Following the defeat in the World War I, the Treaty of Versailles limited the tonnage of the German Navy to 144 thousand tons. Moreover, the treaty stipulated that new warships could only be built to replace the decommissioned ones. In 1921 a new law was enacted which brought about the creation of the Reichsmarine.
The few warships that Germany was allowed to keep were modernized and new ones were being built to replace the obsolete ones. Construction of light cruisers was a priority and the first of those, built to replace the Niobe launched in the 19th century, was the Emden. In 1927, during the disarmament conference in Geneva, Germany demanded equal right as far as the expansion of the navy was concerned. Those demands were rejected, therefore, the Reichsmarine drew up the “expansion plan”. It stipulated construction of new warships within the coming years, including submarines, which were forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. During the Second London Naval Conference specifications of cruisers were determined and the type was divided into heavy and light cruisers. All the signatories of the treaty had problems choosing the appropriate design that would meet all set requirements and perform future combat tasks. Heavy cruiser was optimal for that purpose. In February 1934, the Reichsmarine formulated first design requirements: new warship’s displacement should be comparable to similar vessels of other navies, it should also have long range, high speed and capacious magazines.
Two armament variants were considered – twelve 150mm guns in triple turrets or eight 203mm guns in twin turrets. In April 1934, Admiral Reader was in favour of the 203mm armament. There was also an idea of arming the ship with 190mm guns, but finally, Adolf Hitler approved the design armed with 203mm main battery. Also, different propulsion systems for new cruisers were considered and the newly built warships were supposed to have either steam turbines, diesel engines or both. Despite their various shortcomings, steam turbines were chosen to power the new vessels. On March 16, 1935, Germany introduced conscription, which was tantamount to denunciation of the Treaty of Versailles. In June 1935, the German government initiated talks with the British government concerning the tonnage of the Reichsmarine and on June 18 an agreement was reached. Germany was allowed to maintain a navy of 421 thousand tons, that was one-third of that possessed by the Royal Navy. Total tonnage was divided into categories: battleships – 153.000 tons, aircraft carriers – 47.250 tons, heavy cruisers – 51.380 tons, light cruisers – 32.000 tons, destroyers – 43.000 tons and submarines – 18.445 tons. The limit allowed for construction of five 10.000 tons heavy cruisers armed with 203mm guns. The new cruiser design was drawn up by Professor C. C. Burkhardt. On October 30, 1934, contract was signed between the Reichsmarine and shipyards for construction of two heavy cruisers designated “G” and “H”, which were later respectively named the Blücher and the Admiral Hipper. The third vessel, designated “J”, was later named the Prinz Eugen. Apart from those three, other two ships of that class were being built. “K” – Seydlitz, which was almost complete, when a decision was made to convert her into an aircraft carrier. Her superstructure was disassembled, but in January 1943, Hitler’s ordered stopped the conversion. At the end of the war her hull was scuttled at Königsberg (29.01.1945). The incomplete final vessel, designated “L” – Lützow, was sold to the Soviet Union. The heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen was built by the Krupp-Germania shipyard in Kiel. The ship was laid down on 24.04.1936 under construction number 564. She was launched on 22.08.1938 and commissioned on 01.08.1940.
Standard displacement – 14.680 tons.
Full load displacement – 18.560 tons.
The official displacement was 10.000 tons, but when complete the warship displaced over 18.000 tons. The entirely welded hull was built of ST-52 steel, only the armour plates were bolted. It was divided into 14 watertight compartments instead of the planned 18. The ship was launched with a straight stem, but following the experience gathered during the voyage of the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau also built with straight stems, it was decided to rebuilt it into the so-called “Atlantic” bow. The modification, carried out by the Blohm-Voss shipyard in the summer of 1939, lengthened the hull by 4.8m.
The ship was relatively well-armoured. The upper deck was 12-30mm thick, while the thickness of the armoured deck was 20-50mm. Both were made of Ww (Wotan soft) steel. Side armour was 70-80mm thick and the conning tower was 50-150mm thick. Both were made of Wh (Wotan hard) steel. The main battery turrets were protected by 60-160mm KC (Krupp cemented) armour, while the anti-aircraft guns had 17mm thick armour.