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German aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin

From Academic Kids

This page is about the aircraft carrier, for other meanings, see Graf Zeppelin (disambiguation).

Graf Zeppelin was an aircraft carrier of the Kriegsmarine, named in honor of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. She was Germany's only aircraft carrier during World War II. Her construction was ordered on 16 November 1935, and her keel was laid down 28 December 1936 by Deutsche Werke of Kiel. She was launched on 8 December 1938, but was never completed, never commissioned, and never saw action.

In 1935, Adolf Hitler announced that Germany would construct aircraft carriers to strengthen the Kriegsmarine. The keels of two were laid down the next year. Two years later, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder presented an ambitious shipbuilding program called the Z Plan, in which four carriers were to be built by 1945. In 1939, he revised the plan, reducing the number to be built to two.

The German Navy has always maintained a policy of not assigning a name to a ship until she is launched. The first German carrier, laid down as "Carrier A," was named Graf Zeppelin when launched in 1938. The second carrier bore only the title "Carrier B," since she was never launched. Various names, including Peter Strasser and Deutschland, were rumored, but no official decision was ever made.

A review of the Fhrer's conferences on matters dealing with the German Navy, the minutes of which were captured after the fall of the Third Reich, reveals Hitler's vacillating interest in the carriers. Marshall Hermann Gring, Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe, was resentful of any incursion on his authority as head of the country's air power and he frustrated Raeder at every opportunity. Within his own service, Raeder found opposition in Admiral Karl Dnitz, a submariner.

By May 1941, the strain on manpower and raw materials was being felt in Germany. Raeder was still optimistic, however, and informed Hitler that Graf Zeppelin, then about 85 per cent complete, would be completed in about a year and that another year would be required for sea trials and flight training.

Though Hitler continued to assure Raeder that the carriers would be built, the Admiral's war with Gring had no truce and became increasingly bitter. Gring showed his contempt for the naval air arm by informing Hitler and Raeder that the aircraft ordered for Graf Zeppelin could not be available until the end of 1944. Gring's delaying tactics worked.

Construction on the carriers had been fitful from the start. "Carrier B" was abandoned in 1940 and broken up. Manpower and material shortages plagued the Graf Zeppelin.

Prodded by Raeder, Hitler ordered Gring to produce aircraft for the carrier and under this pressure, the air marshall offered redesigned versions of the Junkers Ju 87B and the Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3, which were at that time being phased out of the Luftwaffe first-line squadrons. Raeder was unhappy, but he had to accept them or none at all. This forced another delay in the construction of the carrier: the flight deck installations had to be changed.

By 1943, Hitler had become disenchanted with his Navy. Raeder was relieved at his own request and Dnitz, the submarine admiral, took the top naval post. Work on Graf Zeppelin stopped completely.

As the end of World War II neared, Graf Zeppelin was scuttled in shallow water at Szczecin (known to the Germans as Stettin) on 25 April, 1945, just before the Red Army captured the city. After Germany's surrender, though, her history and fate is unclear. According to the terms of the Allied Tripartite Commission, a "Category C" ship (damaged or scuttled) should have been destroyed or sunk in deep water by 15 August 1946. Instead, the Russians decided to repair the damaged ship. It was refloated in March, 1946. The last known photo of the carrier shows it leaving Świnoujście (in German Swinemunde) on 7 April, 1947 (see [1] (http://www.fds.px.pl/foto/big/1099826239.jpg)). The photo appears to show the carrier deck loaded with various containers, boxes and construction elements, hence the supposition that it was probably used to carry looted factory equipment from Poland and Germany to the Soviet Union.

For many years no other information about the ship's fate was available. There was some speculation that it was very unlikely that the hulk made it to Leningrad, as it was argued that the arrival of such a large and unusual vessel would have been noticed by Western intelligence services. This assumption seemed to imply that the hulk was lost at sea during transfer between Świnoujście and Leningrad. One account concluded that she struck a mine north of Rgen on 15 August 1947, but Rgen, west of Świnoujście, is not on the sailing route to Leningrad. Further north, in the Gulf of Finland, a heavily-mined area difficult for Western observers to monitor, seemed more likely.

After the opening of the Soviet archives, new light was shed on the mystery. It appears that the carrier was towed to Leningrad. There, after unloading, it was designated as "PO-101" (Floating Base Number 101), The Russians hoped that the carrier could be repaired in Leningrad's shipyards (those in Szczecin were destroyed). When this proved impractical, the ship was towed out to sea, back to the Świnoujście area. There, on 16 August, 1947, it was used as a practice target for Soviet ships and aircraft. Allegedly, the Soviets installed aerial bombs on the flight deck, in hangars and even inside the funnels (to simulate a load of combat munitions), and then dropped bombs from aircraft, fired shells, and shot torpedoes into her. This assault would both comply with the Tripartite mandate (albeit late) and provide the Soviets with experience in sinking an aircraft carrier. After being hit by 24 bombs and projectiles, the ship did not sink and had to be finished off by torpedoes. The wreck of the carrier has never been located.

General Characteristics (design)

  • Displacement: 23,000 tons
  • Length: 920 feet
  • Beam: 88 feet
  • Power Plant: geared turbines, four screws (unusual for Germany, which preferred triple screws)
  • Speed: 33.8 knots
  • Aircraft Complement: 42 Messerschmitt Me 109T fighters and Junkers Ju 87C dive bombers

de:Graf Zeppelin (Schiff) ja:グラーフ・ツェッペリン (空母)

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