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Admiral Scheer at Gibraltar in 1936
Admiral Scheer at Gibraltar in 1936
Class overview
Name: Deutschland
Succeeded by: Admiral Hipper class cruiser
Completed: Three ordered and commissioned
Lost: Two scuttled, one sunk
General characteristics
Type: Heavy cruiser
Displacement: 12,100 t standard; 16,200 t full load
Length: 610 ft (190 m)
Beam: 71 ft (22 m)
Draught: 24 ft (7.3 m)
Propulsion: Eight MAN diesels driving two screws, 52,050 hp (40 MW)
Speed: 28.5 knots (52.8 km/h)
Range: 8,900 nautical miles at 20 knots (16,500 km at 37 km/h)
Electronic warfare
and decoys:
From 1937, 60 cm Seetakt FuMO

6 × 280 mm (11 inch) guns
8 × 150 mm (5.9 inch) guns
6 × 105 mm (4.1 inch) guns
8 × 37 mm
10 × 20 mm

8 × 533 mm (21 inch) Torpedo Tubes
Armour: turret face: (160 mm)
belt: (80 mm)
deck: 40 mm)
Aircraft carried: one catapult with Arado 196 seaplane(s)

The Deutschland class was a series of three Panzerschiffe ("armoured ships"), a form of heavily armed cruiser, built by the German Reichsmarine more or less in accordance with restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. The class is named after the first ship of this class to be completed (the Deutschland). She and her sister ships, the Admiral Scheer and the Admiral Graf Spee, were all launched between 1931 and 1934 and served in Germany's Kriegsmarine during World War II.


The British began referring to the vessels as pocket battleships ("a battleship that fits into a pocket"), in reference to the heavy firepower of the relatively small vessels. They were considerably smaller than a true battleship and their armor and guns were far inferior to those of battleships and battlecruisers; however, they could outgun any contemporary cruiser. The ships were actually two feet longer than the American Pennsylvania-class battleships, and superficially resembled contemporary battleships due to their massive main gun turrets, unusually high conning tower/bridge and the masts of the Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee. The Deutschlands design and displacement was very similar to that of a heavy cruiser, though they were armed with guns larger than the heavy cruisers of other nations, albeit at the price of a lower speed than a cruiser. The Panzerschiffe had a greater cruising range than the following Hipper class cruisers, making them more suitable as high seas raiders. The term capital ship typically encompassed battleships and battlecruisers, and not heavy cruisers, but the Deutschlands were sometimes classified as capital ships (though by importance rather than attributes).

The Deutschland cruisers illustrate one aspect of fleet in being in that the hunt for the Admiral Graf Spee in 1939 alone tied up a total of three battleships, two battlecruisers, four aircraft carriers, and 16 cruisers.

Deutschland class ships were initially classified as panzerschiffe or "armoured ships", but the Kriegsmarine reclassified them as heavy cruisers in February 1940.


German capital ships were restricted by the Treaty of Versailles to a displacement of 10,000 tons for "armoured ships". The idea was to limit Germany to nothing more than coastal defence ships—effectively pre-dreadnought types—which could not challenge the major naval powers of Britain, France and the United States. Germany used a number of technical innovations to build a formidable warship within this restricted weight, including large-scale use of welding to join hull components (as opposed to then-standard rivets), triple-gun main armament turrets (first used by the Austro-Hungarian Navy in Tegetthoff class battleships in 1912), and diesel engines for propulsion. Even so, all members of the class were well over the treaty weight limit (first constructed as 10,600 tons, later enlarged to 12,100 tons). For obvious political reasons, however, the Germans misrepresented their displacement the 10,000 tons of the Treaty limit.

Deutschland class cruiser in 1933

The principal feature of the Deutschland design was that it had guns of large enough calibre—280 mm (11 inches)—to out-gun almost any enemy cruiser fast enough to catch it, while being fast enough to outrun almost any enemy powerful enough to sink it. The Royal Navy had three modernized battlecruisers that could be effective in pursuing the Deutschlands; the HMS Repulse, HMS Renown, and HMS Hood were equal to the Deutschland ships in speed and were far better protected and better armed. World War I-era Japanese battlecruisers of the Kongo class could do the same. The German naval staff also knew that new ships would be built that were both faster and more powerful than the Deutschland class ships—the announced intention to build six of the Deutschland ships led the French, for example, to draw up their own small "fast battleship" (the Dunkerque class)—but they hoped for a temporary advantage. The advantage did not last long: Deutschland ships had a maximum speed of 28.5 knots, which would already be considered to be too slow at the beginning of the Second World War, only eight years after the first ship was launched. The ships had a range of about 30,000 km (18,650 miles).

The Kriegsmarine, which superseded the Reichsmarine and thus inherited the ships, was much more cognizant of the ships' limitations, and during the war they intended to use the Deutschland ships purely as commerce raiders on the high seas. In the early years of the conflict—the Deutschland ships' speed and heavy armament made them very difficult to bring to task, as they could generally avoid any fight they did not like; indeed, they were ordered not to fight enemy ships unless they were much stronger than them. It wasnt until the Allies closed the air gap over the North Atlantic, developed better Huff-Duff (radio triangulation equipment), airborne centimetric radar, and provided escort carrier protection to the merchant ship convoys— could the Deutschland ships hope to be brought to task.

Ships in class

Though all ships were technically of the same class, there were some considerable differences between the members, with the Admiral Graf Spee being the most improved, as well as being the heaviest.


Deutschland / Lützow

Deutschland in 1933

The lead ship of the class, Deutschland was renamed Lützow in November 1939 due to fears of the political liability of having a ship named Deutschland (Germany) sunk. She generally remained close to home through the war, doing service in the Baltic in support of German troops. One of the two German heavy ships in the Battle of the Barents Sea, she failed to do any damage to the British ships. Deutschland survived until the last weeks of the war.

Admiral Scheer

The most successful commerce raider of the class, Admiral Scheer made several raids into the North Atlantic and as a commerce raider operated as far as the Indian Ocean. In November 1940 she sank the armed merchant cruiser HMS Jervis Bay and 17 cargo ships after catching convoy HX84. In 1945, she was bombed by the Royal Air Force (RAF) while docked in Kiel, causing her to capsize and sink.

Admiral Graf Spee

Admiral Graf Spee destroyed nine British merchant ships (totalling 50,089 tons) before being cornered by three British and Commonwealth cruisers in December 1939. In the ensuing Battle of the River Plate she damaged the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter so severely that it had to break off the action. However, the German ship suffered significant topside damage (though the British 6-inch shells could not penetrate her armour), and after spending several days trapped at Montevideo, she was deliberately scuttled on 17 December 1939, rather than risk a battle with a superior Royal Navy force assumed to be approaching. Her captain, Hans Langsdorff, committed suicide three days later.

See also

Further reading

  • Breyer, Siegfried, and Gerhard Koop. Edward Force, trans. The German Navy at War 1939–1945: Volume 1—The Battleships. West Chester, Penn.: Schiffer, 1989. ISBN 0887402208.
  • Ireland, Bernard, and Tony Gibbons (illustrator). Jane's Battleships of the 20th Century, pp. 42–43. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. ISBN 0004709977.
  • Pope, Dudley. Graf Spee: The Life and Death of a Raider. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1956.
  • Preston, Antony (2002). The World’s Worst Warships. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-754-6. 

External links


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