Battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau vol. I


The construction of the battleship ‘D’ and its prospective characteristics were discussed at several conferences specially organised during 1933. The final requirements were introduced within the discussion held on March 9, 1933. Considering them, three versions of the battleship ‘D’ project were prepared. The first suggested its displacement constituted 18,000 t, the second meant to arm it with 280mm guns and the third one implied the armour comprised of six 330mm guns. Rear admiral Dr. O. Gross, the Commander of the Naval Command Department, endorsed the construction of a battleship displacing 26,000 t and equipped with guns of the calibre 330 mm so it would be close to the French cruiser Dunkerque. It was not so easy to select the right project especially because each of those required a different budget. Basically, constructing a ship displacing 18,000 t cost around 120 million Reichsmark. The displacement increase to 22,000 t would require 150 million RM. In its turn, a vessel of 26,000 t would cost 180 million RM. Considering the financial state in the Reich and the threat of its forced disarmament, the choice appeared hard to made.

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Another problem were the German shipyards as only the slipway number 2 in Wilhelmshaven was capable of building and launching a ship’s hull with the displacement of 26,000 t. Furthermore, docking was only possible at Kaiserdock in Bremenhaven or in Hamburg. Thus, before the battlecruiser ‘D’ would be built, the appropriate dockyard infrastructure for her construction and, more importantly, shipbuilding facilities in Germany had to be created. There was also an issue of sea lanes, channels and red military ports unfit for mooring such large units. Apparently, those minor inconveniences fundamentally impacted the characteristics of the future unit. Another factor was the height of the Levensau High Bridge located in the suburbs of Kiel as they viewed the possibility of navigating the ship under it. Considering the stated circumstances, the Reichsmarine commander admiral Raeder suggested that several projects of the cruiser were created. Basic requirements included the potential displacement of approximately 26,500 t and armament comprised of 330mm guns. The first version was about to be equipped with four twin-gun turrets, the second one was supposed to have two turrets but each armed with four guns and the third one would have three triple-gun turrets. Referring to the political situation in the German Reich at that time, admiral also commissioned working on a project of a ship displacing 22,000 t and armed with 280mm guns. It was named Project XIII and completed in 1934 so the ship could be laid down the very same year.

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However, another conference dedicated to the ship D took place on June 23, 1933. The subject for discussion was the Deutschland ship that had already been commissioned into the fleet. The first sea trials revealed her advantages and disadvantages. Considering the information gathered, certain departments of the construction office suggested that changes were made to the ship ‘D’ project that, incidentally, was primarily based on the ship ‘A’ project including changes introduced in designing the ship ‘C’. All the attendants agreed on thickening the unit’s armour. Another subject was prospective armament of the cruisers. The Armaments Department suggested changing the medium weaponry comprised of individual machine guns to two 150mm twin-gun turrets, which they considered better in terms of operating and protection. It was also planned to increase the number of heavy guns of the anti-aircraft battery. Yet all those modernisations needed to be made in a way that the ship with such characteristics would not displace more than 18,000 t. The question of the ship’s propulsion system – to use diesel engines or another – was left for the further discussion.

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The following conference dedicated to this battleship was held on October 11, 1933. The Armaments Department criticised the suggestion of equipping her with 150mm gun turrets. In particular, they disapproved installation of new barbettes as well as too weak anti-aircraft weapons that was decided to increase from three to four 88mm twin-gun turrets. Within this discussion, the problem of the torpedo armament was also raised but it was less important at that stage of the project development. The most emotional part of the discussion regarded the prospective conning tower, ‘komandoturm’ – the ship’s fore superstructure. The Armaments Department supported the idea of the cylinder-shaped tower as it had been built for Deutschland. But such a construction turned out to be not stable enough in the case it would have to carry fire-control systems, in particular, rangefinders and reticle accessories. A good solution would be moving the turret ‘A’ closer to the bow and increasing the cubic capacity of the fore superstructure. Thanks to that, the newer and bigger superstructures would become a much more stable platform for the fire-control systems as well as the optical and, prospectively, electrical. The final amendments of the project were related to the increasement of the thickness of armour plates on longitudinal bulkheads. If the mentioned changes were approved, it would be possible to order 280mm gun turrets in November 1933 and 150mm turrets in early January 1934. A week later, on October 18, 1933, it was decided to order two units with the announced displacement of 17,000 t. According to the original documents, the displacement of these battlecruisers was 19,000 t but these figures were crossed and corrected to 17,000 t. After all, this parameter was not so critical as it could be changed in the future because by that moment they had not decided what propulsion system to install, which would increase the displacement of both cruisers.

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The question of the calibre of the main battery was raised again in December 1933. Within the yearly budget, they set a quota of 1,4 million RM for manufacturing new 330mm guns. However, the political situation in Germany required to reduce their calibre to 305 mm. The Armaments Department estimated the production time and concluded that the works on the gun turrets would take almost a year and their building would continue within next 3,5 years. Thus, construction of battleships with the displacement of 25,000 t and their armament of six 305mm guns would start by 1935-1936. Considering the political situation in 1936, when the mandatory disarmament treaties were to be expired, starting the construction of the units in 1935 would allow Germany to save a year in the cycle of building and equipment. In December 1933, A. Hitler met with the Fleet Commander, admiral Raeder, and authorised building the fourth unit, so-called battlecruiser ‘D’, within the budget for 1934. Raeder also received the permission for building the fifth one, Panzerschiff ‘E’ – Ersatz Hessen. At that appointment, the admiral presented the project on increasement of the future ships’ combat value in comparison to Deutschland. In the end, he was not able to convince Hitler.

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