Germany forgoes battleships, goes all in on CVs

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Admiral Beez

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Oct 21, 2019
Toronto, Canada
Instead of (or in advance of) building the Scharnhorst and Bismarck classes, Germany goes all in on CVs. Both Graf Zeppelin-class units begin construction in 1936. The five Admiral Hipper-class CAs are designed with CV protection in mind, with heavy AA.
 
Have you read John Baxter's Tragerflotten series?

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Instead of (or in advance of) building the Scharnhorst and Bismarck classes, Germany goes all in on CVs. Both Graf Zeppelin-class units begin construction in 1936. The five Admiral Hipper-class CAs are designed with CV protection in mind, with heavy AA.
And what does Britain do in reply?

And the Germans need, new heavy AA guns and mounts.
And the Germans need, new light AA guns and mounts.

And they need different boilers.
 
The biggest problem to resolve in this whole scenario is the relationship between the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe. Without these two arms co-operating much much better than historical, your plan is probably worse for Germany than historical.
 
The German heavy surface combatants generally achieved very little in the war, except as a "fleet in being" forcing the RN to keep heavy assets around in case the Germans tried something. So in that sense it's attractive to think they should have used those resources on something slightly less pointless.

I guess the crux of the matter is, how are those CV's going to be used? Germany knew it could never win a rerun of Jutland, and thus the strategy for their surface fleet was built around commerce raiding. Would the CV's also be used for commerce raiding? But CV's don't like being out all alone, so should they sail as some task force with protective destroyers and cruisers? Seems like an awfully big unit just for commerce raiding?

Speaking of commerce raiding, one part of the surface Kriegsmarine that did pretty well in terms of cost-effectiveness, were the auxiliary cruisers. So if commerce raiding is the goal, I'd say built 1) more u-boats and 2) more auxiliary cruisers, and less purpose built surface combatants, be they battleships or CV's.
 
Hi,
Athough an interesting question, to be honest I can't really see things as going all theat well for the Germans, in such a scenario. For starters, in addition to building aircraft carriers, and modifying aircraft to operate off them, it would likely take some time to develop the procedures and skills necessary to effectively operate an airwing off a ship at sea. As such, I would kind of suspect that any effective carrier wouldn't be available for operations until after the Bismarck was historically available.

In addition, although you could potentially use some of the existing German surface ships as escorts for the carrier(s), they may not be optimized to the task, and if you end up with a couple carriers you will likely need a lot more escort than were actually historically available. Specifically, ships like the Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen classes, while good ships seem much more optimized as surface raiders, with large crews, etc, whereas lighter (less fuel guzzling) ships with more effective AA and light surface gunnery, such as light/medium cruisers and ocean going destroyers may be of more use as an escort.

Ultimately I'd suspect due to the amount of time it would take to first build all the ships and aircraft necessary and work them and the crew up to an effective fighting force that other events in the war may intervene drawing off the aircraft and crew members for other purposes instead.
 
I wondered about the Kriegsmarine. There wasn't a well thought out overarching mission. Carrier ops in the Baltic or Greman Sea? There was no hope launching a surface fleet to challenge the Royal Navy. Building a surface fleet to take on the Marine Nationale? Why? Yeah, I can see Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, some fragile cruisers and destroyers escorting Graf Zeppelin to strike Martinique. Commerce raiders and U-boats, mostly U-boats makes the most sense.
The Graf Zeppelin was pretty cool.
 
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The German 8in cruisers did not have particular long legs. The Germans were also a little too ambitious with their high pressure steam boilers. The British stuck with their old fashion low pressure steam. Americans split the difference. German ships seem to have more boiler troubles even if they got better economy.

I would also note that the Germans, while not under the Washington treaty had several treaties they were bound by until Hitler finally cast them all off. However he was careful to look like he was keeping to them in the mid 30s to keep from triggering any reactions. The Germans were skating pretty close as it was. The British/German naval treaty allowed Germany to build up to 35% if the British and that applied to each class of ship, not just the total. The Germans snuck in a bit about keeping the U-Boat fleet to 35% of the British but reserved the right to swap tonnage around to build up to 100% of the British Submarine fleet should conditions warrant it (should have been a tip off right there) and the Germans did not start building mass U-Boats until late 1939/40. German U-Boat production in 1940 was hard pressed to keep up with losses.

Germans cannot announce that they are canceling Heavy ship construction and building all carriers in violation of treaty limits for carrier tonnage.
Germans were "allowed" to build three 8in "treaty" cruisers while the last two were supposed to have twelve 5in guns, The whole world was taking a cruiser "holiday" from 8 in cruisers and after the 1922 treaty 8in race the 1930 treaty stopped 8in construction and started the 12-15 6in gun race. The 1930 treaty only allowed for new 8in cruisers after Jan 1st 1943.
Things fell apart during the 30s. Russia announced they were going to build seven Cruisers with 180mm (7in) guns and the Germans responded by changing their two 12 6in gun cruisers to 8in gun cruisers. Americans dropped 3 triple 8in turrets on a 15 6in gun hull and started designing Baltimore's.

The Germans are certainly not going to be able to pull off such a change in ship types/ fleet composition without reactions from Britain, France and Russia.
And the Germans need to change their light cruisers (unbuilt) and destroyers to be be long range escort types.
 
I was thinking about how the Germans could make use of CV's, and to be honest I can't really come up with anything sensible. Germany didn't have the resources to project force across the oceans, and closer to land airbases and land-based aircraft are a lot more cost-effective. The Baltic and North Sea are both within easy range of land-based aircraft, so no point operating a CV task force there. Or maybe CV's operating in the North Sea could be used for quick strikes against lightly defended targets in northern and eastern British Isles. But the UK counter for that is relatively easy, just build out radar coverage, more patrol aircraft operating, and place a few land-based squadrons there; a lot cheaper than CV's.

For attacking convoys in the North Atlantic, the Allies had a distinct geographical advantage. In principle a German CV task force parked in the North Atlantic out of reach of Allied land based aircraft could wreak havoc, but while u-boats could sneak past the UK to get into the North Atlantic, that's unlikely for a CV task force. It would just be a giant magnet for all Allied warships, and would likely quickly be tracked down and destroyed.

For attacking convoys going to the USSR, again, use land-based aircraft based in northern Norway. For the Med, the Axis had Italy, Sicily, Tunisia, and Crete, so no need for CV's. Well, to help Axis ship past Gibraltar, maybe a CV task force could be useful? Or maybe even a Pearl Harbor style strike against Gibraltar? But is that enough of a usecase to be worth the investment?
 
I was thinking about how the Germans could make use of CV's, and to be honest I can't really come up with anything sensible.
I agree. The entire German surface fleet beyond CAs and below is a waste. Take the weight of Graf Zeppelin, 2xBismarck, 2xScharnhorst and 3xDeutschlands and put that steel, copper, money, time and manpower into an equal weight of 6x6 drive trucks for moving fuel, supplies and troops and Barbarossa may have a different outcome. Everything Germany does should always be focused on defeating Russia as soon as possible. Everything else is a distraction.

But, Graf Zeppelin has been given priority, so here we are.
 
Everything Germany does should always be focused on defeating Russia as soon as possible. Everything else is a distraction.
Trouble is with Britain still in the game, the Germans have to find a way to distract Britain from supplying the Russians.

and again, it not so much the actual numbers of ships sunk on the scoreboard but the cost Britain payed to run the convoys.
Germany has no heavy ships?
Britain doesn't need anything more than light cruisers for escorts. No WW I battleships and heavy cruisers sucking down thousands of tons of fuel oil per trip.
More manpower for anti-sub escorts.
More supplies get to Russia.

Edit. No heavy surface ships = no successful Norway invasion. Or at least not a successful Northern Norway which means less iron ore which means less steel for trucks later on.
 
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I was thinking about how the Germans could make use of CV's, and to be honest I can't really come up with anything sensible. Germany didn't have the resources to project force across the oceans, and closer to land airbases and land-based aircraft are a lot more cost-effective. The Baltic and North Sea are both within easy range of land-based aircraft, so no point operating a CV task force there. Or maybe CV's operating in the North Sea could be used for quick strikes against lightly defended targets in northern and eastern British Isles. But the UK counter for that is relatively easy, just build out radar coverage, more patrol aircraft operating, and place a few land-based squadrons there; a lot cheaper than CV's.

For attacking convoys in the North Atlantic, the Allies had a distinct geographical advantage. In principle a German CV task force parked in the North Atlantic out of reach of Allied land based aircraft could wreak havoc, but while u-boats could sneak past the UK to get into the North Atlantic, that's unlikely for a CV task force. It would just be a giant magnet for all Allied warships, and would likely quickly be tracked down and destroyed.

For attacking convoys going to the USSR, again, use land-based aircraft based in northern Norway. For the Med, the Axis had Italy, Sicily, Tunisia, and Crete, so no need for CV's. Well, to help Axis ship past Gibraltar, maybe a CV task force could be useful? Or maybe even a Pearl Harbor style strike against Gibraltar? But is that enough of a usecase to be worth the investment?
I agree. I don't think Task Force 58 could have taken Gibraltar let alone the Graf and some escorts.
 
Also if the RN is not 'distracted' in the North Atlantic (and other places) Does the RN take the Italian navy out of the game in late 1940 or 41 before the Japanese get involved?
How many more battleships (KGV,PoW) battlecruisers (Hood?) and heavy cruisers go into the Med and pretty much stop Italian supplies getting to North Africa?

May not take Italy out of the war but things are certainly not going to go Italy's way.
 
Also if the RN is not 'distracted' in the North Atlantic (and other places) Does the RN take the Italian navy out of the game in late 1940 or 41 before the Japanese get involved?
How many more battleships (KGV,PoW) battlecruisers (Hood?) and heavy cruisers go into the Med and pretty much stop Italian supplies getting to North Africa?

May not take Italy out of the war but things are certainly not going to go Italy's way.
Presumably the RN would modify their own interwar BB program. The British may instead focus on the now likely larger German undersea and air strike threat and build more destroyers and fast track the Implacables.
 
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Hmmm. Forget about building the Bismarck and Tirpitz (together ~84,000 tons), and maybe the Sisters (another ~64,000 tons) although as already mentioned that leads to potential problems with the invasion of Norway. 84,000-148,000 tons allows for a pretty good size carrier battle group.

2x or 3x Graf Zeppelin in the Indian Ocean, maybe based on Madagascar? Operating in concert with Luftwaffe aircraft from Madagascar bases providing umbrella air cover, along with a number of escorts and U-boats. That could be an extremely significant problem for supply of the Soviet Union during the critical period of 1942 and early-1943. Plus have potential serous effects on other UK operations and interests in the Indian Ocean and PTO.

Definitely a distraction for the UK and US during the early-war, with a change of focus from invading Iran, to getting Portugal to agree to allow air bases in the Portuguese East Africa / Colony of Mozambique. Eventually launching a ground invasion of Madagascar.

Obviously the German CVs could not operate without some sort of effective escort. What that might entail I do not know.

Interesting scenario. :-k Possibly the best potential use of German naval forces aside from the U-boat campaign in the Atlantic.

A scenario that also gives clear justification for Operation Ironclad.
 
2x or 3x Graf Zeppelin in the Indian Ocean, maybe based on Madagascar? Operating in concert with Luftwaffe aircraft from Madagascar bases providing umbrella air cover, along with a number of escorts and U-boats. That could be an extremely significant problem for supply of the Soviet Union during the critical period of 1942 and early-1943. Plus have potential serous effects on other UK operations and interests in the Indian Ocean and PTO.
Logistics.

Carrier groups need large quantities of fuel, both ship fuel and aircraft fuel. Think of Madagascar as the Malta (but bigger) of the Indian Ocean. Madagascar may (?) have been self sufficient for food, but fuel and ammunition has to be imported, also replacement aircraft.
 
The German 8in cruisers did not have particular long legs.
Presumably the Hippers would be designed to serve alongside the carriers. So, longer range and better AA for starters. As for Norway; two CVs (presuming both are in service), three Deutschlands, three (or five) Hippers, six CLs and two dozen destroyers will have to suffice, or die trying.
 

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