The heavy cruisers of the Kriegsmarine: the Deutschland/Lutzow

(To Francesco Sisto)

The heavy cruiser Germany it was the main ship of the class of the same name composed of a series of three Panzerschiffe (“armoured ships”).

The British called this type of vessel "pocket battleships", since they had a displacement that was only half or a third (if not even less!) of the battleships existing in other war navies.

It is worth remembering that this situation originated from the clauses imposed by the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, which placed important restrictions on the fleet of vanquished Germany. Overall, we can assert that one of the most important consequences of the "peace" of 1919 was the search for substantial disarmament, with particular attention to the balanced reduction of the expensive combat fleets. In fact, in the following years there were numerous conferences for naval disarmament…

Eventually, the Kriegsmarine reclassified the ships of the class in 1940 Germany like heavy cruisers.

Il Germany it was designed and then laid down in the winter of 1929 at the Kiel shipyards. She was launched in May 1931 and entered service in the spring of 1933.

The displacement was "moderate" (but exceeded the official figure) thanks to the extensive use of light alloys and electric welding, while the autonomy was considerable (19.000 km) due to the Diesel engine.1

The German ship took part in non-intervention patrols of Spanish waters in 1936-37, during the civil war (based on agreements signed by the Non-intervention committee).

However, on May 29, 1937 a pair of Soviet bombers Tupolev ANT-40 they carried out a raid on the Germany (probably mistaken for the cruiser Canary Islands), which was anchored off Ibiza at the time. The air attack caused – according to estimates – more than 30 deaths and around seventy injuries. Two days later – on 31 May – the Kriegsmarine, in retaliation, bombed the city of Almeria.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Germany it was used in the Atlantic Ocean to counter Allied merchant traffic. In 1940 the ship changed its name to Lutzow.

Later, the heavy cruiser participated in theOperation Weserubung (9 April-10 June 1940). The Lutzow – on 9 April 1940 - was seriously damaged during the battle of the Drobak Fjord. It is worth remembering that that clash delayed the German occupation, and gave the Norwegian royal family and government the opportunity to evacuate from the capital.

The Kriegsmarine - given the condition of the ship - ordered the Lutzow to return to Germany for repairs. Nonetheless, on April 11 the submarine HMS Spearfish of the Royal Navy torpedoed the German cruiser causing serious damage (photo).

Il Lutzow it was put back into service in the spring of 1941. Subsequently, on 12 June 1941 the Third Reich ship was hit by a torpedo bomber off the coast of Egersund (Norway), and once again suffered serious damage.

The cruiser, in December 1942, took part in theoperation Regenbogen to intercept and attack Allied supply convoys to the Soviet Union. This operation ended with Battle of the Barents Sea (31 December 1942). From that battle the Royal Navy emerged victorious, despite a destroyer and a minesweeper sunk: the convoy JW.51B he was saved while the Germans had a destroyer sunk and a heavy cruiser damaged. Subsequently, Hitler - informed of this failure - became furious and gave the order that all surface units be disarmed and their crews transferred to submarines.

From this situation a conflict arose with the commander of the Kriegsmarine, Admiral Raeder, who left office on 30 January. In his place came Admiral Donitz, already responsible for underwater warfare and later capable of “obtain from the Fuhrer the annulment of his hasty decision on the shelving of the large ships”.2

The heavy cruiser Lutzow, in the last years of the war, was used in the Baltic Sea.

On April 16, 1945 Lutzow it was hit and sunk, near the Piast Canal, by strategic bombers Avro Lancaster (read article Strategic bombers: the Avro Lancaster). However, the water was quite shallow… so the ship was used as a standing battery against the advancing Soviets until May 4th. Afterwards, she was blown up.

The heavy cruiser Germany/Lutzow It had a full load displacement of 14290 tons. Her dimensions were 186 x 20,69 x 7,25 m.

The engine was composed of 8 MAN diesel engines, 54000 HP. The speed was 28 knots (52 km/h).

The armament consisted of 6 28 cm C/28 guns, 8 28 cm SK C/15 guns and 8 53,3 cm torpedo launchers.

Armor: 102 mm at the waterline, 58 mm band around the ship, 19 mm bridge, 19/76 mm bridge, 140 mm turrets (front area) and 51/76 mm turrets (side area).

The cruiser was equipped with a catapult and was capable of carrying 2 seaplanes Arado Ar 196.

After 1935, the ship could count on a crew of 900/1000 men (including officers).

1 See A. Fraccaroli, The pocket battleship Deutschland, in Illustrated History n°170, 1972, p.132

2 A. Santoni, History and naval politics of the contemporary age, HISTORICAL OFFICE OF THE NAVY, Rome, 2003, p.306

Photo: web / Bundesarchiv