In the aftermath of the First World War the German fleet had been left without all worthful ships, and there was nothing at first to indicate that the force would be revived. Despite the restraints imposed, it was not long before engineering work on heavy vessels was underway.
The first warship of the new type was named Deutschland. With rather unconventional technical specifications, she could not be easily and explicitly classified within a definite category of ships. The Deutschland’s service was long and intensive. Later on, during the course of the Second World War, both her name and classification were changed to Lützow and heavy cruiser respectively.
The stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles that allowed Germany to retain a fleet of only six battleships and as many light cruisers in addition to twelve torpedo boats and as many torpedo boat destroyers came into effect on January 10, 1920. In 1922 five powers became signatories to the Washington Naval Treaty, on whose authority the German navy could replace the eight old battleships (including two in reserve) it had after World War I with new constructions. The displacement of the new warships was not, however, to exceed 10,000 tons. Two years after the treaty was signed, Germany started development of a future battleship under the contract name Ersatz Preussen which would enter service as a replacement for the reserve battleship Preussen.
The new vessel was envisaged in two ways. One view premised development of a warship for defensive tasks. This construction would feature armament of a power inversely proportional to the speed. The premise of the other view was a construction classified between the battleship and the cruiser. This ship would be armed with six 28cm guns and eight 12cm ones. Fitted with two Diesel engines rated at 54,000 horsepower, she would attain speeds of up to 28 knots. Such a construction would make the ship effective in combat against cruisers while the high speeds would make her fast enough to overtake battleships. Initially, the naval authorities were inclined toward the former, more traditional concept. However, in June of 1927 Admiral Zenker, commander-in-chief of the Reichsmarine, changed his mind and supported the development of a warship based on the other construction.
The designing stage allowed development of two ships, “A” and “B”, unconventionally classified as Panzerschiffe, or literally “armored ships”. They were later commonly called battleships while the English-speaking countries used the term “pocket battleships”. When planning a budget for the year 1928, though, the higher chamber of the German parliament did not approve funding for initial construction of the “A” ship, justifying the refusal with the horrendous state of the Reich’s finances. The case ended up with the lower chamber, the Reichstag, who approved the project on March 27, 1928. The polemic over spending money for naval armament had taken almost a year. It was not until a memorial by the Reich’s minister of defense—in which he argued for the necessity to defend communication with East Prussia in the event of war with Poland or France—that the opposition yielded and the project could be approved.
The ship’s keel was laid on February 5, 1929. The Reichsmarine had signed the contract for building the vessel with the German shipyard Deutsche Werke AG of Kiel. The celebratory launching of the ship’s hull took place more than two years later, on May 19, 1931. Apart from a numerous audience of approximately 60,000 observers, the official ceremony was attended by the Reich’s president Paul von Hindenburg and the chancellor Heinrich Brüning. During Brüning’s speech the ship began to unexpectedly slide down the slipway. A bottle of champagne was broken over the bow at the very last moment, thus concluding the christening of the battleship by the name of Deutschland.
A construction outline
As has already been mentioned, the leading premise of the design work on the warship was the fitting of possibly heavy guns and a power unit capable of reaching significantly high speeds while at the same time keeping displacement relatively low at around 10,000 tons. To reach these objectives necessarily required making considerable savings in the tonnage area. That was achieved at the expense of the armor, which was not very solid: on the main belt it was 80mm at the thickest part whereas on the main deck it was 45mm.