German heavy ships

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paul.mercer
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German heavy ships

Postby paul.mercer » Tue Sep 27, 2011 7:46 pm

Gentlemen,
I have another question for you. If we take all the German 'heavy' ships (by which I mean heavy cruisers, pocket battleships and full battleships), how would you judge their effectivness throughout the war?
To start the ball rolling, it seems to me that the only ship that did anything really useful against trade and managed to return unscathed was the Scheer.

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Re: German heavy ships

Postby tommy303 » Wed Sep 28, 2011 4:11 pm

I would say that the 1941 winter/spring cruise of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau under Admiral Luetjens was highly successful and accomplished a fair amount beyond the simple question of sinking enemy merchant ships. Their presence on the high seas caused the RN to have to disperse its resources in an unsuccessful effort to locate and engage them, which in turn relieved pressure on other German ships at sea, including the Admiral Scheer, by making it much more difficult to concentrate sufficient forces to entrap them.

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Re: German heavy ships

Postby alecsandros » Wed Sep 28, 2011 6:39 pm

I would add the sortie of Tirpitz, Scheer and Hipper + 6 destroyers (operation Roselsprung). Because of the sortie, the convoy PQ17 was ordered to scatter, thus making the merchant ships easy prey for U-boats and German bombers. 24 of the 35 merchant ships were lost, causing great concern both in Great Britain and in USSR about the fesability of future transports via the arctic.

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RF
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Re: German heavy ships

Postby RF » Thu Sep 29, 2011 8:21 am

The KM overall got a poor return from its investment in heavy warships in terms of commerce warfare. This I think was principally for two reasons. Firstly it wasn't properly prepared for war, as the Z Plan had only just commenced and the KM was short of all types of warships. Secondly those ships that were available weren't for the most part put to full use. The light cruisers, supposedly built for commerce raiding, never took part in the commerce war; the Narvik's actually had more wartime Atlantic cruising than any of the K's. The Hipper class cruisers weren't really suitable for commerce war, too short ranged and only Hipper got involved and had to suffer from unreliable engines.

Only the panzersciffe made successful forays, but even here the success was relative to the failures of the other classes of warship. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were successful within the context of them being hybrid warships - they didn't have the gun power to destroy strongly escorted convoy's.

The biggest failure I think was tactical - in sending out ships one by one. What the KM should have done is send out Bismarck and Tirpitz together, better still with the GZ. But that could only have been done by advancing the naval construction pre-war and also improving shipyard efficiency, so that they would have been ready in 1940. So we can add strategic failure as well.
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Re: German heavy ships

Postby RF » Thu Sep 29, 2011 8:25 am

If we are judging the effectiveness of the KM ships in tying down the RN because of their latent and actual threat posed, then they were successful up to 1943. However that success didn't give Germany any advantage that would win the war.
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Re: German heavy ships

Postby Ersatz Yorck » Thu Sep 29, 2011 1:27 pm

I would say that the German surface raiders of WW2 were largely a case of "fighting the last war in a better way". Surface raiders like the Deutschland-class would have been excellent in WW1, but in WW2 the time of the surface raider was really over, mainly due to technical advances in aviation and radar. The Deutschlands were reasonably successful, not surprisingly given that they were designed exactly for that role, but the Hippers were, as stated above, singularly unsuited. The Bismarck class, while having a good range were too expensive and conspicuous to be suitable as raiders.

Statistically, the tonnage sunk by surface raiders even during the most successful years was dwarfed by that sunk by uboats and aircraft. Unfortunately for us ship lovers, I would say that the German surface fleet during WW2 was an expensive distraction, and the resources put into Bismarck or Tirpitz might have been put to better use. Just think about how many tanks you can make out of 56.000 tons of steel.

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Re: German heavy ships

Postby RF » Fri Sep 30, 2011 8:51 am

Ersatz Yorck wrote:I would say that the German surface raiders of WW2 were largely a case of "fighting the last war in a better way".


I think that encapsulates the efforts of these raiders exactly. Even the hilfskreuzer were converted on the basis of the plans for SMS Wolf.....
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Re: German heavy ships

Postby RF » Fri Sep 30, 2011 9:04 am

Ersatz Yorck wrote: but in WW2 the time of the surface raider was really over, mainly due to technical advances in aviation and radar.


I think this is completely the wrong conclusion. The role of the surface raider didn't end, the role changes in line with technological and strategic advances. Radar didn't end the role of aircraft - aviation adapted to it, so does the concept of maritime warfare and commerce interdiction. The raiders tactics and weapons will be refined as a result.

What happened with the KM is that it wasn't able to adapt properly because it didn't have either the resources or leadership with which to do so. Von Ruckteschell was one officer who did have the gumption to update the raider concept, and the success he had on hilfskreuzer Michel reflected that, but Michel was not as well equipped as he wanted it to be for that type of warfare.

Another example of the updating of the concept of raider warfare was in the Z Plan - the use of naval task forces, groups of raiders, to make major attacks on convoy routes and to carry raider warfare in to the new dimension of winning control of the sea lanes by attrition. But the Z Plan didn't get to beyond being a plan.
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Re: German heavy ships

Postby RF » Fri Sep 30, 2011 9:13 am

Ersatz Yorck wrote:The Deutschlands were reasonably successful, not surprisingly given that they were designed exactly for that role, but the Hippers were, as stated above, singularly unsuited. The Bismarck class, while having a good range were too expensive and conspicuous to be suitable as raiders.


The panzerschiffe were used as single raiders only - not as groups of raiders. Had there been more of these vessels they could have achieved proportionally much more per ship.

Similary if the Bismarck had got to the point of attacking convoys then it could have justified the use of battleships as commerce raiders. Rather than just sinking a battle cruiser.
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Re: German heavy ships

Postby RF » Fri Sep 30, 2011 9:21 am

Ersatz Yorck wrote:Statistically, the tonnage sunk by surface raiders even during the most successful years was dwarfed by that sunk by uboats and aircraft.


Largely because the raiders were sent out as single ships employed in penny packet attacks.

Long range raiders such as Atlantis actually sank far more than the average individual U-boat. The difference of course was made in the number of U-boats.
A fleet of better equipped, better armed hilfskreuzer, supplemented by groups of panzerschiffe plus Bismarck/Tirpitz/GZ/Atlantic destroyers could have produced far greater and possibly decisive results.
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Re: German heavy ships

Postby RF » Fri Sep 30, 2011 9:25 am

Ersatz Yorck wrote:

Statistically, the tonnage sunk by surface raiders even during the most successful years was dwarfed by that sunk by uboats and aircraft. Unfortunately for us ship lovers, I would say that the German surface fleet during WW2 was an expensive distraction, and the resources put into Bismarck or Tirpitz might have been put to better use. Just think about how many tanks you can make out of 56.000 tons of steel.


Well, you do need the men to man them and the fuel and ammunition required to fight with them. And how do you get these tanks across the English Channel?

It isn't just producing the extra tanks, its all the other things that go with them to fight and win a war.
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Re: German heavy ships

Postby Ersatz Yorck » Fri Sep 30, 2011 10:40 am

RF wrote:
Ersatz Yorck wrote: but in WW2 the time of the surface raider was really over, mainly due to technical advances in aviation and radar.


I think this is completely the wrong conclusion. The role of the surface raider didn't end, the role changes in line with technological and strategic advances. Radar didn't end the role of aircraft - aviation adapted to it, so does the concept of maritime warfare and commerce interdiction. The raiders tactics and weapons will be refined as a result.

What happened with the KM is that it wasn't able to adapt properly because it didn't have either the resources or leadership with which to do so. Von Ruckteschell was one officer who did have the gumption to update the raider concept, and the success he had on hilfskreuzer Michel reflected that, but Michel was not as well equipped as he wanted it to be for that type of warfare.

Another example of the updating of the concept of raider warfare was in the Z Plan - the use of naval task forces, groups of raiders, to make major attacks on convoy routes and to carry raider warfare in to the new dimension of winning control of the sea lanes by attrition. But the Z Plan didn't get to beyond being a plan.


I would say that the Bismarck episode is a good example of air and radar making the surface raider obsolete. What was possible with the S & G 6 months previous was not possible with improved British air recon and radar. Already by 1942 the KM found it hard to even move heavy units from Germany to Norway in the face of the British air threat. Heavy units had to "sneak around like thieves in the night" like the commander of the Lützow put it.

As for the Hilskreuzer, yes they were probably cost effective in the disruption they caused and the resources they tied up for the British, but the subject was German heavy ships. And their sinkings were miniscule compared to what was achieved by the u-boats.

The problem is that a raider will always be very vulnerable to the slightest damage, given that they will be far from a friendly base. That means that they will hardly ever dare fight it out against an equal opponent. The torpedo damage to the Scharnhorst during Juno shows what can happen even against a much weaker escort. A hit like that in the middle of the Atlantic will doom a raider, even if in a group. The record of the S&G in the Atlantic was pretty impressive, but they abstained from attacking convoys with battleship escort on several occasions, and I don't see how the B&PE would really have managed better. Even a single R-class RN battleship would have made Bismarck hesitate to attack.

Groups of raiders - no, I am doubtful. They would have been much harder to supply than single ships, and not much more effective.
The Z-plan was a pipe dream. German could never have afforded it given the need to put resources into the army and Luftwaffe. It was also a half way house in that many of its ships were a compromise between prestige ships and ships suitable as raiders

What is needed is a ship that can be a danger to any opponent, yet always have the means to hide, and be cheap enough that a loss won't be a problem, either in cost or prestige. The answer: The U-boat.

I m not coming to this conclusion happily, as I am a battleship fanboy. To face the truth, the Navy was always a sideshow for Germany. In WW1 it created enemies for Germany without being strong enough to defeat them, and diverted resources from the land war, which was Germany's chance of winning. In WW2 it was a sideshow that absorbed resources into the wrong kind of equipment. More submarines earlier and better naval aviation would have been much more useful for Germany IMHO.

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Re: German heavy ships

Postby RF » Fri Sep 30, 2011 11:27 am

Ersatz Yorck wrote:I would say that the Bismarck episode is a good example of air and radar making the surface raider obsolete. [


Are you saying that because Bismarck was sunk, after being crippled by an aerial torpedo?

I think a wider criteria is needed. Otherwise you could be saying that radio made raiders obsolete in 1914 because SMS Emden was caught and disabled as a result of a radio message betraying its position.
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Re: German heavy ships

Postby RF » Fri Sep 30, 2011 11:34 am

Ersatz Yorck wrote:Groups of raiders - no, I am doubtful. They would have been much harder to supply than single ships, and not much more effective.


Yes, the supply logistics would be much greater, but I think feasible for the North and Central Atlantic if the Germans hold the French Biscay ports, plus the use of Spanish and Vichy French ports in West Africa as well.
Convoy attack involving destruction of entire convoys would achieve much greater results - but the scenario was never tried. The closest was the original Rheinubung operation which included the twins - a force of four ships. Had GZ been available as well then that would be the sort of task force I would envisage. But that is diverting into another war.
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Re: German heavy ships

Postby Ersatz Yorck » Fri Sep 30, 2011 11:47 am

RF wrote:
Ersatz Yorck wrote:I would say that the Bismarck episode is a good example of air and radar making the surface raider obsolete. [


Are you saying that because Bismarck was sunk, after being crippled by an aerial torpedo?



No, I am basing that on the Bismarck being continually hounded and shadowed with the help of recon aircraft and radar equipped ships and never attaining the operational freedom that the S&G did. Even if the Bismarck had not been sunk, she would have been driven into Brest, to sit uselessly being continually unfit for action due to bomb damage and lack of training, like the twins.

The British had learnt their lesson from the earlier episode, and were determined that it shouldn't happen again. That the Brits were very much ahead of the Germans in intelligence and electronic warfare helped too of course.

The inability of the Germans to keep the French Atlantic ports safe from British bombing was another factor that stacked the odds against the surface raiders. U-boats OTOH could be kept in concrete shelters, where not one u-boat was lost to allied bombing.


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