Kriegsmarine Cruisers

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The Prinz Eugen was an enlarged Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruiser which served with the Kriegsmarine of Germany during World War II.

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The Prinz Eugen in May 1941 (top), during the Channel Dash in February 1942 (center), and in 1945 (bottom).

GERMANY: ADMIRAL HIPPER-CLASS [Prinz Eugen pictured]

Two of these units did not survive World War II. The Blücher was sunk on 9 April 1940 by land-based gun and torpedo installations during the German invasion of Norway. The Admiral Hipper was scuttled on 2 May 1945 after sustaining heavy damage from Allied bombing raids. The Prinz Eugen has the distinction of being the only large German warship to survive World War II. It was used as an experimental ship in the atomic bomb blasts at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. It sank on 22 December 1946 as a result of damage sustained in the experiments. Two other units were never completed. In 1942, construction on one of these, Seydlitz, was nearing completion when the decision was made to convert it to an aircraft carrier. This plan was soon cancelled, and the hull remained unused for most of the war. On 10 April 1945, the vessel was scuttled to prevent its capture by the Russians. It was refloated by the Russians and scrapped. The other incomplete ship, Lutzow, was sold to the Soviet Union in early 1940. It served as an accommodation ship from 1945 to 1956, when it was scrapped.

 

Köln (German Light Cruiser, 1930-1945)  Underway during the later 1930s. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

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GERMANY: K-CLASS [Köln pictured]

All three units failed to survive World War II. The Königsburg was bombed by British aircraft on 10 April 1940, and subsequently scrapped in 1943. The Karlsruhe was torpedoed by a British submarine on 9 April 1940 and scuttled due to the damage sustained. The Köln was sunk by an Allied bombing raid and broken up in 1946.

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Germany, one of the great naval powers before World War I, could not entertain hopes of rebuilding its navy. The Treaty of Versailles had required that Germany surrender its newest and most powerful warships, which left the country with a collection of obsolete vessels useful only as a coast-defense force. The terms provided for the replacement of obsolete vessels when necessary, but Germany was allowed to possess only eight light cruisers that could not exceed 6,000 tons; capital ships could not exceed 10,000 tons of displacement with 11-inch guns. Between 1921 and 1928, the Weimar government exercised its option to replace some of its old vessels when it laid down five new light cruisers. The first of these, Emden, was merely a ship built to the specifications of the country’s World War I era vessels. The next three warships of the K-class, however, were built using a totally new and innovative design.

The K-class ships were completed in 1929 and 1930, measured 570 feet, 10 inches by 50 feet, 2 inches, and mounted an armament of nine 5.9-inch guns and six 3.5-inch weapons. The turret arrangement for these cruisers was interesting, as there was one placed in the fore section and two mounted aft in a staggered fashion rather than in the center of the ship. The constructors believed that this latter arrangement could produce a better arc of fire. The engines utilized a combination of steam and diesel power, the latter being employed for the first time in a cruiser. The two types could not be used in combination with one another. Using diesel engines, the ships could travel at 10 knots, while the steam turbines could produce a maximum 32 knots. The hulls were protected by an armor belt up to 2.75 inches thick and a deck with a maximum depth of 1.5 inches. Although these ships represented the return of Germany as an innovative naval power, they also symbolized German willingness to violate the Treaty of Versailles. Each vessel displaced 6,650 tons; the last light cruiser laid down before 1930, Leipzig, was also a violation. These vessels were the first of a series of warships built in the next years that broke the terms of the peace agreement.

The restrictions of treaties were not regarded as a great hindrance to Germany, which was the greatest producer of heavy cruisers after 1930 through its bid to resurrect its armed forces in general. Upon their election to power in 1933, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party sought to undermine the Treaty of Versailles to return Germany to world power status. The first step, already initiated before 1933, shocked the world and was based on the cruiser. The Treaty of Versailles had stipulated a limit of 10,000 tons and a maximum armament of 11-inch weapons for any new German capital ship. The framers of the treaty believed that these strictures would limit future construction only to ships capable of coast defense. German ingenuity and willingness to violate these terms, however, produced much more capable vessels that were in essence large cruisers. These were the three ships of the Deutschland-class that were laid down between 1929 and 1932 and completed by 1936. Their hulls measured 610 feet, 3 inches by 70 feet, 10 inches; each mounted a primary armament of six 11-inch guns positioned in two three-gunned turrets located fore and aft. Each vessel also carried eight 5.9-inch guns, eight torpedo tubes, and 24 antiaircraft guns of varying sizes. Their engines were diesel and could produce a maximum speed of 28 knots. The importance of the vessels was great not only militarily but also politically for Hitler. The lead ship, Deutschland, was named after the nation itself and symbolized the rebirth of German naval power and an erosion of the Treaty of Versailles. Although they were publicly touted as displacing 10,000 tons, their actual displacement was 11,700 tons.

Germany continued to arm for war with the completion of new units that were openly in contravention of Versailles, although they were built in an atmosphere of partial legitimacy because of the diplomatic actions of Great Britain. In 1935, as part of its policy of appeasement to avoid war, the British openly violated the Treaty of Versailles by signing a naval pact that allowed for a German fleet that was 35 percent the size of the Royal Navy. The cruisers were part of Germany’s larger plan for naval rearmament. The largest units completed in 1938 and 1939 were the two battle cruisers of the Scharnhorst-class that measured 753 feet, 11 inches by 98 feet, 5 inches and displaced 34,841 tons. They were armed with nine 11- inch guns and 12 5.9-inch weapons and could steam at a maximum speed of 32 knots. An armor belt of 13.75 inches maximum and a deck 3 inches thick provided protection. Six cruisers of the Admiral Hipper-class with 8-inch guns were also being produced; two were ready for service by late 1939. In many respects, these ships mirrored those of the British, Americans, and French.

The cruisers that were completed or under construction in the period between 1936 and 1939 were only a small portion of a large number of ships that signified the general failure of the principle of peace through naval disarmament. By the opening of 1940, the number of cruisers in operation in the world’s navies was almost as great as before World War I: Britain maintained three battle cruisers, 18 heavy cruisers, and 50 light cruisers; the United States had 18 heavy and 19 light cruisers; Japan operated four battle cruisers, 18 heavy cruisers, and 38 light cruisers; Italy had seven heavy cruisers and 12 light cruisers; France maintained two battle cruisers, 10 heavy cruisers, and seven light cruisers; Germany operated two battle cruisers, five heavy cruisers, and six light cruisers; and the Soviet Union possessed nine light cruisers. These vessels and those completed over the next five years would serve in roles equally as important as in World War I. On 1 September 1939, a new war erupted in Europe that would eventually engulf the world in a conflict on both sea and land.