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Plan Z was the name given to the planned re-equipment and expansion of the Nazi German Navy (Kriegsmarine) ordered by Adolf Hitler on January 27, 1939.[1] The plan called for a Kriegsmarine of ten battleships, four aircraft carriers, three battlecruisers, eight heavy cruisers, 44 light cruisers, 68 destroyers and 249 U-boats by 1944 that was meant to challenge the naval power of the United Kingdom.[2]

Contents

Background

Post-Versailles

Following the end of World War I, the German armed forces became subject to the stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles. For the navy, this meant it was restricted to six armoured warships ("panzerschiffe"), six cruisers, twelve destroyers and twelve torpedo-boats. With the scuttling of the majority of the High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow, new construction was needed. The first major ship to be built after the war was the light cruiser Emden. This was followed by a further three light cruisers of the K class; Königsberg, Karlsruhe and Köln, and a further two ships that were modified versions of the K class, Leipzig and Nürnberg.

Panzerschiff

The Treaty also stipulated that Germany could replace its armoured ships as needed, but with vessels that were not more than 10,000 tons displacement. When it came time to replace some of the earlier vessels, the panzerschiff concept was created. This was designed primarily as an aggressor towards merchant shipping, or merchant raider, with the proviso that it be "stronger than faster enemies"(cruisers) and "faster than stronger enemies" (battleships).[3] This led to the Deutschland, a ship with six 11-inch guns and a speed of 28 knots. Two further units, Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee followed. These were called "pocket battleships" in the outside world.

The panzerschiff concept was by no means new. The same "stronger than faster, faster than stronger" design concept was the basis of the battlecruiser that was widely built prior to World War I. In combat, the battlecruiser was sometimes put into the same lines as battleships, where it could no longer use its superior speed to stay out of trouble. British battlecruisers suffered high losses during the Battle of Jutland and the class as originally conceived was considered dead by military planners. Although the British completed HMS Hood already building, it was greatly modified and up-armoured. The Washington Naval Treaty classified battlecruisers in the same category of capital ship as fast battleships because that reflected post-WW1 naval thinking. However, changes in technology, especially power plants, re-invigorated the concept, primarily for commerce raiding, allowing the Germans to build ships that evaded the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles on capital ship construction, while being smaller, better armored and still faster than their World War I counterparts. The new designs were widely lauded around the world.[4][5][6][7] Designed as they were to implement the envisaged likely German war strategy of commerce raiding while avoiding engagements with heavy capital ships, no other major naval power with their different strategies and needs copied them. The British with their dependence on seaborne trade did not require commerce raiders. Their needs were for commerce protection, and built warships suitable for that task. Other major navies did likewise.

Nazi rise to power

In 1933, Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany. He withdrew from the stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles and began the systematic re-building of the armed forces. The prestige brought by the panzerschiffe led to two improved vessels, Panzerschiffe D & E to be ordered - these became the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which were larger than their predecessors, with nine instead of six guns. At the same time, studies were made into the construction of two even larger vessels. These were initially going to be panzerschiffe with 13" guns, but with the improvements to the French fleet at the time, the new ships were redesigned as full schlachtschiffe (battleships). At this time, it was decided to embark on a large scale re-building of the German Navy, and so Plan Z was evolved.

Plan: Battle Fleet vs. U-Boat

Within the Kriegsmarine, two opposing viewpoints emerged as to the direction of the re-equipment of the navy:

  • a large battle fleet capable of taking on the most powerful opponents (Britain and France)
  • a large force of U-boats and medium-sized warships such as the panzerschiffe for destruction of the enemy's commercial shipping.

It was pointed out that in order to carry out commerce raiding in the Atlantic Ocean, German ships would have to pass through the North Sea, which was likely to be filled with British battleships. So, the large fleet option was chosen.

The Plan

The plan as it came about would have seen the completion of the two battleships under construction (Bismarck and Tirpitz) to an interim design, as well as three heavy cruisers (Admiral Hipper, Blücher and Prinz Eugen), plus a further two launched in 1939, before the major construction work began. The plan was then to have the majority finished by 1945:

Construction begin on the aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin in 1936, with a second planned to begin in 1938. In mid 1939, following the launch of both Bismarck and Tirpitz, the keels of the first three improved battleships were laid, while orders were placed for the modified Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters and Junkers Ju87 dive bombers to equip the aircraft carriers. However, with the outbreak of the Second World War, it was decided that the large and expensive construction projects required too much of the materials vital to keep the Heer (the German army) and Luftwaffe up and running. As a consequence, work on the battleships was halted, and the materials were diverted to the construction of U-boats. Some Bf 109Ts were completed, though later stripped of their carrier equipment and stationed in Norway.

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ Overy, p. 50
  2. ^ Overy, pp. 50-51
  3. ^ The German Navy 1939-1945 author Cajus Bekker. Pub 1972 Germany. English translation pub 1974 London. ISBN 1 85152 591 2. pages 14-19, 34.
  4. ^ Shipbuilding and Shipping Record 9th January 1930.
  5. ^ Naval and Military Record 8th January 1930.
  6. ^ US Naval Institute Proceedings May 1930. " The most powerful 10,000 ton ship ever built."
  7. ^ Le Temps Paris. 5th Sept 1930.

Bibliography

  • Hillgruber, Andreas "England's Place In Hitler's Plans for World Dominion" pages 5–22 from Journal of Contemporary History, Volume 9, 1974.
  • Overy, Richard & Wheatcroft, Andrew The Road To War, Macmillan Press: London, United Kingdom, 1989
  • Nolte, Maik: "... mit Anstand zu sterben verstehen.": Flottenrüstung zwischen Tirpitzscher Tradition, strategischer Notwendigkeit und ideologischem Kalkül 1933 - 1943, Der Andere Verlag: Tönning, Germany, 2005.







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