norway showed they can be quite deadly together, as shown against HMS Renown and HMS Glorious in June 1940, with one of the longest-range naval gunfire hits in history. Their daylight channel dash in early 1942, was a propaganda coup dictated by their poor result against Atlantic merchant shipping compared to U-Boats and exposure to allied air raids while in Brest. It was more the result of poor coordination on the part of the British, but they had their revenge in Kiel while Scharnhorst joined Tirpitz in Norwegian fjords in order to raid the Murmansk convoys. At the battle of North Cape, she stood little chance against HMS Duke of York, but nevertheless this engagement taught both sides valuable lessons. The remainder of the two was never rearmed as planned, showing that allied bombers were quite efficient against large exposed targets such as battleships.

KMS Scharnhorst - Bundesarchiv
KMS Scharnhorst prewar – Bundesarchiv

Design development

The Treaty of Versailles restricted German naval shipbuilding to a mere 10,000 long tons and the reduced naval staff of the Reichsmarine discussed wildly in the 1920s about how to make a ship going around these limits. The result was the compromised “Panzerschiff” (aka ‘armored ships’) and not “Kreuzer” of the Deutschland class. They were completed in 1931, while prompting a response in France with the construction of the Dunkerque class. The Soviet Union projects also alarmed the Germans into studying large capital ships. The initial design project in 1928 was under the name of “Schlachshiff”, lit. “battleship” versus “panzerschiff” or “lilienschiff” which was the denomination of WW1 era battleships dreadnoughts an pre-dreadnoughts. The name change reflected an alignment on British parlance, but also a unification of the roles of battleships and battlecruisers.

1928 schlachtshiff design:

Generally admitted design of the 1928 Type BC.

This was a 17,500 long tons (19,600 short tons) battlecruiser, armed with eight 30.5 cm (12 in) guns. The latter were arranged in four twin gun turrets and based on the design of the Ersatz Yorck-class battlecruisers left uncompleted. They were basically a massive improvement over the “pocket battleships”, as part of Admiral Zenker’s fleet building program; This design would have been “successor” of the panzerschiffe, and the ultimative raiders of their time with a top speed of 34 knots, and in addition to their main artillery, nine 5.9 secondary guns (149 mm) and of course larger, faster but sharing about the same overall armor scheme. Speed was indeed seen as a kind of active protection. 34 knots was faster than the British battlecruisers.


Dimensions: Length (wl) 206.0 meters, Beam 25.0 meters, designed Draught 7.8 meters, moulded Depth 13.3 meters
Displacement: As designed 17,499 tons standard, 19,192-19,600 tons fully loaded, which includes 1,378 tons of fuel and 315 tons (1.6%) of boiler feed water.
Machinery: 4x shafts turbines, 12? oil-fired turbines, 160,000 SHP 34 knots. Bunkerage 3200 tonnes.
Armament: 8 x 305 mm/55 (4×2), 9 x 150 mm/55 (3×3), 4 x 88 mm AA
Armour: Main Belt: 100 mm down to 80 mm ends, main deck 25 mm, armored decks 30 and 20 mm, barbettes 250 mm as Main Turrets and CT, Torpedo Bulkhead 20 mm.

Admiral Zenker’s Naval Program

Admiral Hans Zenker Hans Zenker was born in Bielitz (Bielsko-Biała, Poland) and entered the Imperial German Navy on 13 April 1889. He commanded SMS Lübeck in 1911, Cöln in 1912–13 and Von der Tann in 1916–17, at the Battle of Jutland. He joined the Admiralty Staff in 1917, appointed to the North Sea area command in 1918 and became Inspekteur der Marineartillerie from 1920 to 1923, and Chef der Marineleitung (Naval Command) until 1928, planning the the rebuilding of the German fleet.
Vice-Admiral Hans Zenker prepared the navy’s building program around this assumption that Germany would have to prey first on maritime trade between France and Poland and to prevent French landings on the German coast. This fleet was also to wage a long-range commerce warfare against French interests. Basically the Kriegsmarine inherited this specifications. However the Reichstag opposed Zenker on his new ships pkans, and Erich Raeder was named instead, taking a much slower and prudent approach.

The Reichsmarine’s initial ships were were pre-dreadnoughts and same era cruisers and torpedo boats while personal was limited to 15,000 men as to ensure even this limited fleet could not be operational at all times. Two battleships were disarmed and the two others in reserve to allow crewing more modern ships. As it was authorized to replace cruisers 20 years old, an exception was accorded in 1922, with the RMS Emden, but only one over the six allowed eight cruisers could be in service, latter allowing for the “K” class. Total economic collapse delayed this program for two years, until the Nürnberg was authorized, and delayed again because of the 1929 crisis, to be finally laid down in 1934. By that time, for larger ships, the Versailles treaty applied, not Washington. For large ships, packing on a 10,000 tons design 11-inch (280mm) guns were authorized, but it was a daunting challenge. The allies hoped to constraint the fleet to ha Scandinavian-like coastal battleship collection.

Author’s photoshopping of a possible appearance of the Panzerschiff 1928

Zenker was the brainchild between the amazing Deutschland class, with thin protection bested by a very long range, another compensation for the lower caliber. As defined by Zenker, the class was to be aimed at commerce raiding and later Nazi German propaganda claimed they could outrun what she could not outfight (Battleship), and outfight those she cannot ourun (cruisers), which was of course false given the speed of battlecruisers. But on paper the idea was seductive. The German naval staff like the others worked on a “Washington Treaty Cruiser Killer”, with high speed and light armor. The same 10,000 tons/8-inch guns limitation applied and most navies chose to emphasis speed over protection. Battleships were limited to 35,000 tons/16-inch guns, plus an overall tonnage limit capping and some thought that filling this limit by two 17,500-ton warships given large-caliber guns would allow to built a larger fleet within the available tonnage, capped by the treaty to 17,500 tons indeed as minimum displacement for a ship carrying an artillery above 8 inches. Italy worked on such project in 1928, never realized, and the French also studied comparative designs.
Zenker hoped Germany would have re-entered world diplomacy in 1925 under the Locarno Pact, re-join the family of nations and thus, sign the Washington treaty or obtain an increase in the Versailles tonnage limit and increase of the main gun caliber to 12-inch, which was at the time advocated by all nations as a way to break the race and make the ships better fitted to peacetime.

Entwurf I/M26
Entwurf I/M26, alternative proposal for the Panzerschiffe

Zenker’s designs prepared by the naval staff by year:
-II/10 – Turbines coal/oil 25,000 shp 22 knots, 2×2 380 mm turrets, 2×2 150mm, 2x 88m, 2x50mm
-I/10 – Turbines oil 80,000 shp 32 knots, 4×2 210 mm turrets, 4x 88m, 8x50mm
-II/30 – Diesel oil 24,000 shp 21 knots, 3×2 305 mm turrets, 4x 105mm
-IV/30 – Diesel oil 24,000 shp 21 knots, 2×3 (all fore) 305 mm turrets, 2×2 150mm, 4x 105mm
-V/30 – Diesel oil 24,000 shp 21 knots, 2×3 (1 fore, 1 aft) 305 mm turrets, 6x 150mm 3x 88mm
-I/28 – Diesel oil 24,000 shp 21 knots, 2×3 (1 fore, 1 aft) 305 mm turrets, 2×2 150 mm, 6x 88mm
-II/28 – Diesel oil 24,000 shp 21 knots, 3×2 (2 offset aft) 305 mm turrets, 4x 150 mm, 4x 88mm
-VI/30 – Diesel oil 24,000 shp 21 knots, 2×2 (1 fore, 1 aft) 305 mm turrets, 2×2 150 mm, 4x 88mm
-VIII/30 – Diesel oil 24,000 shp 21 knots, 2×2 (2 fore) 305 mm turrets, 2×2 150 mm, 4x 88mm
-I/35 – Diesel oil 16,000 shp 19 knots, 1×3 (fore) 305 mm turrets, 6x 88mm
-VIII/30 – Diesel oil 36,000 shp 24 knots, 2×2 (fore & aft) 305 mm turrets, 6x 88mm
-I/M26 – Diesel oil 54,000 shp 28 knots, 2×3 (fore & aft) 280 mm turrets, 4×2 120 mm DP, 6x 37mm
-II/M26 – Diesel oil 54,000 shp 28 knots, 2×3 (fore & aft) 280 mm turrets, 4×2 120 mm DP, 6x 37mm
-Type A – Diesel oil ? shp 18 knots, 2×2 (fore & aft) 380 mm turrets
-Type B1 – Diesel oil ? shp 18 knots, 2×2 (fore & aft) 380 mm turrets
-Type B2 – Diesel oil ? shp 21 knots, 2×3 (fore & aft) 305 mm turrets
-Type C – Diesel oil ? shp 26 knots, 2×3 (fore & aft) 305 mm turrets
-Type BC – Diesel oil 160,000 shp 34 knots, 4×2 305 mm turrets, 3×3 150mm, 4×88 mm

The Graf spee at scapa flow
The Graf spee at scapa flow.

Hans Zenker therefore ordered a 17,500 tonnes, 12-in armed, “Kreuzer Jäger” (or cruiser killer) with good range and a thin protection which could outrange cruisers. The twin turret was a wel known and trusted design, so no surprise to wait technically on this side. The Secondary guns of nine 5.9-inch was more original as it was fitted in the very same turrets in production for K-type cruisers. For closer range, they were fitted by two triple banks of torpedo tubes. The armor scheme was largely the same as the Deutschland studied at the same time, but the much greater speed (34 knots against 28) only could be obtained from a much larger hull with turbines and not diesels like Deutschland, curtailing its range. So it ws assumed they would be deployed in another way. If meeting a battleship, they stood little chance, only having hopes to out-run them. Against anything behind she could unleash enough firepower to deal with a convoy protected by cruisers. Those of the time of Zenker were French, and of the generation of “tin-clad” cruisers, so easy preys. But events did not met the optimistic hopes of Zenker, and German diplomats seems to never had even asked to raise these limitations either, having other priorities at the time.

1933 D-class design:

D-class design

The follow-on to the Deutschland-class cruisers named “Panzerschiffe” were designed under Raeder, the new Chief of the Navy. It was linked to 1933, the year the Nazi Party came to power in Germany. This ended the dispute between those who wanted a large-scale naval rearmament program, Hitler himself defining priorities and limit construction to a counter French naval expansion. Authorization for two additional panzerschiffe were stipulated to displace 19,000 long tons (19,000 t) with the same primary battery, but Erich Raeder advocated increasing the armor protection. He also lobbied for a third triple turret while the ship was to stay within the 19,000 ton limit fixed by Hitler. Two projects were drawn under the contract names D and E, or “Ersatz Elsass” and “Ersatz Hessen” respectively, knowing they would replace the disarmed old pre-dreadnoughts SMS Elsass and SMS Hessen. Design D was awarded on 25 January 1934 to the Kriegsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven. He keel was laid on 14 February while at the same time the Kriegsmarine decided to alter the design as more was known about the French Dunkerque-class. Hitler agreed the displacement raised to 26,000 long tons (26,000 t), AND the third 28 cm triple-turret. Construction was halted on 5 July, while E was never laid down. Contracts were canceled and the whole program evolved into Scharnhorst class.

Project D Characteristics
These were 230 meters (750 ft) long by 25.5 m (84 ft) in width, and a draft of 8.5 m (28 ft) for a final displacement of 20,000 long tons (20,000 t). “D” would have been given the accommodations of a fleet flagship, and bot were turbine-powered; Total output as designed was to be 125,000 shaft horsepower (93,000 kW) for 29 knots at full speed. The main armament was exactly the same as for the Deutschand class, but with one extra turrets and its three 28 cm (11 in)/52 C/28 quick-firing guns. The staff discussed the possibility of having two quadruple turrets, for eight guns, but this caused major redesign concerns. The 11.1 in guns fired both AP and HE shells weighting 300 kg (661.4 lb), using a 36.0 kg (79.4 lb) fore charge and silk bag plus a 71.0 kg (156.6 lb) main charge in a brass case. 910 mps (2,986 fps) at 40 degrees, gave an excellent range of 36,475 m (39,890 yards) for 2.5 rpm and 900 shells in store, total. Her secondary battery comprised eight 15 cm (5.9 in)/55 SK C/28 quick-firing guns ordered by the time construction was canceled, so they ended on the Scharnhorst class, in a mix of single and dual turrets.

The anti-aircraft battery was consistent for the time, taking aviation very seriously: Eight 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK C/33 guns in twin Dopp LC/31 type mounts originally designed for the old 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK C/31 guns. They were triaxially stabilized for a 80° elevation 12,500 m (41,000 ft) ceiling, HE and HE incendiary rounds, illumination shells, also a number of 37 mm guns (unknown figure) were to be provided as well as 53.3 cm (21.0 in) torpedo tubes, probably two quadruple banks mounted alongside the deck. Armour protection was made in Krupp hardened steel plates, with a 35 mm (1.4 in) thick deck, 70 mm (2.8 in) main armored deck forward, 80 mm (3.1 in) amidships down to 70 mm at the stern, a main armored belt 220 mm (8.7 in) thick, a conning tower with 300 mm (12 in) walls and the bulkheads forming the citadel of 50 mm (2.0 in) thick, probably also with ASW longitudinal bulkheads. Little is known about their internal compartimentation below the waterline, but giving the fact it was based on the Deutschland, with a longer hull, we can assume well separated turbines and boilers rooms.

KMS Hessen if completed in 1936
KMS Hessen if completed in 1936. Credits Haratio Fales, CC

In Brief:
Displacement: 20,000t, Length: 230m, Breadth: 25.5m, Speed: 29kts
Armor: Belt 220mm, Citadel: 50mm, CT 300mm, Decks 35-80 mm, Bulkheads 50mm
Armament: 2×4 28cm/52 QF, 8×2 (4 x 15cm/55 QF, 4x 10.5cm/65 DP), AA, 2×4 TT.

1937 P-class design:


As part of Plan Z, these were another alternative design, an attempt to replace the Deutschland class for commerce raiding. This class as planned was to comprise twelve heavy cruisers, not capital ships, in replacement for the Deutschland-class cruisers. Design started in 1937 and went on until 1939 with twenty designs in between. Nine were considered, three selected.
1-six 283 mm, single triple turret forward, one more aft. Two 150mm twin secondary turrets fore of the aft main and front main turret. It was beamier than the other two and mounted two seaplanes on its fantail.
2-Second design: Six 28 cm (11 in), in two triple turrets, called “Panzerschiff”, with the names P1–P12, improved versions of the D-class cruisers cancelled in 1934. They were assigned to shipyards, but construction never started as the O-class battlecruisers were choses instead. Note: These will be seen in a dedicated post in the future and more in detail in the WW2 German

Even with the completion of the two Scharnhorst-class and start of two Bismarck-class, the German Navy wanted to past its numerical inferiority in 1937 by creating more of an improved Deutschland-class design, and after more than twenty designs considered for these specifications, only one last was chosen, designated as cruiser “P” (For “Panzerschiffe”). Z-Plan indicated twelve P-class built FY1940, designed as “kreuzerjäger” or “cruiser hunters/killers” to take on heavy cruisers and still outrun fast battleships.
Many design problems delayed the finalized blueprints, the main issue revolving around armor. The top speed of 34 knots (63 km/h; 39 mph) on a 217 m (712 ft) to 229.5 m (753 ft) hull meant that the beam needed to be kept at 25 m (82 ft) while if diesel engines were to be installed installed this would have been raised by 2 m (6.6 ft) meaning that designers needed to make the hull longer in order to keep its hydrodynamic efficiency. This meant greater lenghts of armour plates that further complicated the protection arrangements. What really killed the design was this impossibility of marrying diesels with a 20,000-tonne ship.

At some point, the design changed completely to a capital ship intended to the dual role of classic battle ship and still preying on cruisers. The result was a class of battlecruisers with an armament shifting from 283 mm (11.1 in)/55 caliber guns to 380 mm (15 in)/47. It was eventually concluded that smaller gun were far less effective in combat anyway, and to restrict the initial plan of twelve ships to just four in order to not overtax shipyards. This was also based on foreign capital ship gunnery standards and time from design to service. Last argument came in 1939, when Adolf Hitler denounced the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agreement and declared the 38 cm caliber standard for any German capital ship. This eventually evolved into the O-class battlecruisers; never built.

P class drawing
P class drawing – SRC

HD version of the design upgraded to the 38 cm caliber turrets
HD version of the design upgraded to the 38 cm caliber turrets
An overview is coming soon.

Complete specifications (1st version)
Displacement: 22,145 t (21,795 long tons) (standard), 25,689 t (25,283 long tons) (full load)
Length: 230 oa/223 m wl, Beam 26 m, Draft 7.20 m
Installed power: 4 shafts, 12 MAN 9-cylinder diesels 165,000 PS (121,000 kW; 163,000 shp) 33 knots (61 km/h)
Range: 25,000 nm (46,000 km; 29,000 mi)/13 knots or 15,000 /19 knots
Armament: 2×3 28 cm (11 in) 8 × 15 cm (5.9 in), 4 × 3.7 cm (1.5 in) AA, 6 × 53.3 cm TTs
Armor: Barbettes: 80 to 100 mm, Belt 40 to 120 mm, Deck 70 mm, Torpedo bulkhead 30 mm (1.2 in)
Misc.: 2 Aircraft and 2 steam catapults

US Intelligence, identification plates

Arrival of Hitler and naval plan confirmation

In 1933, Adolf Hitler made clear to the naval staff since the beginning he has no intention to contest the Royal Navy’s hegemony (like he would repeat again and again before the battle of Britain, hoping favourable peace conditions). He was concerned chiefly, as Zenker, by a limited war with France over the question of Poland, and therefore the navy’s role was chiefly to protect German sea lanes as well as distrupting French ones. He authorized thefore two more ships of the Deutschland-class Panzerschiffe, with a 19,000 tons displacement and same same armament and speed, the extra tonnage saved being used for protection. This relatively modest ships were mostly not to antagonize too much the allies about the Treaty of Versailles but these planned commerce raiders were seen as a much greater threat for Great Britain than an alternative plan for 26,000-ton battlecruisers, armed with 28.3 cm (11.1 inch) guns.

Scharnhorsts 280mm turrets
Scharnhorst’s 280mm turrets

However, the design evolved as the French soon built two small Dunkerque-class battleships in the early 1930, which prompted the German navy to revise plans for a more powerful battlecruiser design. Erich Raeder was the head of the German Navy in 1933, and argued in favor of a scaled-up Panzerschiffe, with a main battery comprising a third triple turret. This position was backed by the Kriegsmarine, which put a nail in the 19,000-ton design coffin. Hitler eventually agreed on increased armor protection and internal subdivision, but no other modification to the design. By February 1934 however he eventually agreed on the third turret, which allowed design development to be resumed, one a displacement estimated to 26,000 long tons (29,000 short tons). To save time, the same 28.3 cm and turrets were kept. However, to secure these, and the following naval plan, Hitler signed in the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agreement, recoignising a 3 to 1 superiority in capital ships but removed the limitations of the Treaty of Versailles for the Kriegsmarine. However Germany still was not signatory of the Washington treaty, but there was a gentleman’s agreement over their application. The new D-class design was definitively cancelled to make way for Scharnhorst and Gneisenau (see above). Provisional names, Elsass and Hessen, were reallocated and contracts awarded to Wilhelmshaven and Deutsche Werke in Kiel. Construction however was slowed sown by 14 months, as negociations were ongoing for a treaty with Britain. The staff used this respite to study numerous improvements and additions to the design.

Because the maximum caliber allowed by the Anglo-German Naval Agreement was raised to 40.6 cm (16 inch) for Germany, Hitler soon came back to the designs initially planned and ordered to setup-up to 38 cm (15 inch) instead of leap-frogging directly to the larger caliber. The 28.3 cm turrets however being available and new turrets taking years to develop, it was decided to stay with the previous planned caliber. Hitler also reminded the British were sensitive about main gun calibers increases for German capital ships, trigerring races Germany could ill-afford at that stage. He acquiesced to the 28.3 cm guns but with a provision for them to be up-gunned to 38 cm as soon as possible while the 38 cm turret which were studied landed on the the Bismarck-class (and were never fitted on the Scharnhost class).

KMS Gneisenau bow at Kiel in 1939
KMS Gneisenau’ bow at Kiel in 1939 – colorized by Irootoko Jr.

Scharnhorst class final design 1934

Design development was largely based on an extenson of the cancelled Project D, with the third turret. As completed, this design was accepted in 1935, and orders confirmed at the Kriegsarinewerft and Germaniawerft in May-June that year. The hull were stretched to reach 226 m (741 ft 6 in) at the waterline, 234.9 m (770 ft 8 in) long overall (For Scharnhorst) while Gneisenau was shorter at 229.8 m (753 ft 11 in) overall, but the same straight bow. Both hwere 30 m (98 ft 5 in) wide and with their final designed displacement of 35,540 t (34,980 long tons), draft was 9.1 m (29 ft 10 in). Standard displacement was 32,100 long tons (32,600 t) for a 8.3 m (27 ft 3 in) draft, up to 9.9 m at 38,100 long tons. Construction called for longitudinal steel frames and welded outer hull plates with 21 watertight compartments dividng the structure underwater and a double bottom for 80% of the lenght.

On trials, the straight bow and hull shape meant they were both poor seaboat, always “wet” and plowing in heavy weather in the north sea. To the point that water splashed went as far high as the bridge. TSoon both were taken in hands to rebuilt their straight stem with an “Atlantic bow” (clipper shaped and longer) in January (Scharnhorst) and August 1939 (Gneisenau). But ever after thiosn their low hull meant “A” could not fire straight over the deck and was curtailed by water splashes in heavy seas. For the same reason, their stern was also frequently “wet”. Both were fast as planned, but very slow when entering a turn: When the rudder was hard over they lost over 50% speed and heeled to more than 10° and as much as 13° hard rudder in trials. In port, they always required assistance from tugboats.

Their crew comprised 56 officers and 1,613 gratings on Scharnhorst, up to 60 officers and 1,780 enlisted men on Gneisenau, and in wartime and acting as squadron flagship, they carried 10 more officers and 61 more men. Their fleet of smaller watercraft differed in their locations, but both had two picket boats, two launches, two barges, two pinnaces, two cutters, two yawls, and two dinghies.


Diesel propulsion has been planned for a time, as they were perceived as replacement for the three Panzerschiffe, long range commerce raiders. But their role shifted to classic battleships and it was decided to give them a superheated steam propulsion, as for their size, and desired speed, they needed three times more output power that the Panzerschiffe. They had a triple propellers arrangement, so twice the power per shaft than the Panzerschiffe, while the option for four propellers was still 40,000 hp per shaft. This went far beyond diesel technology at the time, thus this naturally imposed steam turbines. One set was ordered in UK, due to the technological gap lost since the great war and differed in both vessels:
-Scharnhorst had three Brown, Boveri, & Co geared steam turbines, Gneisenau three Germania geared turbines. Their three 3-blade propellers were 4.8 m (15 ft 9 in) in diameter. Thiese turbines were fed by the steam produced by 12 Wagner ultra-high-pressure oil-fired boilers. Their working pressure was around 58 standard atmospheres (5,900 kPa) at temperatures of 450 °C (842 °F). In total these powerplant were rated at 160,000 metric horsepower (157,811 shp; 117,680 kW) while the shafts spinned at 265 revolutions per minute (rpm) max. On trials the ships reached an output of 165,930 PS (163,660 ihp; 122,041 kW) at 280 rpm.

KMS Scharnhorst in trials, 1939 - colorized by Irootoko Jr.
KMS Scharnhorst in trials, 1939 – colorized by Irootoko Jr.

They could also reverse and in tht cas, worked on 57,000 PS (56,220 ihp; 41,923 kW). Top speed as designed was 31 knots (57 km/h; 36 mph) and on trials they exceeded these figures, Scharnhorst reaching 31.5 kn (58.3 km/h; 36.2 mph) and Gneisenau 31.3 knots (58.0 km/h; 36.0 mph). For endurance, both carried 2,800 metric tons (2,800 long tons; 3,100 short tons) of fuel oil. The latter occupied the allocated tanks, but there were plenty of additional storage areas usable in wartime, notably the hull spaces between the belt and torpedo bulkhead as filler against torpedo hits. This could rise the total capacity to 5,080 metric tons (5,000 long tons; 5,600 short tons). With this, both were on paper able to reach a radius of 8,100 nautical miles (15,000 km; 9,300 mi) at 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph). However in normal conditions, Scharnhorst reached 7,100 nmi (13,100 km; 8,200 mi) and Gneisenau 6,200 nmi (11,500 km; 7,100 mi) on trials at this speed. This forbade their use as long range raiders like the Deutschland class, but sweeps in the North Atlantic.
Electrical power came from five electric units at different points. Each of these small powerplant comprised four diesel generators and eight turbo-generators each. These diesel generators provided 150 kilowatts, 300 together or 600 kW. The eight turbo-generators varied in capacity, six of these models generating 460 kW each and two 230 kW for a grand total of 4,120 kW at 220 volts for all inboard systems.


The Scharnhorst class battleships had hardened Krupp armor all around and critical areas with “Wotan Hart” steel. Slopes of the turtle deck artificially increased armor protection in the critical areas of the ship against horizontal fire. Their vitals were well armored against any caliber at angles impacting the main belt-sloping deck area, but at very long range plunging fire, deck armor was weak. The belt central section was 350+170 mm in Krupp Cemented steel and immune to 2,240 lb (1,020 kg) 16 in (406 mm) shells fired over 11,000 m (12,000 yd). The artillery turrets were protected by KC steel. The ASW protection as designed was to withstood a 250 kg (550 lb) explosive warhead. Full-scale underwater explosion tests were done with sections of armor cut from the old SMS Preussen, revealing that welded steel resisted better than riveted plates. On the Schanrhorst class, the torpedo bulkhead was made of Wotan Weich (Wotan, soft) steel, behind the armored belt. The latter was riveted because plate joints incorrectly welded would not withstand an impact.

scharnhorst armor detail

Here is the detail:
Armored Deck: Upper: 50 mm (2.0 in). Main armor deck: 20 mm aft and bow (0.79 in) to 50 mm central, ammo magazines/machinery
“Turtle deck”: Sloped plates, 105 mm (4.1 in) on both longitudinal side, connected to the lower edge of the main belt
Armored belt: 350 mm (14 in) central section, 150 mm (5.9 in) and down to zero at the bow, 200 mm (7.9 in) aft to zero at the stern.
Belt Central portion backing: 170 mm (6.7 in) shielding.
Conning towers: Forward 350 mm walls, 200 mm roof. Aft CT: 100 mm (3.9 in) walls, 50 mm roof.
Main gun turrets: 360 mm (14 in) faces, 200 mm sides, 150 mm roofs.
Barbettes: 350 mm tapered down to 200 mm below, shielded by the turrets above.
Secondary 15 cm turrets: 140 mm (5.5 in) faces, 60 mm (2.4 in) sides, 50 mm roof.
10.5 cm gun mounts: 20 mm (0.79 in) gun shields.
Underwater protection: Outer layer 12–66 mm (.47–2.6 in), void, fuel bunker 8 mm (0.31 in) outer wall and longitudinal stiffeners, transverse bulkheads.

The outer layer located under the main armored belt detonated the torpedo warhead and behind was located a large void to allow gases to expand and dissipate. Beyond it was located the fuel bunkers just 8 mm (0.31 in) thick on the outer section (exposed) to absorb the remaining explosive force. The latter was stiffened by longitudinal frames and transverse bulkheads as well.
This was an extremely strong amidships, but clearly weaker aft and forward of the citadel. There, it still could deal with a 200 kg (440 lb) warhead, roughly a 457 mm aerial torpedo. The arrangement of the torpedo bulkhead, connected to the lower portion of the sloped deck at 10° had riveted angled bars. However these bars were not designed to take too much stress, already from normal bending forces when manoeuvring hard rudder. If a torpedo warhead stoke when turning, these already overloaded bars would fail. The beam was limited, therefore decreased on both ends of the citadel near the turrets in width, notably the critical battery turrets, close to the magazines and barbettes. More beam allowed for more armor, stability and absorption of impacts underwater. That’s why the following Bismarck class had a beam of 36 m instead, just conceding a single knot in top speed.



28 cm turrets of KMS Scharnhorst, with Gneisenau in the background
28 cm turrets of KMS Scharnhorst, with Gneisenau in the background – src

The Scharnhorst-class battleships carried nine 28.3 cm (11.1 inch) SK C/34 54.5 (34 caliber) quick-firing guns located in three triple turrets, two forward and one aft. These guns were not identical to the 28.3 cm SK C/28 mounted on the Deutschland-class Panzerschiffe as their barrel was reinforced and much longer. This 28.3 cm caliber looks weak, but Kriegsmarine’s officers still preferred it to heavier, but slower rated guns. The higher rate of fire was indeed 3.5 rounds per minute and the crews made competitions for faster loading, despite the level of automation compared to the previous guns.

Conception of the 28 cm (11″) SK C/34
They had a high muzzle velocity, giving its light-weight projectiles very long range and good penetration power but poor performance against deck armor. Gneisenau was badly damaged during a bombing raid and her guns were reused in a coastal fortification, turret Caesar, still remains a museum exhibit at Austrat (Oerlandat) near Trondheim in Norway. Turret Bruno was used at Fledt, near Bergen and individual guns (Turret Anton) used in Denmark and the Netherlands.
Inroduced into service in 1938, they weighted, including the breech 111,739.6 lbs (53,250 kg) and Worked at a 20.3 tons/in2 (3,200 kg/cm2) pressure, with an approximate Barrel Life of 300 rounds. It was Constructed of A tube with a loose liner, a two-part shrunk-on jacket and a breech end piece screwed shut to the jacket. The breech block supporting piece was screwed into the breech end-piece and its used horizontal sliding.
The overall lenght was 607 in (154.415 m) for a 571.1 in (14.505 m) long barrel and a rifling 461.6 in (11.725 m) long, (80) grooves 0.128 in deep x 0.265 in (3.25 mm x 6.72 mm) and lands 0.173 in (4.4 mm), increased twist RH 1 in 50 to 1 in 35. Its chamber Volume was 10,984 in3 (180 dm3).
The 2.8 cm had a rate Of Fire of 3.5 rounds per minute, and fired the APC L/4,4: 727.5 lbs. (330 kg), HE L/4,4 base fuze: 694.4 lbs. (315 kg), HE L/4,4 nose fuze 3: 694.4 lbs. (315 kg) and HE L/4,4 nose fuze AA 4: about 685.0 lbs. (311 kg). They had two propellant charges, the fore one 93.7 lbs. (42.5 kg) RPC/38 (1040 x 15/4.0) and Main charge 168.6 lbs. (76.5 kg) RPC/38 (1195 x 15/4.9). When loaded the w/RPC/32 cartridge weighted 262.3 lbs. (119 kg). With the APC muzzle velocity was 2,920 fps (890 mps)

These the same kind of projectiles as did for the Bismarck and Hipper, notably Psgr.m.K. L/4,4 AP rounds scaled to 28.3 cm size. The 28 cm SAP round was also a copy of the 38 cm round but without the light AP cap. One clue about this design was German intelligence believing French battleships used KC armor for their turret roofs. The 28 cm SAP design was ather weak small to penetrate vertical armor. Netherlands Navy planned these guns for their “Design 1047” (Gelderland class) Battlecruisers.

Turrets: Drh LC/34 turrets named from the bow “Anton”, “Bruno” and “Cäsar”, electrically traversed with hydraulic elevation/depression, a mass of 750 tons, an internal barbette diameter of 10.2 m, a traversing speed of 7.2° ps and depression/elevation of −8° to 40°, -9° for the superimposed “B” turret with a 40,930 m (44,760 yards) range.

Secondary Artillery

150 mm twin turret as preserved today in a coastal battery

-Twelve 15 cm SK C/28 L/55 quick-firing guns.
These were mounted in two ways, due to the lack of space: Eight guns in four Drh L. C/34 twin turrets and four in single MPL/35 pedestal mounts. The former were placed on the broadside, one pair abft the bridge superstructure, with a cylindrical recess to allow the turret a 180°, the second pair abaft the aft superstructure. The single masked mounts were located along the amidship section, on either side of the funnel, with a platform in between supporting one of the eight twin AA mount.
The turrets and pedestal mounts enabled a depression/elevation of −10°/40° down to 35° for the single mounts. They fired a 45.3 kg (99.87 lb) shell at a rate of 6–8 rounds per minute. Barrel life time was expected to be 1,100 rounds. The pedestals guns range reached 22,000 m (24,060 yd), while the turrets, which could elevate further, reached 23,000 m (25,153 yd). Ammo supply range was between 1,600 and 1,800 shells total so around 133–150 shells per gun.

AA Artillery (FLAK)

FLAK 105 mm naval artillery and mount – From German ordnance catalog
The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau anti-aircraft battery comprised fourteen 10.5 cm C/33 L/65 guns in twin mounts and sixteen 3.7 cm L/83 guns also in twin mounts plus ten and twenty 2 cm guns, as designed.

-The 10.5 cm guns rate of fire was 15–18 rpm at a ceiling of 12,500 m (41,010 feet), using six Dop.L.C/31 twin mounts all placed amidships while the last one was superfiring over “C” turret placed on the quarter deck aft.
Depression/elevation was −8° +80°, maximum range of 17,700 m (19,357 yd) at 45°.

The 3.7 cm guns were in eight twin Dopp LC/30 mounts, manually operated. They elevated to 85°, giving them a ceiling of 6,800 m (22,310 ft), but tracers were reached only 4,800 m (15,750 ft). Rate of fire was 30 rpm.

They had no torpedo tubes as designed, but after 1942, two triple 53.3 cm deck-mounted torpedo tubes from KMS Leipzig and Nürnberg were installed and storage or 18 G7a torpedoes provided for both vessels.

Fire control

KMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had two sets of Seetakt radar. The first was mounted on top of the forward gun director atop the bridge tower and the second on the rear main battery gun director. The Seetakt operated at 368 megacycles and 14 kW, but new models were installed later in the war, for 100 kW, and 80 cm wavelength (375 MHz.).

KMS Deutschland specifications

Dimensions -Length 235 meters (771 ft) overall, 226 meters waterline
-Beam 30 meters (98 ft)
-Draught 9.69 meters (31.8 ft)
Displacement 32,100 long tons (32,600 t) (standard)
38,100 long tons (38,700 t) (full load)
Crew 1,669 (56 officers, 1613 enlisted)
Propulsion 3 screws, Germania/Brown, Boveri & Co geared turbines
151,893 PS (149,815 ihp; 111,717 kW)
Speed 31 knots (57.5 km/h; 35.6 mph)
Radius 7,100 nmi (13,100 km; 8,200 mi)/19 knots
Gneisenau: 6,200 nmi (11,500 km; 7,100 mi) at 19 knots
Armament 9 × 28 cm/54.5 (11 inch) SK C/34
12 × 15 cm/55 (5.9″) SK C/28
14 × 10.5 cm/65 (4.1 inch) SK C/33
16 × 3.7 cm/L83 (1.5″) SK C/30
10 (later 16) × 2 cm/65 (0.79″) C/30 or C/38
6 × 533 mm torpedo tubes
Aviation 3 Arado Ar 196A-3, catapult
Armor Belt: 350 mm (13.8 in)
Deck: 50 to 95 mm (2.0 to 3.7 in)
Turrets:200 to 360 mm (7.9 to 14.2 in)
Conning tower: 350 mm

KMS Scharnhorst in november 1943, in the “Norway” pattern.

Author’s HD illustration of the KMS Gneisenau in 1938 with the initial prow.

Author’s HD illustration of the KMS Gneisenau in early 1941 in the Baltic
Another HD 3 views picture

KMS Gneisenau in February 1942 after Operation Cerberus
KMS Gneisenau in February 1942 after Operation Cerberus

KMS Scharnhorst November 1939 training in the baltic
KMS Scharnhorst November 1939 training in the baltic after her bow reconstruction

Scharnhorst July 1942
Scharnhorst July 1942

scharnhorst bogen 1943
Scharnhorst in Norway, Bogen Bay, August-November 1943

The Scharnhorst in action

scharnhorst in port
Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst

Scharnhorst in Port

At her commissioning, KMS Scharnhorst was commanded by Kapitän zur See (KzS) Otto Ciliax. His service tour was rather brief as he had to leave in September 1939 because of illness replaced by KzS Kurt-Caesar Hoffmann, holding his post until 1942. On 1 April 1942 he was promoted to Konteradmiral, awarded the Knight’s Cross, while the battleships’s new captain was KzS Friedrich Hüffmeier, replaced in October 1943 by KzS Fritz Hintze, killed in action during the ship’s final battle ().

Atlantic rampage: The sinking of Rawalpindi

The sinking of Rawalpindi, famous painting by Norman Wilkinson
The sinking of Rawalpindi, famous painting by Norman Wilkinson

First operation as commerce raider as intended started with Gneisenau, her sister ship, on 21 November 1939. Flanked and screened by the light cruiser KMS Köln and nine destroyers, they were patrol between Iceland and the Faroe Islands, hoping to draw out British units, notably as a diversion for the Panzerschiffe for Admiral Graf Spee then in hot pursuit in the South Atlantic. On the 23, the German flotilla spotted the armed merchant cruiser Rawalpindi. At 16:07 this day, lookouts identified it positively as a target of choice and both battleships opened fire. Rawalpindi was an AMC, armed with old 150 mm guns and acting as a sherpherd for its convoy, which was order to flee while she stayed behind facing the onslaught. Despite the gallantry, the Rawalpindi was jopelessely outranged and outgunned. The hellish twins of the Kriegsmarine made short work of this, as in a hour later they had catch up to range and opened fire at 17:03. Just three minutes later the first salvo of hter main gun landed on Rawalpindi’s bridge. Captain Edward Coverly Kennedy was killed instantly as well as most officers present. Despite of this, Rawalpindi still managed to score a hit on Scharnhorst, causing just splinter damage. By 17:16 this was practically over. Rawalpindi was sinking while burning fiercely. Admiral Wilhelm Marschall onboard Gneisenau ordered bith ships to stop to pick up survivors with their boats. The rescue operations was cut short however by the spotting of cruiser HMS Newcastle (Town class). The squadron broke and fled north while weather deteriorated fast. They headed south through the North Sea while four allied capital ships, Hood, Nelson, Rodney and, Dunkerque (their nemesis) were in hot pursuit. They reach Wilhelmshaven on 27 November. Scharnhorst had short repairs afterwards in Wilhelmshaven, but her boilers were overhauled.

Operation Weserübung

hipper landing troops in Norway

Scharnhorst sailed into the Baltic Sea for gunnery training but the winter ice soon had her confined in port until February 1940. Both could then return to Wilhelmshaven, arrriving on 5 February and assigned to the force mustered for Operation Weserübung: The invasion of Denmark and Norway. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had to provide a distant cover for the ships designed for the assaults on Narvik and Trondheim. They departed Wilhelmshaven on 7 April with the heavy cruiser KMS Admiral Hipper. Around 14:30, the flotilla was attacked by bombers, scoring no hits. That was the first of the many demonstration that high altitude bombers could not do much agains fast movine battleships, contrary to General Douhets theories widely believed by the general staff at the time. Heavy winds however did more structural damage as well as flooding. Scharnhorst’s fuel stores suffered of this.

HMS Renown
HMS Renown

Duel with HMS Renown
At 09:15 however, the flotilla spit up as Admiral Hipper reinforced the destroyers at Narvik, already engaging a British force here. On 9 April, the “zwilling” (twins) spotted the battlecruiser HMS Renown, spotted by Gneisenau’s Seetakt radar first at 04:30. Crews were called to combat stations and 30 min. later Scharnhorst’s navigator spotted gun flashes from Renown, hile themselves responded three minutes later. Gneisenau took tow hits right away: One shell disabled her rear gun turret while Scharnhorst’s radar shut down. At 05:18, Renown, shifted fire from Gneisenau to Scharnhost and the latter started maneuvered to avoid plunging fire. At 07:15, both German schachtschiffe nevertheless used their higher speed to to evade Renown successfully while heavy seas provoked some flooding especially for Scharnhorst’s forward turret, which at some point went out of action while mechanical problems with her starboard turbines forced both to reduce theur speed to 25 knots. Still this was enough to take their distance.

Second Raid on Norway
Scharnhorst arrived off Lofoten, Norway on 9 April at midday like her sister, and both turned west while temporary repairs were done onboard, then steamed west, then south to meet KMS Admiral Hipper on 12 April. They were spotted by an RAF patrol aircraft which was followed by an air attack. Poor visibility¨protected them however. In the end, the squadron reached port in the evening. Scharnhorst was repaired at the Deutsche Werke in Kiel during which the aft turret aircraft catapult was removed. Both left Wilhelmshaven on 4 June joined by Admiral Hipper and four destroyers on their way to Norway. The objective was to disrupt Allied reinforcements and supplies to the Norwegians. On 7 June, they were resupplied by the tanker Dithmarschen and a day after spotted a British corvette, which was promptly sunk together with the oil tanker Pioneer. Arado 196 floatplanes were soon in the air to try to spo other targets of opportunity. Later Admiral Hipper and destroyers were detached to sunk the 19,500 long tons passenger ship SS Orama but spared the hospital ship Atlantis. Admiral Hipper and the destroyers later refuelled in Trondheim before going to the Harstad area.

Scharnhost firing on HMS Glorious

Destruction the Glorious
At 17:45, both battleships spotted at 40,000 m (44,000 yd) the British aircraft carrier Glorious and her two escorting destroyers, HMS Ardent and Acasta. At 18:32 Scharnhorst was closer and opened fire at 26,000 m (28,000 yd). Six minutes later she started to hit Glorious at 25,600 m (28,000 yd). On shell penetrated the upper hangar a massive fire broke out. After ten minutes, Gneisenau’s shells fell on the Glorious’s brdge, killing the captain and staff. The two destroyers bravely tried to distract the German battleships by obscusing them laying smoke screens, but radar still provided the position of their target. A 18:26 both ships fired now at 24,100 m (26,400 yd), at maximum rate of fire, nearly 63 shells per minute were falling on the carrier and this went on for an hour. Glorious eventually capzied and sank to the bottom as her two destroyers. However, before sinking HMS Acasta closed enough to launch a volley of 4 torpedoes on Scharnhorst. One of these hit her at 19:39 while one of her Acasta also hit 4.7″ shell landed on Scharnhorst’s forward superfiring turret without damage contrary to the torpedo; The latter blew a hole 14 by 6 m (15.3 by 6.6 yd) followed by a flooding of around 2,500 tons of sea water. The rear turret stopped working and 48 men were killed or drawn. The ship listed 5 degree at the rea, the stern lower for a meter and speed fell to 20 knots. Her machinery suffered from the flooding, and the starboard propeller shaft was dislodged by the impact.

HMS Glorious last trip, with her escort destroyers.

This forced Scharnhorst to leave her mission to join Trondheim for temporary repairs on 9 June. There, the Germans had posted the repair ship Huaskaran, but a day later, she was spotted there by the RAF followed by a raid by twelve Hudson bomber. They dropped 36 armor-piercing bombs which all missed but meanwhile, the British admiralry had dispatched the battleship Rodney and carrier Ark Royal. On 13 June, Ark Royal launched fifteen Skua dive bombers, which were interceptedby German Me 109 fighters and shot more than half. The other remaining seven arrived over Trondheim, braved the FLAK and attacked Scharnhorst. The single bomb that hit the battleship was a dud. After repairs were completed at a hellish pace on 20 June, Scharnhorst rushed at sea to make he way back home, under heavy escort. While underway, she was attacked on 21 June twice by air attacks, Swordfish and Beaufort bombers. Between her AA and her fighters escort, they were driven off. Meanwhile British radio traffic indicated the fleet was rushing toward her, so Scharnhorst sailed to Stavanger while the British capital ships arrived within 35 nautical miles (65 km; 40 mi) of Scharnhorst. However Stavanger was well guarded, including by the Luftwaffe, and the British ships did not ventured close. This respite led Scharnhorst to leave the following morning Stavanger for Kiel. Her extensive repairs lasted six months.

Scharnhorst firing against HMS Glorious
Scharnhorst firing against HMS Glorious

Operation Berlin

Gunther Lütjens Scharnhorst started her post-repairs trials in the Baltic ad was back to Kiel in December 1940. There, she met Gneisenau prepared for Operation Berlin. This was a planned raid into the Atlantic, preying on Allied shipping lanes, on which great hopes were placed by the naval staff. Bismarck was not yet in service. But the perio was known for its severe storms. Whle at sea, massive waves flooded and damaged Gneisenau, less Scharnhorst, but this was enough to return into port, Gotenhafen for Scharnhorst, Kiel for her sister ship to be repaired. On 22 January 1941, both ships under command of Admiral Günther Lütjens, left for the North Atlantic. They were detected passing through the Skagerrak. The Home Fleet scrambled and deployed to place itself between Iceland and the Faroes. The Germans detected this force by radar at long range, and Lütjens managed to avoid the British and by 3 February, after evading the last British cruiser they were in the open Atlantic, ready to create havoc.

On 6 February, they refuelled from the tanker Schlettstadt off Cape Farewell. After 08:30 on 8 February, lookouts spotted convoy HX 106. It was escorted by the battleship HMS Ramillies and Lütjens, under instruction from Hitler, forbade anu engagement. The attack was called off as a result but still, Captain KzS Hoffmann (Scharnhorst) closed to 23,000 m (25,000 yd) to try to lure Ramillies away from the convoy, in order to allow Gneisenau to prey on the convoy. This was immediately stopped by Lütjens and the two battleships veered northwest in search of shipping. On 22 February, they spotted as small convoy sailing west to load in the US. They dispersed when the battleships were spotted and Scharnhorst sank the 6000 ton tanker Lustrous before the attack was called off again: Lütjens indeed decided to take new positions as the convoy sent distress calls warning the Royal Navy. Lütjens choice was a risky one: The Cape Town-Gibraltar convoy route, far away to the south. This meant both ships would head fot the northwest of Cape Verde. While underway, they encountered another convoy, this time escorted by HMS Malaya of the Queen Elisabth class on 8 March. Again, Lütjens forbade any attack, but both vessels tracked and shadowed the convoy while directed U-boats. Just two of them headed there and sank a 28,488 tons of shipping during the night to 9 March. Malaya’s lookouts evebtually spotted the German battleships and turnd to attack them, closing at at 24,000 m (26,000 yd). Still, Lütjens refused to open fire and ordered to break away from the engagement. Scharnhorst and her sister ship veered west in the mid-Atlantic. This gave the occasion to Scharnhorstto spot and sinke an isolated cargo, the Greek Marathon. Both later refuelled from the tankers Uckermark and Ermland on 12 March.

On 15 March, both battleships were headed with the tankers to meet what was left of a dispersed convoy in the mid-Atlantic because of an U-Boat attack. Scharnhorst sank two ships and later the main body of the convoy was located. Scharnhorst alone would sank seven ships for a total of 27,277 tons. But a surviving ships meanwhile sent a warning and location of the German battleships. The naval staff HQ directed HMS Rodney and King George V on this position at full sped. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau evaded them nevertheless. Lütjens however at this point beliweve he has tested their luck enough and it was time to wrap up and leave. He gave ordered to head for Brest, reached on 22 March. Scharnhorst’s technical crew were hard at work afterwards to fix superheater tubes in her boilers. This was carrie dout until July. Because of this, Scharnhorst missed Operation Rheinübung, another raid by Bismarck in May 1941.

Scharnhorst targeted by the RAF

Scharnhorst moved from Brest to la Pallice for post-repairs trials on the 21. She receive instructions not to reach Brest to avoid concentration of heavy units in Brest, now Prinz Eugen was there on 21 July. This would have been too tempting for the RAF. Instead she stayedat La Pallice on 23 July. Meanshile, the RAF planned a large raid on Brest planned for the night of 24 July. Aerial reconnaissance however signalled Scharnhorst at La Pallice and the operation was altered. The RAF despatched a squadron of Halifax heavy bombers (No. 35 Sqn) and No. 76 Squadron. They took off and crossed 200 miles (320 km) to reach Scharnhorst at La Pallice. Meanwhile the raid on Brest targeted Prinz Eugen and Gneisenau. Meanwhile 15 Halifaxes attacked Scharnhorst and scored five hits on her starboard side. Three of the 454 kg (1,001 lb) armor-piercing bombs and two HE 227 kg (500 lb) bombs. One landed on her deck forward of the starboard 15 cm twin turret and conning tower, passing through the both decks and exploded in the main armored deck, somewhat containing the blast. The torpedo bulkhead was badly damaged and flooding started. A second HE bomb fell forward of the rear main battery turret. Again, it made through two decks and also exploded on the armored deck. This time, it blew a hole in it and caused splinter damage.

Two AP 454 kg bombs hit amidships, between the 15 cm and 10.5 cm gun turrets, fortunately they were duds. The first went through each deck to exit through the double bottom, causing severe flooding, while the other slided along the torpedo bulkhead and ended near side belt armor. The third fell aft of the rear 28 cm turret, 3 m from the side and also failed to detonate. Because of the flooding, the ship took at her mooring a 8 degree list to starboard. Both main turrets and half her anti-aircraft battery were out of action, and the crew had two KiA and fifteen injured but damage-control teams later corrected the list with counter-flooding. Scharnhorst was able to leave La Pallice for Brest at 19:30. The following morning, 25 July, one of the escorting destroyers shot down a British patrol plane and signalled it, but Scharnhorst reached Brest in the later afternoon and joined the drydock for extensive repairs. She was immobilized there 4 months. Meanwhile, the Germans sent there a new radar system to be installed aft, capable of 100 kW. Also 53.3 cm torpedo tubes banks from a former cruiser were also installed. Her sister ship also had been damaged seriously and in repairs, and the location of the two battleships in Brest was precarious to say the least. Bt that point, all German capital ships deployed to the Atlantic were out of action, and there was a real danger of anoher raid of the RAF. FLAK and fighters were mobilized around Brest for this occurence.

Operation Cerberus: The Channel Dash

Quite a famous episode in the life of boh battleships. On 12 January 1942, the German Naval Command was in conference with Hitler to relate about the dangerous location where the German battleships were in. At one hand, it gave them easier access to the Gulf of Biscay and mid-atlantic, but the port was too close to British shore. It was decided at the end of the reunion to return the “terrible twins”, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, together with Prinz Eugen back to Germany, even if this meant hading straight through the Channel. Other options had been studied, like a great manoeuver westwards and around the British Island, north to Greenland and Iceland, but this long journey would have been too tempting. The fastest, shortest way won the decision. It was also decided to redeploy the squadron to Norway, to prey on convoys to Murmansk. The “Channel Dash” (Unternehmen Cerberus) was an attempt to avoid Allied radar and patrol aircraft of the Atlantic. Vice Admiral Otto Ciliax hoisted his flag onboard Scharnhorst for this operation. In early February, minesweepers started to clean up minefields on their way in the channel, and performed still undetected by the British.

At 23:00 on 11 February, the operation started. It could have been a disaster, and the British prepared detailed plans in advance for just such eventuality. Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen left Brest that day, entering the Channel at 27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph) staying very close to the French coast, also to avoid radar and visual detection. The British failed to detect their departure and luck was maintained along the way. A submarine in faction just went to port recharge its batteries. By 06:30, both ships were already off Cherbourg, joined by a flotilla of torpedo boats led by Kapitän Erich Bey (Z29). The Luftwaffe was also scrambled for an air cover, under command of General Adolf Galland, in what was called Operation Donnerkeil. The fighters flew low, and stayed close also to avoid radar detection and there were liaison officers onboard on all three ships to coordinate the air cover. In addition, German aircraft jammed British radar with chaff. By 13:00, the flotilla was off the Strait of Dover and 30 min. later were attacked at last by six Swordfish torpedo bombers with Spitfire escort. The Luftwaffe defense was impenetrable, and all six Swordfish were shot down.

Scharnhorst was the only ship damaged however. At 15:31 she struck an air-dropped magnetic mine off the Scheldt. It hit abreast of the forward superfiring turret, damaging the ship’s circuit breakers, knocking out her electrical system for 20 minutes. Her superfiring forward turret was jammed, as well as all twin and single 15 cm mounts on the port side, the fuel oil pumps, bearings of the turbo-generators. Power shut and the ship had to stop for emergency measure to switch power from the boilers and turbines. The hull was also damaged, with a large gash leaving 1,220 t of seawater flooding 30 watertight spaces. As a result, Scharnhorst took a list of one degree. Admiral Ciliax decided to transfer his flag on Z29. The engine room crews restarted the first turbine at 15:49, twenty minutes after, a miracle. But dictated by the extreme situation the battleship was in, just under the nose of the British shore. The second and third turbines were restarted later, the last at 16:01. Scharnhorst, dead on the water for half an hour, was notw able to speed up to 27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph), and she was able to restart her last turbine when an isolated bomber spotted the ship and closed to attack. It dropped several bombs 90 m (98 yd) off her port side. Later, twelve Beauforts bomber attacked Scharnhost for ten minutes. It was beaten off by AA fire and the Luftwaffe again. Other attacks followed with the same result, leading the AA to become red-hot and short of ammo at the end of the operation. This was nothing short of an humiliation for the Royal Navy and RAF, and PM Churchill was understandably furious.

However, Scharnhost was not safe yet. While she was underway off Terschelling she hit another magnetic mine on the starboard side, at 22:34. Again, the blast knowked out the whole power system and jammed the rudders as well as two turbines while the third was turned off soon afterwards. The blast created a hole leaving 300 tons of seawater flooding ten watertight spaces. The ship by that point had only its centerline shaft operational and was able to run at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph). The teams yet again performed the impossible and partial power was restored, first to the starboard turbine (now the ship reach 14 knots) but her main gun turrets and 15 cm turrets were all jammed. At 08:00, Scharnhorst at last made it to the Jade Bight. There, she was to wait for iceabreakers to clear her way to Wilhelmshaven. Admiral Ciliax returned from the torpedo boat to Scharnhorst, raising his flag again. At noon, the ice was cleared and Scharnhorst entered Wilhelmshaven. before heading to Kiel two days after for long repairs in a floating dry dock. Work was completed by July 1942, after which she made sea trials in the Baltic, revealing her boiler tubes needed replacement.

Scharnhorst in Norway (August 42 – Nov. 1943)

In early August 1942, Scharnhorst started exercises with U-boats and collided with U-523, sending her in dry-docking for repairs, completed by September 1942. She trained in the Baltic and was sent to Gotenhafen to be fitted with a new rudder. It has been designed based on reports of the torpedo damage on Prinz Eugen and Lützow. Boiler and turbines issues however had the ship immobilized until December 1942. By that time she had indeed only two shafts operational. It was decided at this point to overhaul completely her propulsion system. It was don quickly as Scharnhorst was ready for action again in early January 1943. She made verification trials and departed on 7 January with Prinz Eugen and five destroyers for Norway. However she soon received a warning of British air activity near the coast and headed back to port. She made another attempt later with the same result, but on 8 March, poor weather allowed the squadron to head for Norway, greeted by a severe storm off Bergen. Scharnhorst went on at 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph) without the destroyers, which took refuge and she arrived at 16:00 on 14 March, in Bogen Bay, outside Narvik. There, were already present the bulk of what was left of the Kirgsmarine at that point: The Lützow and Tirpitz.

Scharnhorst at sea

On 22 March, all thee made their way to Altafjord for heavy storms light damage. In early April, Scharnhorst, Tirpitz escorted by nine destroyers trained at Bear Island in the Arctic. On 8 March, Scharnhorst suffered an internal explosion in her aft auxiliary machinery space, just above the armor deck. It killed or injured 34 men. The crew flooded the magazines of the aft turret (“Caesar”) as a precaution. A repair ship was present to complete repairs in just two weeks. Neverthelss, Germany was experiencing severe fuel shortages, reserved for the U-Boats, which prevented any operation for six months. This time was spent in short training maneuvers.

Scharnhorst, Tirpitz then departed from Altafjord on 6 September for Operation Zitronella. They carried troops and were tasked to cover landings on the island of Spitzbergen. Scharnhorst selenced a battery of two 3 inches gun, set ablaze fuel tanks, coal mines, harbor facilities, and military installations. The weather station, main meteorologica source for the allies fo the northern convoys to USSR was destroyed while about 1,000 landed troops pushed the Norwegian garrison into the mountains. On 22 September while the squadron was back, British X-craft attacked Tirpitz, which was seriously damaged. There was only Scharnhorst left with five destroyers available for future operations. On 25 November 1943 Scharnhorst made a two-hour full-power trial, reaching only 29.6 knots compatred to her 1940 trials of 31.14 knots. This was perhaps a presage her speed could not save her.

A dramatic end: The Battle of the North Cape


In December 1943 it was more important than ever to interrupt allied supplies to USSR via the north road. Between the German Army in fighting retreat and a weakened Luftwaffe and increased Allied ASW and naval presence, Hitler and the nava staff still believed Scharnhorst and Tirpitz could do smething together with the four remaining cruisers in the Baltic. There was a conference with Hitler on the subject held on 19–20 December. Großadmiral Karl Dönitz agreed to deploy Scharnhorst to attack the next Allied convoy by any means necessary. The operation was supervised by Konteradmiral Erich Bey. The task force setup around Scharnhorst was gathered and prepared on 22 December, made ready to go within a three-hour notice. Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft located a convoy with 20 transports, only escorted by cruisers and destroyers around 400 nautical miles west of Tromsø. Two days later its course was confirmed, and orderes were sent for an interception course. The convoy position was cornfirmed again by an U-boat at 09:00 on 25 December. Dönitz ordered Scharnhorst to go, but also to break off if a capital ship was spotted or signalled, while still be aggressive enough to inflict maximal damage to the convoy. Bey and Dönitz hoped the Atlantic 1941 carnage could be repeated. Attack was planned to start at 10:00 on 26 December, independent of the weather. There was by then only 45 minutes of full daylight available for six hours of twilight, and Allied radar-directed fire control greatly impproved, allowing accyrate fire in any conditions of weather, day and night. The German radar lagged behind at that point.

HMS Duke of York
HMS Duke of York

Scharnhorst departed with five destroyers around 19:00, in open sea four hours later and at 03:19, instructions were received that Scharnhorst was to conduct the attack alone in case of heavy seas, as the destroyers fighting capabilities would have been severely reduced. This last message was intercepted by British and Admirals Robert Burnett and Bruce Fraser positioned their forces, waiting for the Scharnhorst to arrive. At 07:03, about 40 nautical miles southwest of Bear Island at 10:00 as planned, the German battleship was in position to attack the convoy. On his side, Admiral Burnett had under orders the cruisers Norfolk, Belfast, and Sheffield. He placed these in between the Convoy JW 55B and the planned approach route of Scharnhorst. Meanwhile, Admiral Fraser was on board the battleship Duke of York, recently in commission, with crews eager to fight. She made another squadron with the cruiser Jamaica and four destroyers. Fraser moved southwest of Scharnhorst’s path, blocking his escape. The trap was set.

Schlachtschiff “Scharnhorst”

An hour after this, Conter-Admiral Bey deployed his destroyers to screen Scharnhorst, 10 nautical miles behind. Battle stations was signalled in preparation for the attack and at 08:40, HMS Belfast spotted Scharnhorst on her radar while the latter ignored they had been detected, turning off their own radar to prevent the Brtish to pickup its signals. At 09:21, Belfast’s lookouts spotted in turn the approaching Scharnhorst at about 11,000 m (12,000 yd), and opened fire when in range three minutes later, soon joined by Norfolk. Scharnhorst fired in response and turned to stay away, increasing speed. She was hit twice by 8 inches shells, one dud, one disabling her forward rangefinders and radar antenna. Only the aft radar was left now for detection. Scharnhorst turned south to evade the cruisers, which stayed close, following her by radar. She then tuened northeast of the convoy, spotted again by Belfast. The cruisers then took 20 minutes to coordinate their moe and be close enough to fire again on Scharnhorst, which detected theem with her aft radar, and opened fire in response. After two volleys, she broke off, and again, turned away to disengage. Around 12:25, Scharnhorst ma,aged to hit Norfolk twice, destroying her gunnery radar and the second hit “X” barbette and jammed the turret. Increasing speed, Scharnhorst tried to escape and later find the convoy. Burnett kept his distance too, only shadowing Scharnhorst. Fraser mweanhile arrived with the Duke of York. Scharnhorst’s screen of destroyers failed to locate the convoy and at 13:15, Counter-admiral Bey seeing this was going nowhere and the destroyers were dangerously kow on fuel, decided they would head for home. At 13:43, order was given and the destroyers left Scharnhorst alone.

At 16:17, HMS Duke of York at last made radar contact. 30 minutes later, HMS Belfast was close enough to fire illuminating shells on Scharnhorst, allowing the Duke of York to open fire at 16:50, from 11,000 m (12,000 yd). Scharnhorst returned fire and manouvered to dodge the first volleys. Five minutes later, Duke of York hit first: One of her 14 in shells struck Scharnhorst abreast of her forward gun turret, jamming the turret’s training gears while splinters started a fire in the ammunition magazine, flooded as well as the other forward magazine, but the water was quickly drained to allow Bruno’s turret to resume fire again. Another struck the ventilation trunk (Bruno turret), which was destroyed. Due to this, the turret was invaded by noxious propellant gases each time the breeches were opened. A third shell hit close to the turret Caesar and caused flooding while splinters killed many. Next the forward 15 cm gun turrets were both hit and destroyed.
It was about 18:00, when another shell struck on the starboard side, going through the upper belt armor to land in number 1 boiler room. The propulsion system was so badly damaged Scharnhorst slowed down to 8 knots to repair, making her an easy target. Again, her teams made miracles, and she was soon able to speed up to 22 knots, adding 5,000 m (5,500 yd) to her distance to the Duke of York, firing salvo after salvo. Duke of York felt the Geran rapid-fire at this point. Many were killed by splinters, while her fire-control radar was jammed. But Fraser went on pounding the German battleship, in a fight to the finish.

Gunners of Duke of York posing proudly after their duel with the Scharnhorst
The Gunners of Duke of York posing proudly after their duel with the Scharnhorst. This was the last ever big gun naval battle in Europe.

At 18:42, Duke of York ceased fire. In total, her guns had fired 52 salvos. Her lookouts reported at least 13 hits. Still Scharnhorst was able to keep the distance, her main armament still ârtially operational, but not her secondary armament. Fraser knew this was the right time to send the destroyers at his disposal. Like hunting hogs, HMS Scorpion and HNoMS Stord closed to the Scharnhorst enough to launch eight torpedoes at her at 18:50. Four hit, one abreast of turret Bruno (jamming it), another port causing minor flooding, another damaged the port propeller shaftand the fourth hit the bow. These achieved their objectives to slow Scharnhorst down to 12 knots, allowed the Duke of York to soon close to 9,100 m. By all means, ths spelled the end for the Scharnhost. Now only her aft turret (Caesar) was operational. The captain ordered that all available men tried to arry ammunitions forward to the aft turret, a daunting task fue to the weight of the shells and their propellant charges. Meanwhile, Fraser ordered HMS Jamaica, soon joined by Belfast to close into range and finish off the Scharnhorst, with guns and torpedoes. They did, and the German battleship, hit by more torpedo hits eventually stopped dead in the water, listed to starboard until at 19:45 she sank by the bow. Her propellers were still turning when her stern emerged high above the water. British ships searched for survivors, pulling 36 away even though voices could be heard in the darkness. As always, there was the danger of U-Boats. In addition, the water was freezing cold, so there was little hope for survivors.

Scharnhorst rare survivors transferred to Scapa Flow
Scharnhorst’s rare survivors transferred to Scapa Flow


Scharnhorst’s wreck was rediscovered in September 2000, by a joint expedition financed by the BBC, NRK, and the Royal Norwegian Navy. The survey vessel Sverdrup II scanned the sea floor and located a large submerged object after which the Royal Norwegian Navy’s HNoMS Tyr sent ROV to inspect the wreck. On 10 September, Scharnhorst was located under 290 m (950 ft) of water with her hull lying upside down in a cloud of debris, with the main mast and rangefinders scattered around. Damage from shellfire and torpedoes was clear, while the bow was blown off, more from a magazine explosion than collision with the bottom as it was found at some distance.

Documentary about the Scharnhorst.

The Gneisenau in action

KMS on sea trials in 1938
KMS on sea trials in 1938

KMS Gneisenau started her sea trials in the Atlantic in June 1939, carrying practice ammunition, and very few live rounds. By September 1939 she was back, and prepared for war. On the 4 September, she was attacked by fourteen Wellington bombers, but none scored any hit. In November 1939 her captain KzS Förste was replaced by KzS Harald Netzbandt and she started her first combat operation under command of Admiral Wilhelm Marschall on 21 November. With her sister ship Scharnhorst (which always accompanied her until 1942) and teaming with the light cruiser Köln and nine destroyers they started a patrol between Iceland and the Faroe Islands to draw out British units for Admiral Graf Spee in the South Atlantic. They sank the AMC Rawalpindi at this occasion.
Gneisenau was back in 27 November, slightly damaged by heavy seas and was repaired in Kiel in drydock, her bow modified again (the first tme was after her sea trials) to incorporate flare and sheer. She made her trials in tje Baltic in January 1940 but was blocked by ice when returning to the North Sea the Kiel Canal. Se she was only back by 4 February.

Operation Weserübung
Gneisenau was pepared for the invasion of Norway, as a distant covering force for the assaults on Narvik and Trondheim, under command of Vize Admiral Günther Lütjens. Leaving on 7 April with Admiral Hipper and fourteen destroyers they coveered the landings, hipper detached to land the troops she carried, while at 14:30 this day they were attacked by British bombers, scoring no hits. The following day Z11 Bernd von Arnim duelled with HMS Glowworm and Glowworm rammed Admiral Hipper. Battle stations were ordered, but none of the capital ships took patrt in the action. When night fell, they took up a position west of the Vestfjorden. During the night their Seetakt radars spotted the British battlecruiser Renown. Battle stations rang out and the first volley ffomr Renown started at 05:05. Gneisenau scored two hits on her one dud and on on the upper deck aknocking up the radio. Gneisenau disengaged while Renown’s 15 in (38 cm) struck Gneisenau. One hit the director tower but was a dud, cutting cables and killed an officer and five gratings while the other disabled the rear turret. Gneisenau increased speed and manoeuvered to break away. Gneisenau fired sixty 28 cm and eight 15 cm rounds during this first duel.

They were joined by Admiral Hipper on 11 April and returned to Wilhelmshaven. Repairs took place, including for the heavy weather. After the 29 April Gnesenau returned in the Baltic, however as she steamed to 22 knots on the morning of 5 May off the Elbe estuary, she struck a magnetic mine, 21 m (69 ft) off her port rear quarter, 24 m (79 ft) below the hull. Her hull was seriously damaged, flooding several compartments. She took a half-degree list to port and had problems with her starboard low-pressure turbine and tear rangefinders. Repairs took place in a floating drydock in Kiel until 21 May after which she made a brief shakedown cruise in the Baltic and back in Kiel for her next mission.

Operation Juno
The terrible sisters left Bremerhaven on 4 June to return to Norway, flanked again by the cruiser Admiral Hipper, and four destroyers. They were prey on Allied supplies to the Norwegians and relieve pressure on German troops here. On 7 June, the tanker Dithmarschen refuelled Hipper and the four destroyers and their planes spotted the Orama, sank, and spared the Atlantis. Later they spotted the aircraft carrier Glorious and her two escorting destroyers. Both battleships intercepted her and despite the valiant defence by her destroyers, she was destroyed. Acasta even succeeded to torpedo the Scharnhorst at 19:39 and Gneisenau accompanied her to Trondheim when it was clear British convoys were too heavily guarded.

Iceland and North Atlantic
Admiral Günther Lütjens became permanent commander of the squadron on 20 June, ordering a new sortie to Iceland. The operation by Gneisenau and Hipper was a diversion to allow Scharnhorst her safe return to Germany. It was a mock break out into the Atlantic. However when underway, they Gnesenau was torpedoed by the submarine HMS Clyde. She took two hits in the bow, forward of the splinter belt. The ship took hundreds of tons of seawater in her two forward watertight compartments, forced to return to Trondheim at low speed to be patvhed up by the repair ship Huascaran. She returned to Kiel on 25–27 July under escorted by Hipper and Nürnberg plus four destroyers, and six torpedo boats. The British Home Fleet tried to intercept the flotilla, but it escaped. Gnesenau was in drydock at the Howaldtswerke dockyard, for five months. In August, KzS Otto Fein became her new captain, for the remainder of her active life.

The battleship Ramillies, guarding the convoy HX 106

Operation Berlin
Operation Berlin was the long-planned breakout into the Atlantic, preying on Allied shipping lanes. Gneisenau was damaged by heavy storms and returned to Kiel for repairs, ready to depart again on 22 January 1941 under command of Admiral Lütjens. They were detected in the Skagerrak and the Home Fleet blocked the passage between Iceland and the Faroes. Nevertheless, by 3 February, they evaded all British cruiser patrols, and refuelled on 6 February to the tanker Schlettstadt south of Cape Farewell. Their attack on convoy HX 106 was denied by Lütjens as it was guarded by HMS Ramillies. On 22 February, the sisters spotted an empty convoy sailing west, dispersing, leaving Gneisenau free to sink three ships. They then headed for the Cape Town-Gibraltar convoy route, and headed for the northwest of Cape Verde. Another convoy was spotted, but escorted HMS Malaya, on 8 March. They directed U-boats instead. Malaya hiwever spotted the terrible twins ad started firing at 24,000 m (26,000 yd), but Lütjens ordered them to turn away. They returned in mid-Atlantic, refuelled from the tankers Uckermark and Ermland on 12 March and on 15 March, they fell on a a dispersed convoy, Gneisenau capturing three tankers and sank a fourth one. Gneisenau sank seven ships (26,693 GRT) from another convoy but their position was radioed, scrambling the battleships Rodney and King George V. They escaped in a squall, and Lütjens decided to head for Brest, arriving on 22 March.

Schlachtschiff Gneisenau

Air attacks in Brest
After arriving in Brest, Gneisenau was attacked repeatedly by the RAF. The first took place on the night of 30–31 March, and next 4–5 April in which she took a near-hit from a 227 kg (500 lb) armor-piercing (AP) bomb. She left the dry dock and moved to the harbor and on 6 April, was attcked by British torpedo bombers, a Bristol Beaufort (Officer Kenneth Campbell) score a torpedo hit close to her aft main battery turret. She tool 3,050 t (3,000 long tons) of seawater, and had a 2 degree list starboard, side plating damaged, and disabling her propulsion system and centerline propeller shaft, and electronic components. A salvage tug came alongside to assist in the pumping effort.

Halifax bobers over Brest in December 1941 - IWM
Halifax bobers over Brest in December 1941 – IWM

She returned to the drydock for extensive repairs while attacked again in the night of 9–10 April, taking four 227 kg AP bombs hits one her starboard side close to her forward superstructure. Two hit the main armor deck, two duds. As she was repaired, alterations were made, she like fourteen additional 2 cm AA guns, and two triple 53.3 cm torpedo tubes amidships while the aircraft hangar was rearranged and the catapult removed. She missed Operation Rheinübung. During another attack on 6 February 1942, she took another near-miss.

Gneisenau after her second bow refit in 1942
Schlachtschiff “Gneisenau”

Gneisenau after her second bow refit in 1942

Operation Cerberus
It was obvious the ship could not stay longer in Brest, too much exposed. On 12 January 1942 Hitler and the anavl staff agreed to an operation for evacuating them from the area and back to Germany. Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, Prinz Eugen and a strong were to head to Norway via the Channel. Operation Cerberus (Vice Admiral Otto Ciliax) took place at 23:00 on 11 February. For details, see the Scharnhorst. In brief, this was a tremendous success. When the Britis reacted, allacks were beaten back by the Luftwaffe and their AA. Nevertheless, at 19:55, Gneisenau detonated a magnetic mine off Terschelling, forward of her rear gun turret, but resulting in minor damage as slight flooding, quickly stopped by the safety teams. The center turbine was disabled however and the ship stopped for 30 minutes and later reached Helgoland, then departed for Kiel, slowed down by thick ice in the canal. They stopped at Brunsbüttel and while maneuvering in port, Gneisenau struck a submerged wreck, which tore a hole in the hull, causing minor flooding. She reached Kiel the following day and entered a floating dry dock at Deutsche Werke.

Schlachtschiff “Gneisenau”

Repair work on Gneisenau was completed by 26 February 1942 and she was prepared for her deployment to Norway on 6 March but on the night of 26–27 February, the British launched a heavy air raid and she was hit by a single bomb in her forecastl. It penetrated the armored deck and exploded below, causing massive damage. Propellant charges in the forward turret were ignited, causing a massive explosion which thrown off the turret and destroyed completely her bow section. The crew partially flooded the magazine, but this made killed 112 men and 21 wounded. The Naval Staff was then compelled to rebuild Gneisenau in order to mount the six 38 cm guns originally planned. The complete damaged bow section was removed as a lengthened bow was to be installed to compensate in buoyancy for the the heavier 38 cm guns. On 4 April she moved to Gotenhafen escorted by Schlesien and the icebreaker Castor and was decommissioned on 1 July for this rebuilding. Her crew was desbanded and most joined U-boats.

By early 1943, the repair phase was mostly done and the conversion process started. However Hitler by now has been angered by the failure of surface raiders and ordered to stop all work. KMS Gneisenau was therefore disarmed, her 28 cm and 15 cm gun turrets landed and sent to shore batteries. Turret Caesar ended for example in Austrått Fort (Trondheim). Gneisenau remained in Gotenhafen until March 1945. While the Red Army was about to seize the port, a guard crew conducted the ship to the entrance, whee she was sank as a blockship, on 27 March 1945. In 1947, the Polish government removed it, salvage operations took place, she was refloated on 12 September 1951 and scrapped. Her bell was preserved, now exposed in the Museum of the Polish Army in Warsaw.

Gneisenau in Gdinya
Gneisenau in Gdinya

See also: The Scharnhorst at sea in VR

Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.
DiGiulian, Tony (20 November 2008). “German 15 cm/55 (5.9″) SK C/28”. Retrieved 2 June 2009.
DiGiulian, Tony (26 January 2009). “German 10.5 cm/65 (4.1″) SK C/33”. Retrieved 2 June 2009.
Gardiner, Robert & Chesneau, Roger, eds. (1980). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1922–1946.
Garzke, William H. & Dulin, Robert O. (1985). Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II.
Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Vol. I: Major Surface Vessels.
“The Weimar Republic’s Fleet, 2013” by Mike Bennighof, Ph.D. source:
Breyer, Siegfried (1987). Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst (in German). Friedberg: Podzun-Pallas-Verlag.
Busch, Fritz-Otto (1956). The Drama of the Scharnhorst: Holocaust at Sea. New York, NY: Rinehart.
Campbell, John (1987). “Germany 1906–1922”. In Sturton, Ian (ed.). Conway’s All the World’s Battleships: 1906 to the Present
Dönitz, Karl (1997). Memoirs: Ten Years and Twenty Days. New York, NY: Da Capo Press.
Garzke, William H.; Dulin, Robert O. (1985). Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II.
Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Vol. I: Major Surface Vessels.
Hooton, E. R. (1997). Eagle in Flames: The Fall of the Luftwaffe.
Jacobsen, Alf (2003). Scharnhorst. Sutton: Stroud. ISBN 0750934042.
Murfett, Malcolm H. (2008). Naval Warfare 1919–45. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Schmalenbach, Paul (1973). “German Battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau”. Warship Profile 33.
Sweetman, John (2004). Tirpitz: Hunting the Beast. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited.
Weal, John (1996). Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Aces of the Western Front. Oxford: Osprey Books.
Williamson, Gordon (2003). German Battleships 1939–45. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
Bowes, Claire (26 December 2011). “How Germany’s feared Scharnhorst ship was sunk in WWII”. BBC
Fenton, Norman (17 February 2011). “The Sinking of the ‘Scharnhorst’, Wreck discovery”. BBC
Garret, Richard (1978). Scharnhorst and Gneisenau: The Elusive Sisters.
Schmid, Thomas (2018). “The Battleship Scharnhorst (1936)”. In Taylor, Bruce (ed.). The World of the Battleship: The Lives and Careers of Twenty-One Capital Ships of the World’s Navies, 1880–1990. Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 978-0870219061.
Winton, John (2003). Death of the Scharnhorst. London: Cassell. ISBN 0907319068.

The Model’s Corner:
Scharnhorst model kit
Dragon Models 1/350 German Battleship Scharnhorst 1943 Smart Kit
Mattchbox Scharnhorst 1/700
Dragon Gneisenau 1940 1/700
Tamiya Scharnhorst 1940 1/700

Leipzig class cruisers (1929)

Leipzig class cruisers (1929)

Germany (1928-35),
Leipzig, Nürnberg

The last light German cruisers: The Leipzig class represented the last two light cruisers of the German Reichsmarine (and Kriegsmarine). Same class but the second, KMS Nürnberg, was built to a slightly modified design and is sometimes seen separately by some authors. They clearly had sets of improvements over the “K” (Königsberg) class cruisers, larger and with a more efficient main battery arrangement, and better armor. Nürnberg was completed in 1935, both were used during WW2 as minelayers and escort vessels and both were torpedoed 13 December 1939 by the British submarine HMS Salmon. Surviving and repaired, they missed the Norwegian Campaign (perhaps for their own good) and were used in secondary roles for most of the rest of the war, mirroring the rest of Raeder’s surface fleet.

KMS Leipzig

Design of the Leipzig class

Before going into design differences between the two sister-ship, let’s have a look on their similarities, compared to the previous “K” (Königsberg) class. First off, they displaced 1500 tonnes more, up to 9960 short tonnes fully laded versus 7,700 long tons (7,800 t) for the previous cruisers. They had the same beam at 16.3 m versus 15.3 on the previous ships, but their initial length before revision was 177 m (581 feets) overall, versus 174 m (571 feets). In fact, Nürnberg reached 181.3 m (595 feets) after design changes, giving her an even better lenght-to-ratio and preserving top speed.

Hull and armour protection

Leipzig's cut showing its internal armour arrangement
Leipzig’s cut showing its internal armour arrangement

Like previous cruisers, construction called for welding for 90% on the longitudinal steel frames in order to save weight. They also had a comprehensive ASW compartimentation. The hull was indeed divided into fourteen watertight compartments and a double bottom extending on 83% of the length. The also had side bulges and a bulbous bow.
Armour protection only varied in details: The Belt was the same in thickness at 50 mm (2 in) the armoured deck was even thinner at 30 mm (40 mm (1.6 in) on the ‘K’), the Conning tower had the same 100 mm (3.9 in) walls, but the turrets had now 80 mm (3.1 in) faces with Barbettes 60 mm (2.4 in) thick. Both the Leipzig and Nürnberg had the same armored deck 30 mm (1.2 in) thick amidships and 50 mm (2.0 in) belt, inclined downwards however to a greater degree than for the Königsberg for better effectiveness. It was connected to the deck with a 25 mm (0.98 in) stray. The conning tower roof was 50 mm thick. The gun turrets had 35 mm (1.4 in) sides and 32 mm (1.3 in) roofs, but 80 mm faces after revision on the Leipzig. Both ships however diverged in detail: KMS Leipzig had Krupp cemented armor, but Nürnberg received the newly developed “Wotan” Hart steel.

Wow's rendition of the Koenigsberg class
Wow’s rendition of the Koenigsberg class


Machinery was slightly different, although relying on the same principle of combining turbines and diesel engines for better autonomy. Like previous vessels they had two MAN 10-cylinder diesel engines, but whereas the K class had four geared steam turbines mated on 2 screw propellers, the Leipzig class had three shaft propellers, the two MAN diesels being mated on the central shaft, and two turbines on the outwards shafts. Total power was less, but speed was about the same, 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph). Autonomy was logically better, the K class being able to reach 5,700 nmi, and the Leipzig only 6700 at 10/19 kn (35 km/h; 22 mph) by adding diesels and turbines.

The turbines were manufactured by the Deutsche Werke and Germaniawerft shipyards, ans the same also assembled the 7-cylinder double-acting two-stroke diesel engines delivered by MAN. Both had their turbines fed by six Marine-type double-ended oil-fired boilers. In total the output of 60,000 shaft horsepower (45,000 kW) was added to a total of 12,400 shp (9,200 kW) for the central pair of diesel engines alone. 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph) was the design speed, easily reached on trials. The range of 3,900 nautical miles (7,200 km; 4,500 mi) at 10 knots only refers to the diesel engines. The turbines alone provided 2,800 nmi (5,200 km; 3,200 mi) at 16.5 kn (30.6 km/h; 19.0 mph), so a total of 6700 nautical miles.

Both vessels had also almost the same, rather extensive electrical generator systems but differed slightly: Leipzig had three turbogenerators, 180 kilowatt each plus a 180 kW diesel generator for a combined 1,080 kW/220 volts. KMS Nürnberg however had four units, two 300 kW turbo-generators plus two 350 kW diesel generators, total 1,300 kW. Both ships were also steered by the same single balanced rudder augmented by a steering apparatus mated on the engine transmissions. This allowed the cruiser to still steer if the gear was destroyed or jammed, using gears that could drive half of the engines astern and half forward. This system could also allow the ships to turn at sharper angles, making them as agile as destroyers. As shown by early service however, they were good seaboats but both suffered from weather helm and severe leeway at low speeds. This was even worse for KMS Nürnberg with her larger superstructure, acting as a sail. Both carried a similar boat fleet, two picket boats, two barges, two launches, and two cutters all stored behind the main funnel and served by two goose cranes either side of the funnel also used to lift the floatplanes.

Wow’s renditions of the KMS Nürnberg class


Armament was the same at least for the main artillery, with three triple turrets but arrangement was different (more rationale and arguably much better). AA was limited to just two 8.8 cm (3.46″) SK L/45 anti-aircraft guns (It was the 1930s after all), like the K class, and close combat capabilities bolstered by four triple torpedo tubes, two per broadside, also on both classes, however the modified Nürnberg had 21 inches (533 mm) torpedoes instead of 20 inches (500 mm) and a better AA as revised.
So overall, larger vessels, less autonomy, slight protection improvements, main artillery management, but the best improvement of the class was to carry two Arado 196 floatplanes for reconnaissance. This truly made them “eyes” for the fleet.

KMS Nürnberg forward turret at max elevation
KMS Nürnberg forward turret at max elevation

Main guns:
Both ships shared the same nine 15 cm (5.9″) SK C/25 guns. They were designed from 1927 with a loose barrel, jacket and breech-piece with a vertical sliding breech block. They shared also the same Drh. LC/25 triple mounting, a unique case in the Kriegsmarine. This mount weighed 136.91–147.15 tonnes, for 20–30 mm (0.79–1.18 in) armour thickness, the latter figure being for the better armoured Nürnberg’s (80 mm face). They had a full 360° of traverse, reduced by the ship’s superstructure, a point the longer Leipzig corrected. As a reminder, to resolve the issue, the “K” clas had aft offset turrets. One was mounted on the forward deck, and two in superfiring position aft, all centerline, and keeping the gravity point low.

Aft superfiring turret of the Königsberg, similar.

The mounts had electrically powered hydraulic pumps for elevation, at the rate of 8° per second, and traverse at 6-8° per second. Their rate of fire (cyclic) was about, 7.5 seconds, an excellent 8 rounds per minute. This was indeed surprisingly good for manually loaded and rammed guns. To avoid interference, the three guns fired at a fraction of a second interval in volleys. The ammunition was supplied by three hoists at the rear of the mount. They fired four types of ammunitions: The base-fused HE shell with ballistic cap called Sprenggranate L/4.5 m Bdz m. Hb, the nose-fused HE shell with ballistic cap 15 cm Spgr. L/4.4 Kz m. Hb and a base-fused armor-piercing shell with ballistic cap Panzer-Sprenggranate L/3.7 m Bdz. m Hb, all three weighting 45.5 kg for 960 m/s muzzle velocity, and 25,700 metres (28,100 yd) range at 40°, as well as an illumination shell. Both ships carried 120 and 166 shells per gun, so 1,080 and 1,500 rounds total, respectively.

8.8cm on the KMS Koenigsberg in 1934

The FLAK was considerably reinforced during WW2. Here, on KMS Nürnberg.

Secondary guns and AA
Initially, all these cruisers carried just two traditional 8.8 cm SK L/45 naval gun. L was for “länge” and SK for Schnelladekanone (Quick firing). Basically they were derived from WW1 models, and its lineage with go through WW2 as one of the most fearsome artillery pieces of all times. They were protected by an armoured, rounded shield, weighted 2.5-2.8 tonnes and needed crew of four to operate. They used a Breech vertical sliding-wedge system and fired a 9–10 kgs (20–22 lb) 3.5 in shell. The SKC/30 mount elevated -10° to +70° and its rate of fire was about 15 RPM, with a muzzle velocity up to 890 m/s (2,900 ft/s), a range of 14,100 metres (15,400 yd) at +43° and ceiling of 9,150 metres (30,020 ft) at 70° elevation. They fired four types of ammunitions, the Armor Piercing (AP) – 10 kg (22 lb), High Explosive (HE) – 9 kg (20 lb), High Explosive Incendiary (HEI) – 9.5 kg (21 lb) and Illumination (ILLUM) shell, 9.4 kg (21 lb). KMS Leipzig carried 800 rounds of ammunition.

ONI recoignition sheet for the Leipzig
ONI recoignition sheet for the Leipzig

ONI recoignition sheet for the Nürnberg
ONI recoignition sheet for the Nürnberg

KMS Nürnberg however received a number of modifications: Not only her torpedo tubes were upgraded to the new 21-in standard G7 model, but her anti-aircraft artillery was considerably enhanced, and this alone separated her from her sister-ship: Instead of just two 8.8 cm AA guns she had eight, and in addition four twin 3.7 cm SK C/30 guns and eight single 2 cm C/30 guns. Therefore during WW2 these figures barely changed. Only Leipzig received additions (see later).

Both ships had a similar profile with a single funnel, but Nürnberg had a much larger and blocky forward superstructure. Leipzig’s onw superstructure was just derived from the Königsberg class. Nürnberg added around the funnel a large searchlight platform to improve their night firing capabilities. The crew also varied on both ships (notably because of the AA), Leipzig in peacetime reichsmarine service having 26 officers and 508 enlisted men, but 24 officers and 826 sailors in WW2, and the admiral staff if needed, 6 officers, 20 men as flagship. Nürnberg had 25 officers and 648 ratings but this grew to 26 officers and 870 sailors.

Arado 196, perhaps the only justification to the ship’s larger design. These floatplanes designed by Walter Blume first flew in 1937 and became the standard cantilever monoplanes of the Kriegsmarine, propelled by a BMW 132K 9-cyl. ACR of 947 hp. More than 540 were produced, armed with defensive MGs and two 20 mm (0.787 in) MG FF cannon, plus bombs. At first the cruisers operated a pair of Heinkel He 60 biplane floatplanes, replaced by the Arado Ar 196 by 1939. They were operated by a single catapult which diverged in position between the two ships: Between the funnel and the forward superstructure for Leipzig, aft of the funnel for her sister ship.

Wartime modifications

Both cruisers were rapidly given a degaussing coil to protect them against magnetic mines. KMS Leipzig saw her aircraft, and catapult removed in 1941 and torpedo tubes while radar was installed. Nürnberg had the same modifications in early 1942. Both cruisers radar suites were upgraded, at first in March 1941 a FuMO 21 radar set, in early 1942, a FuMO 25 for detection of surface targets and low-flying aircraft, short range. The FuMO 63 Hohentwiel 50-cm radar was installed later, while KMS Nürnberg was given four Metox radar warning receivers. Leipzig received the 24/25 radar set in early 1943, her last wartime modification.

Leipzig’s anti-aircraft armament was first upgraded by firring twin 8.8 cm mounts and from 1941, eight 37 mm FLAK guns in four twin mounts were installed as well as fourteen 2 cm individual guns. This was reduced in 1944 to eight. Nürnberg’s AA battery was already impressive, but she received in late 1942 two quadruple 2 cm Flakvierling mounts, on the navigating bridge and on top of the aft superfiring turret. By May 1944, there was a proposal to add several Bofors 40 mm guns, but just two were added, on the bridge and former catapult spot. Two more Navy Flakvierlings were added, replacing the one over the superfiring turret, and another in front of the AA fire director, while the Army Flakvierlings they replaced were relocated on the main deck. By December 1944, it was proposed to add eight 3.7 cm FlaK 43, two more Flakvierling and ten 20 mm twin guns, but other priorities prevented it.

Author’s illustration: KMS Leipzig

Author’s illustration: KMS Nürnberg

KMS Nürnberg specifications

Dimensions 177 x 16.30 x 5.65 m
Displacement 6200 t/8380 t FL
Crew 1150
Propulsion 2 screws, 2 Brown-Boveri turbines, 66,000 hp, 2 MAN diesels 12 400 hp
Speed 32/19 knots (xx km/h; xx mph) Radius 5700 Nautical Miles
Armament 9(3×3)x 152 mm, 6x 88 mm AA, 8x 37mm AA, 12(4×3) TT 533 mm, 120 mines, 2 planes
Armor Belt: 30 mm (), Deck: 25 mm (), Turrets 30mm, Conning tower: 30 mm ()

First Published on 2016/07/22

Sources/read More

Gardiner, Robert; Chesneau, Roger: Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1922–1946.
Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Vol. I: Major Surface Vessels.
Rohwer, Jürgen (2005). Chronology of the War at Sea 1939–1945
Whitley, M. J. (1983). Lesser Known Warships of the Kriegsmarine No. 1/2
Williamson, Gordon (2003). German Light Cruisers 1939–1945.
Die 8,8 cm Flugzeugabwehrkanone L/45 (8,8 cm Flak. L/45) in 8,8 cm Mittel-Pivot-Lafette C/1913 (8,8 cm M.P.L.C./1913).
Gander, Terry; Chamberlain, Peter (1979). Weapons of the Third Reich
Hogg, Ian V. (1997). German Artillery of World War Two
( Leipzig rediscovered off Norway

The Leizpig class cruisers in action:

Both cuisers participated in non-intervention patrols during the Spanish Civil War until 1937. From September 1939 they were both used as minelayers and for escort duties, but barely two months after the war started, 13 December 1939, they were torpedoed by the HMS Salmon, a British sub. Thos “double kill” failed to sink them due to their good ASW protection, but the Kriegsmarine avoid exposing them thereafter and they were kept for secondary roles, notably training, although Leipzig brought close artillery support to the troops on the Eastern Front.
Nürnberg became a war prize for the Soviet Navy, starting a new but shot career as Admiral Makarov, until the late fifties, BU 1960.

Cruiser Leipzig seen from the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal

KmS Leipzig

Reichsmarine and interwar years

Leipzig was laid down at the Reichsmarinewerft shipyard, Wilhelmshaven on 28 April 1928, launched on 18 October 1929 and commissioned on 8 October 1931. So far she served in the Reichsmarine, training in the Baltic Sea throughout until 1933 and alternating with overseas goodwill cruises. In 1934 she sailed with Königsberg to the United States for the first time, but later entered the drydock at Kiel to received an aircraft catapult and crane while the old single 8.8 cm were replaced with modern twin AA mounts, bringing to total to four. In 1935 she joined the the old Schlesien, Deutschland, and Köln for fleet exercises wans was visited by Adolf Hitler later that year. In 1936, she also teamed with Nürnberg and Köln for exercises in the Atlantic and in the summer, took part in neutrality patrols off Spain as the Civil War broke out. These patrols went on until the next summer 1937. In late June, her captain reported an incident: She was allegedly torpedo attacked ny Republicans. Decision was therefore made to retite all ships patrolling in Spanish waters. Leipzeig was back to Baltic Sea for training until the end of 1938. In March 1939, the annexation of Memel from Lithuania took place, covered by her guns and from other ships. In April she joined KMS Gneisenau and Deutschland, for major exercises in the Atlantic, assumed to be the last before a war erupted, until May-June.

KMS Leipzig photography, entering the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal.

Wartime career

By September 1939, KMS Leipzig joined the blocking force placed to prevent the escape of the Polish Navy, but it missed it, as Operation Peking took place. She then joined the North Sea,to assist other light cruisers by laying several defensive minefields until the end of the month. She then took part in Baltic training exercises and by mid-November, covered another minelaying operation in the North Sea. She was added to a small raiding task force composed of the Deutschland, Köln, and three torpedo boats, to try to disrupt allied shipping in the Skagerrak on 21–22 November. Later, KMS Leipzig escorting Scharnhorst and Gneisenau through the Denark strait for another raid, and covered their return on the november, 27.

On 13 December, she escorted destroyers and minelayers through the Skagerrak for laying more minefields, but was spotted en route by British submarine HMS Salmon, plaed there in ambush. HMS Salmon launch a torpedo volley, then another, and ht the Leipzig at 11:25, just below the waterline. Fortunately for the cruiser, her bulkhead absorbed the shock at the juncture of boiler rooms. But the armored deck was bented and the keel als damaged while 1,700 t of seawater flooded her. The electrical power and pumping system stopped, two boiler rooms were submerged, steam lines damaged, and port turbine stopped. Nürnberg also a hit. The former was immediately assisted by two destroyers, closing to port, while the others gave chase. One hour passed and one destroyer was torpedoed off the mouth of the Elbe while Leipzig had a near-miss. If the second torpedp had made its mark, the cruiser would probably had been sunk.

Leipzig limped back to Kiel, entered the Deutsche Werke shipyard for very long repairs, decommissioned and later reclassified as a training ship. Apparenty the Kriegsmarine did not wanted to risk her more. Plans were made for transformations: A new superstructure was to be built to accommodate trainees while four boilers were removed to gain more room. She was recommissioned in late 1940, missing te Norwegian campaign. Until early June 1941 she trained cadets, and then departed for an escort mission, conducting the heavy cruiser Lützow to Norway. Back in the Baltic she she teamed with Emden to shell Russians positions along the path of invading German forces during Operation Barbarossa. By September 1941, she covered the invasion of the Baltic islands, West Estonian archipelago, shelling Soviet positions on Moon Island. At this occasion, the Soviet submarine Shch-317 was nearby and tried to attack her but missed. By late September, she teamed with the German Baltic Fleet (flagship Tirpitz) assembled to stop any Soviet attempt to break out of the Baltic. She was back to Kiel in October for manoeuvrers with Admiral Scheer and she became the flagship of the training fleet by 1942.

KMS Leipzig was taken in hands in March 1943 for a short overhaul and she was back to escort ships in the Baltic by mid-September 1944. She covered troopships between Gotenhafen and Swinemünde with Admiral Scheer on 14 October, also to take mines there. However there was a heavy fog, she collided heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, steaming at 20 knots. Just when she was hit, Leipzig was switching from her diesel to steam turbines, caught uncoupling the former, so she had no means of propulsion and was drifting into the path of Prinz Eugen. She was struck on her port side, just forward of her funnel, the heavy cruiser’s clipper bow stucking out beyond the starboard side. The number 3 port engine room was destroyed, another was flooded and the ship had 39 deaed of injured crewmen. Both ships remained stuck together for more than 24h until Leipzig was towed off her misery to Gotenhafen. There, a commission examined the damage, judged too severe for repairs. She was only patched to remain afloat in the harbor, waiting for better times.

The cruiser however was still commissioned, and provided AA fire by March 1945, as the Red Army closed on Gotenhafen. On 24 March, she steamed to Hela, packed with refugees, at 6 knots (11 km/h; 6.9 mph) with her remaining boilers. During this harrowing trip she was repeatedly attacked by Soviet aviation, and near-missed by torpedoes from two submarines. She reached Denmark on 29 April, waiting the end of the war. She was subsequently used as a barracks ship for the German Mine Sweeping Administration after the war. The latter were tasked by the allies to clear mines off the German coast. Leipzig was eventually towed out and scuttled at sea in July 1946 to create an artificial reef.

KmS Nürnberg

Nürnberg was laid down in 1934 at Deutsche Werke Kiel, launched 6 December 1934, completed and commissioned on 2 November 1935. She started by a training cruise in the Baltic Sea which lasted until April 1936, joining Köln and Leipzig for another cruiser in the Atlantic. She became the flagship of the reconnaissance forces and served also in the Baltic in a serie of exercises. Like her sister ship, KMS Nürnberg made non-intervention patrols off the Spanish coast during Civil War, until 1939, under order of Konteradmiral Hermann Boehm. She conducted four patrols without incident but the report of a possible attack by an unidentified submarine off the Balearic Islands, 16 July 1937.

By September 1937, KMS Nürnberg was participating in fleet manoeuvres with KMS Admiral Graf Spee and Deutschland, her sister ship and Karlsruhe. In early 1938 she was in the Baltic, and during the summer made training cruise to Norway. By August, she participated in the Kiel fleet review in presence of Adolf Hitler and the regent of Hungary, Miklós Horthy. In March 1939 she cover and operation to seize Memel and later joined Graf Spee, Leipzig and Köln for a training cruise in the Mediterranean, stopping at various Spanish ports. From May 1939 she was training in the Baltic.

Nürnberg, recoignition book (ONI ?)

Wartime career

In September 1939, KMS Nürnberg was sent to the force in charge of intercepting the Polish Navy escaping from the Baltic, but failed. Two days later, the German light cruiser followed the fleet to the North Sea laying defensive minefields in order to secure the coastline. Back to the Baltic she resumed her training exercises routine the next month and in November she was back to the North Sea to cover this time a squadron of destroyers laying minefields off the British coast. By early December, she took part in another minelaying mission off Kristiansand (Norway).

However as she was escorting on 13 December the destroyers back from another minelaying mission off the British coast, HMS Salmon watited in ambush, and launch torpedoes. Nürnberg watchmen spotted in time two torpedo tracks ahd the captaine turned hard to port, evading one ahead of the ship, but the second hit her bow. The captain order to nearly stop at 12 knots in order to inspect the damage. At this moment HMS Salmon has reloaded and launched yet another spray, three more torpedo tracks being spotted to port. Order was given to full speed and hard starboard turn, but two torpedoes exploded its wake, short of the stern. The explosion caused flooding no damage as the watertight bulkheads absorbed the schock. At last the HMS Salmon was spotted and briefly engaged by Nürnberg, firing her aft main battery turret but scoring no hit. She limped back to port at 18 knots but en route was attacked again by another British submarine, HMS Ursula on 14 December as she was entering the Kiel Canal off Brunsbüttel. Immediately placed in drydock at Deutsche Werke her repairs lasted until April 1940.

Kapitän zur See (KzS) Otto Klüber took command in June 1940, and the ship was mobilized for Operation Juno, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst raid. But this was cancelled later and instead, she was transferred to Norway. She left Kiel on 10 June, escorted by the TBs Falke and Jaguar and two days later left her TBs to refuel at Stavanger while she steamed in zig-zag at 27 knots by fear of other submarines, joining on 13 June the 2nd Minesweeper Flotilla. KMS Nünberg escorted them off Trondheim and on 17 June she reached Narvik. She spent the whole month of July there. One of her two Arado Ar 196 floatplane spotted and attacked a British submarine, without sucess, the only action there. By 25 July, she was ordered with a flotilla of destroyers and torpedo boats to escort the damaged battleship Gneisenau from Trondheim to Kiel, which they reached on 28 July. Indeed Gneisenau was torpedoed by the British submarine.

KMS Nürnberg underway, date unknown
KMS Nürnberg underway, date unknown

By 8 August, KzS Leo Kreisch took command and until the end of 1940, KMS Nünberg spent training in the Baltic sea. She was visited while in Gotenhafen by Italian Admiral Mavagini in September 1940 and entered Deutsche Werke dockyard for a short refit in October-November 1940. On 15 February 1941 it was decided by the Kriegsmarine staff to reclassify her as a training cruiser like her sister ship. She was assigned to the Fleet Training Squadron, tasked to train future U-boat officers in order to crew the numerous flotillas built to be engaged in the Battle of the Atlantic. Part of her crew also became U-Boat crewmen. However by June 1941, she had the occasion to be useful again. Sent to the Baltic Fleet task force headed by the new battleship KMS Tirpitz she was tasked to wait for a possible sortie of the Soviet Baltic fleet. Ultimately as this scenario never materialized, the fleet was dispersed and Nürnberg resumed her training until 1942. In January she was refitted, aircraft removed, radar modernized, AA expanded. She was damaged during an allied air raid and was repaired, returning into service only by 23 August.

After sea trials lasting until October 1942 she was sent to the flotilla based in Norway, departing on 11 November Gotenhafen for Trondheim (18 November), then she was moved to a less exposed position, Bogen Bay, outside Narvik in December. A new fleet was headed by Tirpitz again, to raid nortern allied convoys, bound to Murmansk. The German light cruiser however saw no action and on 27 April 1943 she left Narvik for home, stopping at Trondheim. Back in Kiel on 3 May she entered the drydock to have her machinery overhauled and later after new sea trials, she joined the Training Squadron in the Baltic, having her crew amputated and replaced quite frequently. On board discipline and esprit de corps was low, but she kept her duty all along the year 1944 seeing no action, not even shore bombardment on the Eastern Front like her sister ship.

Early in 1945 she was sent for another minelaying mission in the Skagerrak, based in Oslo. She participated in Operation Titus on 13 January, covering two destroyers, two torpedo boats, and a minelayer and she laid herself 130 mines. As fuel shortages amounted, U-Boats had priority and she was not active afterwards. On 24 January, she was sent to Copenhagen (Denmark), remaining here until the end of the hostility; For the anecdote, the fuel situation was so bad that her tanks were filled with 270 long tons (270 t) of synthetic fuel in case she had to move. Her crew was also reduced to the strict operating minimum. By 5 May 1945 she was ordered to stop military operation and on 22 May, she was escorted by HMS Devonshire and HMS Dido to enter custody under allied supervision, and await her fate.

Nürnberg surrendering to the allies in May 1945
Nürnberg surrendering to the allies in May 1945: She is escorted by a Coastal Command (RAF) Consolidated Liberator patrol bomber.

Post War service

On 24 May 1945, Nürnberg and Prinz Eugen departed Copenhagen to Wilhelmshaven, which they reached on 28 May. As decided in the Potsdam Conference she was awarded to the Soviet Union. The allies however still remembering the 1919 scuttling, both vessels were seized by British crews on 19 December. KMS Nürnberg was by then in drydock. The same day, they were presented to a Soviet delegation, and handed over officially. On 2 January a Soviet crew arrive and prepare the ship for a departure. The prize flotilla comprised also the target ship Hessen and her radio-control vessel, a single destroyer, Z15, the torpedo boats T33 and T107. They departed for Libau (Latvia).

As they arrived a trough examination was made by Soviet engineers, which estimated she was fit for service. She entered commission under the new name of Admiral Makarov. He first assignation was the 8th Fleet in Tallinn. By late 1948 she became its flagship, carrying the mark of Vice Admiral F. V. Zozulya. However as new Chapayev-class cruisers entered service, it was decided to remove Admiral Makarov from the 8th fleet. She became a training cruiser based in Kronstadt, starting this new career by mid-1954. Her German light AA was removed, and new Soviet-built radars installed. Records showed she was no longer in service by May 1959, mothballed and scrapped around 1963-65, by that time the last surviving warship of the Kriegsmarine, but not the last German major warship, the record being detained by TGC Yavuz, the ex-Goeben, in 1971.

Nürnberg in 1946, off the Kiel canal.