Deutschland was the lead ship of her class of heavy cruisers (often termed a pocket battleship) which served with the Kriegsmarine of Nazi Germany during World War II. Ordered by the Weimar government for the Reichsmarine, she was laid down at the Deutsche Werke shipyard in Kiel in February 1929 and completed by April 1933. Originally classified as an armored ship (Panzerschiff) by the Reichsmarine, in February 1940 the Germans reclassified the remaining two ships of this class as heavy cruisers. In 1940, she was renamed Lützow, after the Admiral Hipper class heavy cruiser Lützow was handed over to the Soviet Union.
The ship saw significant action with the Kriegsmarine, including several non-intervention patrols, during which she was attacked by Republican bombers in the Spanish Civil War. At the outbreak of World War II, she was cruising the North Atlantic, prepared to attack Allied merchant traffic. Bad weather hampered her efforts, and she only sank or captured a handful of vessels before returning to Germany. She then participated in Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Norway. Damaged at the Battle of Drøbak Sound, she was recalled to Germany for repairs. While en route, she was torpedoed and seriously damaged by a British submarine.
Repairs were completed by March 1941, Lützow returned to Norway to join the forces arrayed against Allied shipping to the Soviet Union. She ran aground during a planned attack on convoy PQ 17, which necessitated another return to Germany for repairs. She next saw action at the Battle of the Barents Sea with the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, which ended with a failure to destroy the convoy JW 51B. Engine problems forced a series of repairs culminating in a complete overhaul at the end of 1943, after which the ship remained in the Baltic. Sunk in the Kaiserfahrt in April 1945 by Royal Air Force (RAF) bombers, Lützow was used as a gun battery to support German troops fighting the Soviet Army until 4 May 1945, when she was disabled by her crew. Raised by the Soviet Navy in 1947, she was subsequently sunk as a target in the Baltic.
World War II
On 24 August 1939, a week before the German invasion of Poland, Deutschland set sail from Wilhelmshaven, bound for a position south of Greenland. Here, she would be ready to attack Allied merchant traffic in the event of a general war following the attack on Poland. The supply ship Westerwald was assigned to support Deutschland during the operation. Deutschland was ordered to strictly observe prize rules, which required raiders to stop and search ships for contraband before sinking them, and to ensure that their crews are safely evacuated. The ship was also ordered to avoid combat with even inferior naval forces, as commerce disruption was the primary objective. Hitler hoped to secure a negotiated peace with Britain and France after he overran Poland, and he therefore did not authorize Deutschland to begin her raiding mission against British and French shipping until 26 September. By this time, Deutschland had moved south to hunt in the Bermuda-Azores sea lane.
On 5 October, she found and sank the British transport ship Stonegate, though not before the freighter was able to send a distress signal informing vessels in the area of Deutschland ’s presence. She then turned north to the Halifax route, where on 9 October, she encountered the American ship City of Flint. The 4,963 gross register tons (GRT) freighter was found to be carrying contraband, and so was seized. A prize crew was dispatched to the ship; they took the ship with the original crew held prisoner to Germany via Murmansk. The ship was seized by Norway when she anchored in Haugesund, however, and control of the ship was returned to the original crew. Meanwhile, on 14 October, Deutschland encountered and sank the Norwegian transport Lorentz W Hansen, of some 1,918 GRT. The same day, she stopped the neutral Danish steamer Kongsdal, though when it became apparent that she was headed for a neutral port, the prisoners from Lorentz W Hansen were placed aboard her and she was allowed to proceed. Kongsdal would eventually report to the British Royal Navy the incident and confirm Deutschland as the raider operating in the North Atlantic.
Severe weather in the North Atlantic hampered Deutschland ’s raiding mission, though she did tie down several British warships assigned to track her down. The French Force de Raid, centered on the battleship Dunkerque, was occupied with protecting convoys around Britain to prevent them from being attacked by Deutschland. In early November, the Naval High Command recalled Deutschland; she passed through the Denmark Strait on 15 November and anchored in Gotenhafen on the 17th. In the course of her raiding mission, she sank only two vessels and captured a third. In 1940, the ship underwent a major overhaul, during which a raked clipper bow was installed to improve the sea-keeping qualities of the ship. At this time, she was re-rated as a heavy cruiser and renamed Lützow. Hitler in person made the decision to rename the ship, recognizing the propaganda value of the sinking of a ship that bore the name of its country. Admiral Erich Raeder, the commander in chief of the Kriegsmarine, also hoped that renaming the ship would confuse Allied intelligence; the Admiral Hipper-class cruiser Lützow was designated for sale to the Soviet Navy, and it was hoped that the usage of her name for Deutschland would hide the transaction. The refit lasted until March 1940, after which it was intended to send the ship on another commerce raiding operation into the South Atlantic. In April, however, she was assigned to forces participating in the invasion of Norway.
Lützow was assigned to Group 5, alongside the new heavy cruiser Blücher and the light cruiser Emden, under the command of Konteradmiral Oskar Kummetz. Kummetz flew his flag in Blücher. Group 5 was tasked with capturing Oslo, the capital of Norway, and transported a force of 2,000 mountain troops from the Wehrmacht. Lützow embarked over 400 of the soldiers for the voyage to Norway. The force left Germany on 8 April and passed through the Kattegat. While en route, the British submarine HMS Triton attacked the flotilla, though her torpedoes missed. German torpedo boats attacked the submarine and drove her off.
Shortly before midnight on the night of 8 April, Group 5, with Blücher in the lead, passed the outer ring of Norwegian coastal batteries. Lützow followed directly behind the flagship, with Emden astern. Heavy fog and neutrality requirements, which required the Norwegians to fire warning shots, permitted the Germans to avoid damage. The Norwegians, including those manning the guns at the Oscarsborg Fortress were on alert, however. Steaming into the Oslofjord at a speed of 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph), the Germans came into range of the Norwegian guns; the 28 cm, 15 cm and 57 mm guns opened fire on the invaders. During the ensuing Battle of Drøbak Sound, Blücher was hit by many shells and two torpedoes. She quickly capsized and sank with the loss of approximately 1,000 sailors and soldiers. Lützow was hit three times by 15 cm shells from Oscarsborg’s Kopås battery, causing significant damage.
Lützow ’s forward gun turret was hit by one of the 15 cm rounds, which disabled the center gun and damaged the right barrel. Four men were wounded. A second shell struck the ship’s deck and penetrated the upper and main armored decks; starting a fire in the cruiser’s hospital and operating theater, killing two soldiers and severely wounding six others. A third struck her superstructure behind the port-side aircraft crane. One of the aircraft on board was damaged, and four gunners were killed by the third shell. The ship was only able to fire her secondary battery in return. The heavy damage forced Lützow and the rest of the squadron to reverse course and exit the fjord. She eventually landed her troop complement in Verle Bay, after which she used her operational 28 cm guns to provide fire support. By the afternoon of 9 April, most of the Norwegian fortresses had been captured and the commander of the remaining Norwegian forces opened negotiations for surrender. The delay had, however, allowed enough time for the Norwegian government and royal family to flee Oslo.
The damage Lützow sustained prompted the Kriegsmarine to order her to return to Germany for repairs. The rest of Group 5 remained in Norway, so Lützow cruised at top speed to avoid submarines. Regardless, the British submarine HMS Spearfish attacked the ship and scored a serious hit. The torpedo destroyed Lützow ’s stern, causing it to collapse and nearly fall off, and blew off her steering gear. Unable to steer, she was towed back to port and decommissioned for repairs, which lasted for nearly a year. During the attack on Norway, the ship suffered nineteen dead, and another fifteen were killed by the torpedo strike. Despite the setback, KzS August Thiele, Lützow ’s commander, was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross for his actions during the Battle of Drøbak Sound, during which he took command of the task force after the loss of Blücher.
She was recommissioned for service on 31 March 1941, after which the Kriegsmarine initially planned to send the ship on the commerce raiding operation planned the previous year. Her sister Admiral Scheer was to join Lützow for the operation, and on 12 June, she departed for Norway with an escort of destroyers. British torpedo bombers attacked the ship off Egersund and scored a single hit that disabled her electrical system and rendered the ship motionless. The crew effected emergency repairs that allowed her to return to Germany; repair work in Kiel lasted for six months. By 10 May 1942, the ship was finally pronounced ready for action.
Deployment to Norway
Lützow left Germany on 15 May 1942 for Norway; by 25 May she had joined Admiral Scheer in Bogen Bay. She was made the flagship of the now Vizeadmiral Kummetz, the commander of Kampfgruppe 2. Fuel shortages restricted operations, although Lützow and Admiral Scheer were able to conduct limited battle training exercises. Kampfgruppe 2 was assigned to Operation Rösselsprung, a planned attack on the Allied convoy PQ 17, which was headed to the Soviet Union. On 3 July, the force left their anchorages, and in heavy fog Lützow and three destroyers ran aground and suffered significant damage. The British detected the German departure and ordered the convoy to scatter. Aware that surprise had been lost, the Germans broke off the surface attack and turned the destruction of PQ-17 over to the U-boats and Luftwaffe. Twenty-four of the convoy’s thirty-five transports were sunk. Lützow returned to Germany for repairs, which lasted until the end of October. She began a brief set of trials starting on 30 October. She returned to Norway in early November with a destroyer escort, arriving in Narvik on the 12th.
On 30 December, Lützow, the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, and six destroyers left Narvik for Operation Regenbogen, an attack on convoy JW 51B, which was reported by German intelligence to be lightly escorted. Kummetz’s plan was to divide his force in half; he would take Admiral Hipper and three destroyers north of the convoy to attack it and draw away the escorts. Lützow and the remaining three destroyers would then attack the undefended convoy from the south. At 09:15 on the 31st, the British destroyer Obdurate spotted the three destroyers screening for Admiral Hipper; the Germans opened fire first. Four of the other five destroyers escorting the convoy rushed to join the fight, while Achates laid a smoke screen to cover the convoy. Kummetz then turned back north to draw the destroyers away. Captain Robert Sherbrooke, the British escort commander, left two destroyers to cover the convoy while he took the remaining four to pursue Admiral Hipper.
Lützow meanwhile steamed toward the convoy from the south, and at 11:42 she opened fire. The harsh conditions negatively affected her shooting, which ceased by 12:03 without any hits. Rear Admiral Robert Burnett’s Force R, centered on the cruisers Sheffield and Jamaica, standing by in distant support of the Allied convoy, raced to the scene. The cruisers engaged Admiral Hipper, which had been firing to port at the destroyer Obedient. Burnett’s ships approached from Admiral Hipper ’s starboard side and achieved complete surprise. Lützow was then ordered to break off the attack on the convoy and reinforce Admiral Hipper. Lützow inadvertently came alongside Sheffield and Jamaica, and after identifying them as hostile, engaged them, though her fire remained inaccurate. The British cruisers turned toward Lützow and came under fire from both German cruisers. Burnett quickly decided to withdraw in the face of superior German firepower; his ships were armed with 6 in (150 mm) guns, while Admiral Hipper and Lützow carried 20.3 cm (8.0 in) and 28 cm (11 in) guns, respectively.
Operations in the Baltic
Hitler was furious over the failure to destroy the convoy, and ordered that all remaining German major warships be broken up for scrap. In protest, Raeder resigned; Hitler replaced him with Admiral Karl Dönitz, who persuaded Hitler to rescind the order to dismantle the Kriegmarine’s surface ships. In March, Lützow moved to Altafjord, where she experienced problems with her diesel engines. The propulsion system proved to be so problematic that repairs in Germany were necessary. She briefly returned to Norway, but by the end of September 1943, a thorough overhaul was required. The work was completed in Kiel by January 1944, after which she remained in the Baltic Sea to conduct training cruises for new naval personnel.
On 13 April 1945, twenty-four Avro Lancaster bombers attacked Lützow and Prinz Eugen without success due to cloud cover. The RAF made another failed attack two days later, but on 16 April, a force of eighteen Lancasters scored a single hit and several near misses on Lützow with Tallboy bombs in the Kaiserfahrt. The water was shallow enough that her main deck was still 2 m (6 ft 7 in) above water, permitting her use as a stationary gun battery against advancing Soviet forces under control of Task Force Thiele. She continued in this role until 4 May, by which time she had expended her main battery ammunition. Her crew rigged scuttling charges to destroy the hull, but a fire caused the explosives to detonate prematurely. The ultimate fate of Lützow was long unclear, as with most of the ships seized by the Soviet Navy. According to historians Erich Gröner and M. J. Whitley, the Soviet Navy raised the ship in September 1947 and broke her up for scrap in 1948–1949. Historians Hildebrand, Röhr and Steinmetz, in their book Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe, state that she instead sank off Kolberg, claiming that the Lützow broken up in the late 1940s was instead the Admiral Hipper-class cruiser Lützow that had been sold to the Soviet Union in 1940. The historian Hans Georg Prager examined the former Soviet archives in the early 2000s, and discovered that Lützow actually had been sunk in weapons tests in July 1947.
Units: Deutchland (Lutzow), Admiral Scheer, Admiral Graf Spee
Type and Significance: German heavy cruisers that are popularly called pocket battleships owing to the size of their primary weaponry.
Dates of Construction: Laid down between 1929 and 1932. All were completed by January 1936.
Hull Dimensions: 610′ 3″ x 70′ 10″ x 19′
Displacement: 11,700 tons
Armor: A belt between 2.25 and 3 inches thick, a deck 1.5 inches deep, and turret armor up to 5.5 inches thick.
Armament: Six 11-inch guns in two triple-gunned turrets, one each being located fore and aft. Also armed with eight 5.9- inch guns, six 4.1-inch pieces, eight 20.8-inch torpedo tubes, an assortment of antiaircraft guns, and two aircraft.
Machinery: Diesel engines that generated 54,000 horsepower.
Speed: 28 knots
Summary: Although these vessels caused a great deal of concern in other countries such as France due to their armament, the protection was that of a regular cruiser rather than a more powerful vessel suggested by the nickname pocket battleship. None survived World War II. The Admiral Graf Spee was scuttled on 17 December 1939 after the Battle of the River Plate. The Admiral Scheer was sunk on 9 April 1945 by an Allied bombing raid. The Deutchland, renamed the Lutzow, was scuttled on 4 May 1945 after being badly damaged in an Allied bombing raid.