How powerful was the Kriegsmarine?

Indeed, thanks to our former allies and the memoirs of the losers, we are more or less imbued with the idea that the German fleet in World War II was something quite formidable, terrible and difficult to destroy. But is it?

How bad are German admirals?

In fact, only the submarine forces of the Kriegsmarine really looked like a kind of hydra, which instead of one cut off head grew three.

How powerful was the Kriegsmarine?

But with the surface forces, everything was very sad. And the effectiveness of the surface forces of the Third Reich was no more than, say, that of the Italian or Soviet fleet. Which, by the way, is only confirmed by the fact that since 1943, Hitler sent large ships to suck. To avoid new losses.

To be fair, I will note that Stalin did this even earlier. But here it is about the Soviet admirals, who quickly showed their complete unfitness for such a delicate matter as naval management.

But who said that the German admirals were better?

List of losses. Yes, it is he who can tell a lot about the professional suitability of German admirals best of all.

Let’s see how and under what circumstances the Germans lost their warships.

We will agree that we will go from top to bottom, because everyone knows and understands (I hope) that commanding a battleship is one thing, but a minesweeper is quite another.

The only class that will rightly stand aside is the raiders, they are also auxiliary cruisers. Since these guys have done such cases, which must be considered from a completely different angle.

So, let’s stir up the wave.



The heroic “Bismarck” was lost in a series of events, which can only be called “strange”. In general, the commander of the ship Lutyens did everything to make the ship lost, and he succeeded.

Tell me, was it really incomprehensible that after such a slap in the face as the sinking of the Hood, the British would torn at their flag, but would try to find a German battleship and drown it? Why did they have to bombard Berlin with their dispatches, which, by the way, found the Bismarck?

Further (in general, this was discussed thousands of times) Lutyens did not take the proper measures in order to wedge the rudders. Could give an order allowing an explosion to wedge? I could. I was afraid for the shafts. As a result, “Bismarck” went to the bottom with perfectly balanced shafts, but completely useless in this case.

Summary: a stupid loss due to not quite daring command.


In three lines: he lived a sin, died funny. Throughout the war, hiding in the skerries and fighting only on the information front is a shame for a battleship. Well, at least he accepted death under the bombs like a warship.


I have a twofold attitude towards the fate of this ship. Captain 1st Rank Hinze and Rear Admiral Bey, who commanded the operation, knew that convoy JW 55B was guarded by the battleship Duke of York, the cruiser Jamaica and 4 destroyers. And that in the area somewhere there is a return convoy RA 55A, which included the cruisers Sheffield, Belfast and Norfolk with eight more destroyers.

The Scharnhorst and 5 destroyers, in principle, could pose a huge problem for the British cover group, but Bey sent the destroyers to look for the convoy further south, as he still could not make contact. As a result, the Scharnhorst was left alone. Several times the battleship went on the attack, a couple of times broke away from the convoy, but … The British battleship, one heavy and three light cruisers, 8 destroyers left the German ship no chance.

Very heroic, but very stupid.


This ship did not die heroically at all. Since at the time of his death, the question of its restoration was not raised. Too good he got from the British aviation, and therefore his own people sunk him to block the fairway.

Heavy cruisers

Deutschland / Lutzow

It was blown up by its own crew in May 1945 at Swinemunde, where it sat aground after being hit by British bombs and was used as a battery.

“Admiral Scheer”

Sunk by British aircraft during a raid on the city of Kiel in 1945.

“Admiral Count Spee”

Raider in the Atlantic. Sank 11 British ships. Was caught by a detachment of their heavy and two light cruisers, took the battle. The heavy cruiser Exeter and the light Ajax were significantly damaged.

The commander of the ship Lansdorf succumbed to the provocation of the British. He believed that other ships were also taking part in the hunt for the Spee, and blew up and sank the cruiser.

Perhaps controversial, but very mediocre.

Admiral Hipper

Destroyed by British aircraft during the raid on Kiel in 1945.


He died in the first military operation in 1939. Passing through the Oslo fiord, he received several hits from 281 mm and 150 mm shells and torpedoes from Fort Oskarborg. Sank.

“Prince Eugene”

Went through the whole war. Sank near Kwajalein Atoll, where he took part in atomic tests as a target.

Light cruisers


Sunk by British aircraft during a raid on the city of Kiel.


Sunk 10 April 1940 by British Skewa bombers. Actually, you could say that this is a shame. It was possible to fight off Skew with MG.34.


Sunk 9 April 1940. First hit by a torpedo from a British submarine, then finished off their own.


Sunk by Allied aircraft in Wilhelmshaven.


“Leberecht Maas.” Sunk by his aircraft due to lack of information in 1939.
Georg Tile. Sunk by British destroyers in 1940 in Narvik.
“Max Schultz”. He was blown up by a mine in 1939 and died along with the entire crew.
“Hermann Shemann.” Sunk by damaged cruiser Edinuburg during an attack by convoy QP-14.
Bruno Heinemann. Blown up by British mines in 1942.
Wolfgang Zenker. Sunk in April 1940 by British destroyers in Narvik.
“Bernd von Arnim.” Sunk in April 1940 by British destroyers in Narvik.
Erich Giese. Sunk in April 1940 by British destroyers in Narvik.
Erich Kellner. Sunk in April 1940 by British destroyers in Narvik.
Friedrich Ekoldt. Sunk on December 26, 1942 by the British cruiser Sheffield.
Dieter von Raeder. Sunk in April 1940 by British destroyers in Narvik.
Hans Ludemann. Sunk in April 1940 by British destroyers in Narvik.
“Hermann Kunne.” Sunk in April 1940 by British destroyers in Narvik.
Wilhelm Heidkamp. Sunk at First Battle of Narvik on April 11, 1940.
“Anton Schmidt”. Sunk at First Battle of Narvik on April 10, 1940.

And we could stop at this. Below, with minesweepers, “snellbots” and other little things, everything was not much better. But not much worse. You yourself understand that they will not put the lieutenant in command of the cruiser, they will just give him a boat. Survived – went higher, no … Well, there were enough boats at all times.

What can you say when you see this mournful list? Correctly, it would be nice to put the British next to it. But Britain has fought all over the world, in all seas and all oceans. Including where only completely crazy guys swam on German raiders.

We look at the German statistics.

German statistics

Of the 4 battleships, three were lost completely mediocre. Especially “Tirpitz”, a colleague of our “Marat”. It is sad, of course, when a huge and mighty warship dies like this: without firing a single shot at the enemy, without causing any damage.

Downed planes, sorry, do not count. Too, you know, the price is different.

Three of the six heavy cruisers were lost in situations akin to Bismarck’s. The leader, of course, is the Admiral Graf Spee, who could at least try to scatter the thoroughly battered British light cruisers and leave.

Two of the six light cruisers also died in situations that do not show the ship’s command in the best light. Karlsruhe received one British (not the most powerful in the world) torpedo. In a similar situation, the British “Edinburgh” received three German, but not only did not sink immediately, but also sent the “Hans Sheman” to the bottom. Here is one torpedo – and that’s it, hands lowered, the ship was sunk.

With “Konigsberg” is also peculiar. Yes, they missed the battery on the shore. Yes, we received three 210-mm projectiles, but: they could give a move within 22-24 knots, the rudders worked, the anti-aircraft guns fired. Do not fight off Skew, which flew at a speed of 300 km / h and carried one a 227-kg bomb … Yes, there were 15 bombers, but there was more than one Königsberg.

With destroyers it is both simple and difficult at the same time. At the start of the war, Germany had 21 destroyers, and 19 more were built. Total 40.

Of the 21 ships of pre-war construction, 10 (that is, half) were lost during the operation to capture Norway. In general, Norway cost Germany very dearly: 1 heavy, 2 light cruisers and 10 destroyers. Enumeration on all articles.

But the main, as these ships were lost. In general, the battle of Narvik deserves a separate detailed analysis, since it is the best example of the quality of training of German naval commanders. More precisely, the lack of this quality.

Erich Giese shortly before its final.

No less interesting and instructive is the story of the deaths of the Leberecht Maas and Max Schultz, which also testifies to the problems in the training of ship commanders.

The weakness of the surface fleet

In general, if we talk about how effectively the Kriegsmarine worked, then we can say this: the Kriegsmarine acted just fine … for the British media. By the very fact of its existence, it justified all the costs and expenses of maintaining the British fleet. Although, as the practice of that war showed, the sting of the British battleships turned out to be, to put it mildly, ineffective. Sinking “Bismarck” and “Scharnhorst”, of course, is a big deal, but for the sake of this, keep 19 battleships …

British navy parade at Spithead. 1936 g.

And yet, they did. The world of capitalism, money and nothing personal, as they say. If 2 full-fledged German battleships and 2 inferior ones (“Scharnhorst” and “Gneisenau”, if the readers do not mind), with “small-caliber” (by the standards of this class of ships) 283-mm guns were sufficient reason to keep a pack of 19 battleships and cruisers …

Then the Kriegsmarine even exceeded its task, since from time to time the Royal Navy even suffered losses from the German fleet. The Kriegsmarine surface unit has 1 aircraft carrier, 1 battle cruiser and 4 destroyers. The rest of the losses of the British fleet are on the conscience of the submarine forces and the Luftwaffe.

Here we can say that Versailles, with its limitations, played a role, and there were not as many properly trained sailors in the ranks of the Kriegsmarine as in the High Seas Fleet. Alas, it is quite possible. And if the ships of the Kriegsmarine were commanded by the sea wolves from that fleet, perhaps such stupid losses could have been avoided.

But it turned out what happened, history is a harmful thing. And there is a reason in how many historians present “merit” to the Kriegsmarine. Although the actions of submarine forces and raiders deserve respect at the very least.

But the combat actions of a handful of ships that personified the “power” of the surface unit of the German fleet, alas, cannot be called successful. And this is largely due to the commanders of the German ships, who did not have the proper level of training, and therefore did not show themselves in any way.

Although, of course, there were quite good crews in the German fleet. For example, “Prince Eugen” was manned at the most tolerable level, which was shown by its combat path. And his relative “Admiral Hipper” fought pretty well.

But we’ll talk about this a little later. There, where we will analyze such naval mysteries as the missing destroyer Kriegsmarine or how to lose 10 ships and not get into the Gestapo.

To be continued…

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