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Biggest mistake of the Kriegsmarine: not putting any aircraft carriers into service.


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#1 DerGiLLster

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Posted 13 May 2016 - 06:54 PM

The Germans could have been more threatening to the Royal Navy during the war had they not build the heavy battleships of the Bismarck, Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and the Gneisenau.They all had a combined standard tonnage of around 150,000 tons. Four battleships which all met unsafe ends could have been replaced by six aircraft carriers. Along with the fact they were building one but had never commissioned it, the Graf Zeppelin.

 

If they were to build any battleships at all, they should have never surpassed the Deutschland class battleship as those were smaller and more maneuverable than the ships stated above. The aircraft carriers would have made the Atlantic commerce raids more highly effective considering that the Junker 87s scored a great number of hits from land base and would have able to increase the threat to the merchant ships with torpedoes. The fighters would have been of great aid to the U-Boats and the Condors in their patrols and would have been able to alert nearby ships of their position.



#2 Rantalith

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Posted 13 May 2016 - 07:45 PM

The first thing you need to remember is that the German military did not want to go to war until 1945 or later. This would have given them the time to build the Battleships and 4 Carriers and 300+ U-Boats. Which they wanted. They knew they would need them.

 

Hitler on the other hand got inpatient, and jumped the gun in 1938. In 1938 every other country would have gladly let him have what he had, but he wanted more. If he had waited til 1945 for the ships to complete, he would also of had better and more tanks and other equipment.

 

Just my input


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#3 Carronade

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Posted 13 May 2016 - 08:15 PM

This is reminiscent of the occasional "what if the Germans had 300 U-boats?" discussions, and the answer is the same - what would the British be doing while the Germans built their six carriers - and created a fleet air arm from scratch?

 

As shown by the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935, Britain was not excessively concerned by the prospect of Germany building a balanced navy comparable to the other continental powers; but a fleet centered around aircraft carriers could have only one purpose.  It would be a clear signal that Germany was not just resuming her normal place among the nations of Europe; she was preparing for an offensive war against Britain.  It would be replay of the naval race leading up to World War I, with the same result; the British would match and outmatch a clear threat.

 

Their plans already included Ark Royal and six new carriers by 1944.  Like Germany, naval aviation was dominated by an independent air force, but they transferred the Fleet Air Arm back to the navy in 1939 while Hermann Goring insisted that "everything that flies belongs to me!"  Would he suddenly become a convert to the importance of naval aviation and to the navy as Germany's lead service in a war with England?

 

One thing that puzzles me is that the Germans never built a training or experimental carrier.  A simple merchant conversion would have enabled them to test equipment, train pilots as well as ship's company, and develop techniques and tactics.  Instead the first German pilot would not have landed on a ship until the Graf Zeppelin was complete and operational.  Building an effective carrier navy is more than just welding steel together; they had a lot of catching up to do.



#4 TiredOldSoldier

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Posted 15 May 2016 - 04:45 PM

What would they do with six carriers? The North sea is a unhealthy to carriers and the Atlantic is worse, carriers are more fragile than battleships, a couple of ships that could provide some air support to the battleships would be useful, a carrier fleet, that would still be markedly inferior  to the RN/FAA combination is a lot less useful than what they actually built.


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#5 DerGiLLster

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Posted 15 May 2016 - 06:16 PM

I have never stated in my post that the Kriegsmarine adopting aircraft carriers would have enabled it to win the war. I just said it would have been a smarter decision to do, and would have given the Royal navy a bigger headache. Also, I did say that if Germany were build any battleships, they should never have surpassed the Deutschland class battleship.



#6 steverodgers801

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Posted 16 May 2016 - 12:49 AM

You cant just build a carrier and add pilots, it takes years to train a carrier crew, including all the support personnel.  The US took probably a decade to build up a competent force



#7 LRusso216

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Posted 16 May 2016 - 01:00 AM

I think your premise is flawed. In the 1930s, except for a few people, the battleship was considered the best thing a navy could produce. Aircraft carriers were seen as secondary to them. It was not until the 1940s that it was shown that air power was a difference maker. Germany was no different than other countries in this regard.


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#8 Rantalith

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Posted 16 May 2016 - 01:04 AM

I think what the original poster is getting at is this......Germany might not have been any more of a threat to the UK than it was already. The Carriers would have given the UK some fits finding and then sinking them. All of this would have taken up time and ships. Ships that the UK did not really have available. A lot of theirs had gone to the Med to try to supply Gibraltar and to stop the Axis supply lines to Africa. What ships were not doing that were on convoy duty. Which did not leave a lot to hunt the Bismark or any other German ships

 

Just my input

 

Edited to correct spelling


Edited by Rantalith, 16 May 2016 - 01:08 AM.

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Lead or follow, but get out of the way.

 

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#9 R Leonard

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Posted 16 May 2016 - 01:12 AM

Well, IMHO the entire Graf Zeppelin design and operational concepts were a joke, so if you think five more of the same going to sea would have been better, all that would have been accomplished would be littering the Atlantic floorbed with German carriers . . . if, indeed, the naval genius running the entire show would have even let them go to sea.


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#10 lwd

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Posted 16 May 2016 - 01:24 PM

The Germans could have been more threatening to the Royal Navy during the war had they not build the heavy battleships of the Bismarck, Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and the Gneisenau.They all had a combined standard tonnage of around 150,000 tons. Four battleships which all met unsafe ends could have been replaced by six aircraft carriers. Along with the fact they were building one but had never commissioned it, the Graf Zeppelin.

 

If they were to build any battleships at all, they should have never surpassed the Deutschland class battleship as those were smaller and more maneuverable than the ships stated above. The aircraft carriers would have made the Atlantic commerce raids more highly effective considering that the Junker 87s scored a great number of hits from land base and would have able to increase the threat to the merchant ships with torpedoes. The fighters would have been of great aid to the U-Boats and the Condors in their patrols and would have been able to alert nearby ships of their position.

 

Before we even get started the Deutchland class ships were not battleships.  Their final designation as heavy cruisers was quite reasonable.

 

With regards to the twins, when they were designed replacing them with aircraft carriers would have been a very questionable decision due to both treaty obligations and the appreciation of aircraft carriers of the time.

 

Given how fragile carriers tended to be, the operating environment that German ships would likely have seen, and the knowledge available to the KM with regards to carrier operations (and that's without going into planned military operations and perceived opponents) building carriers would have been a greater waste than the battleships IMO.  How reasonable it was to construct the battleships is an interesting question that we've discussed a number of times previously.



#11 Carronade

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Posted 16 May 2016 - 02:44 PM

I think your premise is flawed. In the 1930s, except for a few people, the battleship was considered the best thing a navy could produce. Aircraft carriers were seen as secondary to them. It was not until the 1940s that it was shown that air power was a difference maker. Germany was no different than other countries in this regard.

 

You're correct as to the conventional wisdom of the time, but I think the premise was what if the Germans were thinking unconventionally?  They had tried to match the Royal Navy in the conventional way in the runup to WWI, they knew how that had worked out; suppose they were thinking outside the box?  They had shown such thinking by creating the Deutschlands rather than the small, coast defense type battleships envisioned by the Versailles treaty.

 

As I said earlier, I don't think it would have won the war at sea for them, and DerGiLLster doesn't seem to be suggesting that either.  It would create a different set of problems for the British, though it would likely also stimulate the growth of the Royal Navy's carrier force.

 

Which brings up a thought; the RN's armoured deck carriers were designed largely in expectation of encountering land-based air attack.  It was thought that land-based fighters would outperform carrier types and that land-based bombers would carry heavier bombs, so that a carrier's defense would rely on armor and antiaircraft firepower.  Countering our hypothetical German carriers in the open ocean would call for ships more like Ark Royal, with greater freeboard and larger air groups, IMO a better type overall.

 

I agree the Graf Zeppelin design had serious flaws, but that's a different topic from whether aircraft carriers in general might have benefitted the Germans.

 

We should also note that carriers would require at least a few escort ships and logistic support.


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#12 GunSlinger86

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Posted 17 May 2016 - 09:22 PM

They didn't have the resources when it came right down to it.  Just like they didn't really go into the direction of 4-engine bombers.  You can make 2 fighters and a twin bomber for one or two twins for one.  All the resources that would have went into carriers would have taken away from other vital areas.



#13 Takao

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Posted 17 May 2016 - 10:37 PM

IDK...If the Germans had wanted to remain unconventional,IMHO, they would have been better served continuing with the Deutschland class as is.  Those warships were tried and tested, did not require escorts to operate, and could operate at comparatively long ranges.  German carriers, even with an earlier start would have required time to develop tactics and doctrine, not to mention perfecting their carrier design, as well as the already mentioned necessary escorts and logistical bottoms.



#14 DerGiLLster

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 12:06 AM

You cant just build a carrier and add pilots, it takes years to train a carrier crew, including all the support personnel.  The US took probably a decade to build up a competent force

 

That's where my question hypothetically states that the mid 1930s Germany had built a carrier in the place of a battleship and instead of teaching crews how to man and maintain the huge guns, they would have been taught how to man and maintain the carrier.



#15 DerGiLLster

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 12:19 AM

Before we even get started the Deutchland class ships were not battleships.  Their final designation as heavy cruisers was quite reasonable.

 

With regards to the twins, when they were designed replacing them with aircraft carriers would have been a very questionable decision due to both treaty obligations and the appreciation of aircraft carriers of the time.

 

Given how fragile carriers tended to be, the operating environment that German ships would likely have seen, and the knowledge available to the KM with regards to carrier operations (and that's without going into planned military operations and perceived opponents) building carriers would have been a greater waste than the battleships IMO.  How reasonable it was to construct the battleships is an interesting question that we've discussed a number of times previously.

 

Thank you for the correction, I better check my ships next time.

 

Treaty obligations? As LRusso2016 had stated, battleships had been seen as the best ships of the navy in the 1930s with carriers serving as a secondary role. The construction of carriers would have been seen as less of a threat or at least no more threatening than when they had constructed their battleships.

 

What is fragile about aircraft carriers being in the Atlantic? I have never heard of a carrier having capsized or being in a serious accident, other than enemy military strikes or accidental explosions, in the waters. If there is an occurrence, enlighten me. I really can't envision your opinion of carriers being a greater waste than battleships. What would be more threatening? A huge armored, yet cumbersome ship that could engage you around 20 miles of range, or a ship capable of sending a dozen torpedo bombers along with a couple dozen agile fighters to cover their tail from an area of engagement of around 100 miles in the radius(considering the range of the Junker Ju 87 and the Bf 109).



#16 Takao

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 12:53 AM

That's where my question hypothetically states that the mid 1930s Germany had built a carrier in the place of a battleship and instead of teaching crews how to man and maintain the huge guns, they would have been taught how to man and maintain the carrier.

By the mid-30's the US already had two large carriers(Lexington & Saratoga) in commission for some 8 years, and had recently commissioned a smaller carrier(Ranger).  It's original carrier, Langley, had outlived it's usefulness and was about to undergo conversion to a seaplane tender.  Not to mention that the US was soon to commission it's second generation large carriers(Yorktown & Enterprise).

 

Further, the first German battleship, Gneisenau did not commission until May, 1938.  So, that will very likely not leave you enough time to develop what is a whole new German area of naval combat.



#17 GunSlinger86

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 01:29 AM

If The KM built a carrier, the RN would have attacked and chased it down like they did all the major surface vessels.



#18 albanaich

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 11:47 AM

OK. . . . this overlooks a major difference between the use of an aircraft carrier in the North Sea and Mediterreanean and in the Pacficif. In enclosed water finding the aircraft carrier and attacking with land based aircraft it is much less of a problem than it is having to search the whole Pacfic.

The number one lesson of WWII should be that ships cannot survive if they are in range of land based aircraft.

The US Navy was essentially a deep water fleet. . . . . US carriers, because they were unarmoured, would of obliterated had they tried to operated in force in the North Sea or Mediterreanean.

A German fleet aircraft carrier could not of survived in the North Sea or Mediterreanean any more than any German large warship. It could only operate as a long range deep water commerce raider, and we then get the issue of a large, carrier/fleet engagement on the Pacific model in the North Atlantic - a battle that must always be a win from the British from sheer wieght of numbers.

However,  the issue is a little different if we consider the option of Germany using light, fast, escort carriers as commerce raiders rather than large expensive warships. . . . 


 



#19 albanaich

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 11:50 AM

Or, we used escort carriers to defend the convoys, what if the Germans had had escort carriers to defend the attacking U-boats



#20 lwd

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 12:15 PM

...

Treaty obligations? As LRusso2016 had stated, battleships had been seen as the best ships of the navy in the 1930s with carriers serving as a secondary role. The construction of carriers would have been seen as less of a threat or at least no more threatening than when they had constructed their battleships.

 

What is fragile about aircraft carriers being in the Atlantic? I have never heard of a carrier having capsized or being in a serious accident, other than enemy military strikes or accidental explosions, in the waters. If there is an occurrence, enlighten me. I really can't envision your opinion of carriers being a greater waste than battleships. What would be more threatening? A huge armored, yet cumbersome ship that could engage you around 20 miles of range, or a ship capable of sending a dozen torpedo bombers along with a couple dozen agile fighters to cover their tail from an area of engagement of around 100 miles in the radius(considering the range of the Junker Ju 87 and the Bf 109).

 

Treaty obligations were of significant import in the development of KM capital ships during the interwar period.  The Panzershiffe were developed to conform to the treaty of Versailles.  The twins were based on the Panzershiffe but since the force of the treaty was in decline their design progressively exceeded the criteria allowed.  By the time the Bismarcks were designed the treaty to which the Nazis wanted to at least appear to abide by was the British German naval treaty.

 

Note that if the Germans hadn't developed the twins then the French would probably not have built their new 15" gunned battleships.  Likewise there would  have been less pressure on the British to build new battleships.  If those resources are spent on other defensive measures it's not clear that it's a net gain for the Germans.

 

Aircraft carriers are fragile because a single bomb or torpedo can take them out of action nor do they hold up well to gunfire.  Their main strike capability (i.e. their planes) also tend to be a rather fragile weapon.  For instance the US didn't pursue after Midway because of, at least in part, the losses to their air groups.  Likewise after Coral Sea the IJN carrier that was essentially untouched did not participate at Midway because of the attrition experienced by its air group.  The North Atlantic has frequent periods of time when flight ops are not possible and the exits are all at least potentially covered by land based air.

 

A carrier sitting on the bottom of the ocean is a lot less of a threat than a battleship.  A carrier at sea with a hole in its flight deck is a lot less of a threat than a battleship with minor damage to its superstructure.  Carriers are easier to take out of action and to sink than battleships.  Look at what happened to the twins while they were at Brest and consider what the impact would have been on carriers.
 



#21 albanaich

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 06:29 PM

That observation only applies to US carriers. . . . . .. the British armoured carriers could take massive damage and still stay operational. At Okinawa the Kamikazie's literally bounced off them. In Mediterreanian the Illustrious and Indomitable took numerous hits that would of sunk any US carrier - and returned to war time service in a few months.

The post war US 'Midway' class was modelled on the design principles of the Illustrious class.

However, not withstanding the observation that more armour is better. The escort carrier as a commerce raider idea was never tried. The whole point of the German commerce raiders was that once cornered the larger number of British ships would always finish the battle. Escort carriers are cheaper and easier to build, and in numbers could of done far more damage than 'Pocket Battleships'

 


 



#22 lwd

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 06:57 PM

Actually a US carrier probably sustained more damage before sinking than any other ship in the war.  With the possible exception of the Yamatos.  If a carriers deck is penetrated it can be put out of commission and I don't know of any carriers that could reject the heavier AP bombs.  In addition the Essex class carriers were from what I've read as survivable and as tough as the British carriers and the Midways were based on them from all that I have read.

 

The problem with the Escort carriers is that while cheap they are slow and carry limited air groups.  Breaking into the Atlantic would have been a real chore for German carriers.  I don't see that the Germans ever even looked at building an escort carrier either so when would this plan have originated and when could it be put in service?



#23 albanaich

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 08:00 PM

Total bollocks. . . . . 

How many US carriers sustained 3 or more Kamikaze hits and remain operational?

Official US Navy report and observations. . . . 

The damage experiences of several British carriers, which unlike our own were fitted with armoured flight decks, demonstrated the effectiveness of such armour in shielding hangar spaces from GP bombs and vital spaces below the hangar deck from SAP bombs. Accordingly, the CVB Class was designed with an armoured flight deck consisting of 3-1/2-inch STS from frames 46 to 175 with a hangar deck consisting of two courses of 40-pound STS between frames 36 and 192. Although none of the CVB Class carriers were completed in time to take part in war operations, the effectiveness of armoured flight decks against Kamikaze attacks was demonstrated by various carriers attached to the British Pacific Fleet. Reference (k) reports two such interesting cases. The VICTORIOUS was struck by three Kamikaze aircraft, two of which ricocheted off the armoured flight deck and over the side, causing no important damage. The third carried a bomb which detonated at frame 30 starboard at the butt of the 3-inch flight deck armour with 1-1/2-inch "D" quality (equivalent to HTS) steel. It does not appear that the Kamikaze actually struck the ship. The bomb detonation, however, depressed the 3-inch deck slightly but did not tear it open. On the other hand, the 1-1/2-inch "D" quality deck plating was ripped open over a total area of about 25 square feet. Two days were required for temporary repairs, at the conclusion of which the ship was fully operational. HMS FORMIDABLE was hit by two bombs, the first of which struck and detonated on the flight deck 9 feet to port of the center-line at frame 79, directly over a deep bent and at a juncture of three armoured plates. The armoured deck was depressed over an area 24 feet long and 20 feet wide. Maximum depression was 15 inches. Adjacent bents spaced 12 feet forward and aft of the point of impact were slightly depressed. A hole 2 square feet in area was blown in the 3-inch deck. Three fragments penetrated downward through the ship into the center boiler room. The damage in this boiler room, which was not described, temporarily reduced speed to 18 knots. The second bomb struck and detonated on the centreline of the flight deck at frame 94. The 3-inch deck and deep bent directly below the point of impact were depressed about 4-1/2 inches and one rivet was knocked out. However, the ship was fully operational within about 5 hours, including flight operations.



#24 Carronade

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 08:07 PM

Most of the hits on Illustrious were outside the armored area, including a couple which went down the elevator well.  The one which did hit the armored section of the flight deck penetrated it and exploded inside the hangar, so the enclosed hangar magnified the effect.  US experts examining the ship while she was under repair considered than an Essex class carrier would have survived the same hits just as well, which seems reasonable since the armored deck does not appear to have stopped anything.  Incidentally Illustrious never fully recovered from the damage and was no longer able to make her designed speed.

 

Getting back to the Germans, a small carrier wouldn't be any faster or less detectable than the Graf Zeppelin type, and it might be just as well for a ship operating in the open ocean, far from home bases, to have a reasonably sized air group.

 

Prior to the Bismarck operation, most German ships were able to get out into the Atlantic and home again all right, so presumably carriers could also.  This became progressively more difficult with the advent of radar and long-range patrol aircraft; by February 1942 (the Channel Dash) the Kriegsmarine gave up on operating heavy ships in the Atlantic.  Meanwhile, Bismarck and Graf Spee illustrate the dangers raiders faced if anything did go wrong.

 

A carrier could search a wide area for potential targets or threats, but sighting carrier-based aircraft would also give the enemy a rough idea of her position.

 

Much might depend on British construction of additional carriers in response to the German program.  Germany was not Britain's only concern; the RN would still want some number of modern battleships.  On the other hand, a significant German carrier fleet was a clear threat to Britain and not much use in fighting her continental rivals.

 

The Allies did not start using escort carriers to protect convoys until 1943, so there would be little need for German carriers to counter them.  Carriers might provide useful support to the U-boats anyway, although it would take time to work out effective tactics (another argument for a training carrier early in the naval expansion process).  Although the Germans couldn't know it, radio communications between carrier, aircraft, and submarine would expose them to Ultra and HF/DF.


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#25 albanaich

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 08:13 PM

Come on guys. . . . .read the official documents and histories. . . . not the fantasy stuff.






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