Germany was a power to be dealt with during World War II but did they ever have an aircraft carrier? Well, the answer to that is yes….sort of!
Construction of Germany’s only aircraft carrier began on December 28, 1936 at the Deutsche Werk shipyard in Kiel, Germany (the capital and most populous city in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein) about 56 miles north of Hamburg. Flugzeugträger A was to be named in honor of Graf (Count) Ferdinand von Zeppelin and called Graf Zeppelin and was launched on December 8, 1938.
Graf Zeppelin was designed by a team led by naval architect Wilhelm Hadeler and was based on contemporary aircraft carriers of the time and would have an overall length of 861.2 ft with a beam of 118.8 ft and a maximum draft of 27.9 ft.
The ship was to be powered by four geared turbines with sixteen oil-fired ultra-high-pressure LaMont boilers giving the carrier a top speed of 33.8 knots. Fully loaded she would have displaced 34,088 tons and would have a projected range of 8,000 nautical miles.
The Graf Zeppelin was only 85% complete by the end of 1939 with completion scheduled by the middle of 1940.
The ship’s primary offensive power would have been its aircraft complement of 30 Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” dive bombers and 12 Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters. The ship would also be fitted with sixteen 15cm SK C/28 guns for defense against surface warships, twelve 10.5 cm SK C/33 anti-aircraft guns, twenty two 3.7 cm SK C/30 guns, and twenty eight 2 cm guns.
The ship’s flight deck was protected with 1.8 inch steel armor, a 2.4 inch thick armored under deck to protect the ship’s vitals from aerial attacks, and a 3.9 inch waterline armor belt.
As WWII got into full swing many of the Graf Zeppelin’s guns were removed and used in other combat zones and by April 1940 Admiral Erich Raeder requested (and was granted) that all work be halted on the ship’s construction. By July 1940, Graf Zeppelin was towed from Kiel to Gotenhafen, Poland and remained there for nearly a year. While there, she was used as a storage depot for Germany’s hardwood supply. In June 1941 the Graf Zeppelin was towed to Stettin, Poland to protect her from Russian air attacks and by November she was towed yet again back to Gotenhafen. On the night of August 27, 1942, while still at Gotenhaven, Graf Zeppelin was attacked by British bombers but was spared from any damage.
By now Admiral Erich Raeder realized the usefulness of aircraft carriers and was anxious to secure air protection for the Kriegsmarine’s heavier surface units and informed Hitler that the Graf Zeppelin could be finished in about a year, with another six months required for sea trials and flight training. On 13 May 1942, with Hitler’s authorization, the German Naval Supreme Command ordered work resumed on the carrier and later in December it was towed back to Kiel, Germany to resume construction. Modifications were progressing well until January 1943 when all work on naval surface vessels was ordered stopped by Hitler. Admiral Raeder was relieved of command and placed under Admiral Dönitz and the “green light” was given to redirect all naval construction work towards building U-boats.
In April 1943 Graf Zeppelin was again towed eastward, first to Gotenhafen, then to the Roadstead at Swinemünde, Poland and finally berthed (with only 18 inches of water under her keel) at a back-water wharf in the Parnitz River, two miles from Stettin. It is here where she remained for two years. In April 1945 as the Russians approached Stettin the Germans scuttled and set off demolition charges in the hull rendering her useless.
The fate of the Graf Zeppelin after the surrender of Germany was somewhat of a mystery until later it was discovered that the Russians were able to refloat the carrier in March 1946 and tow her out of Stettin in August 1947. Despite the rumors that she struck a mine while being towed to Leningrad she was actually towed out into the Baltic and used for weapons testing.
The exact position of the Graf Zeppelin was discovered by a Polish research vessel RV St. Barbara on July 12, 2006. The wreck rests at a depth of more than 260 ft below the surface 34 miles north of Władysławowo, Poland.
|Specifications Graf Zeppelin
• Manufacturer: Deutsche Werke
|Want to know more about the Graf Zepplin? Here are two books about it available at Amazon: Without Wings: The Story of Hitler’s Aircraft Carrier Paperback – by Stephen Burke|
|Aircraft Carrier: Graf Zeppelin (Schiffer Military History) Paperback – by Siegfried Breyer|