KMS Graf Zeppelin
Displacement: 34,090tLength: 262.5 m (861 ft 3 in)Beam: 36.2 m (118 ft 9 in)Draft: 8.5 m (27 ft 11 in)Installed power: 200,000 shaft horsepower (150,000 kW)Propulsion: 4 geared turbinesSpeed: 33.8 kn (62.6 km/h)Range: 8,000 km (4,300 nmi) at 19 kn (35 km/h)Complement: 1,720Armament: 16 × 15 cm SK C/28 guns12 × 10.5 cm SK C/33 guns22 × 3.7 cm SK C/30 guns28 × 2 cm FlaK gunsArmor: Belt: 100 mm (3.9 in)Flight deck: 45 mm (1.8 in)Main deck: 60 mm (2.4 in)Aircraft carried: Proposed complement of 421930 proposal: 30 fighters & 12 dive bombers1939 proposal: 12 fighters & 30 dive bombers
Work started in 1936 on Flugzeugträger A, which was the Kriegsmarine's first aircraft carrier. Her keel was laid down on 28 December that year, at the Deutsche Werke shipyard in Kiel. She was launched on 8 December 1938, and by the end of 1939, she was 85% complete, with a projected completion by the middle of 1940. By September 1939, one carrier-borne wing, Trägergruppe 186, had been formed by the Luftwaffe at Kiel Holtenau, composed of three squadrons equipped with Bf 109s and Ju-87s.
World War 2 "appearance":
Meanwhile, the German conquest of Norway in April 1940 further eroded any chance of completing Flugzeugträger A (now named Graf Zeppelin). Now responsible for defending Norway's long coastline and numerous port facilities, the Kriegsmarine urgently needed large numbers of coastal guns and anti-aircraft batteries. During a naval conference with Hitler on 29 April 1940, Admiral Erich Raeder proposed halting all work on Graf Zeppelin, arguing that even if she was commissioned by the end of 1940, final installation of her guns would need another ten months or more (her original fire control system had been sold to the Soviet Union under an earlier trade agreement). Hitler consented to the stop work order, allowing Raeder to have Graf Zeppelin's 15 cm guns removed and transferred to Norway. The carrier's heavy flak armament of twelve 10.5 cm guns had already been diverted elsewhere.In July 1940, Graf Zeppelin was towed from Kiel to Gotenhafen (Gdynia) and remained there for nearly a year. While there, she was used as a storage depot for Germany's hardwood supply. Just before Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the carrier was again moved, this time to Stettin, to safeguard her from Soviet air attacks. By November, the German army had pushed deep enough into Russian territory to remove any further threat of air attack and Graf Zeppelin was returned to Gotenhafen.
In July 1940, Graf Zeppelin was towed from Kiel to Gotenhafen (Gdynia) and remained there for nearly a year. While there, she was used as a storage depot for Germany's hardwood supply. Just before Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the carrier was again moved, this time to Stettin, to safeguard her from Soviet air attacks. By November, the German army had pushed deep enough into Russian territory to remove any further threat of air attack and Graf Zeppelin was returned to Gotenhafen.
By the time Raeder met with Hitler for a detailed discussion of naval strategy in April 1942, the usefulness of aircraft carriers in modern naval warfare had been amply demonstrated. British carriers had crippled the Italian fleet at Taranto in November 1940, critically damaged the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941 and prevented battleship Tirpitz from attacking two convoys bound for Russia in March 1942. In addition, a Japanese carrier raid on Pearl Harbor had devastated the American battle fleet in December 1941. Raeder, anxious to secure air protection for the Kriegsmarine's heavier surface units, informed Hitler that Graf Zeppelin could be finished in about a year, with another six months required for sea trials and flight training. On 13 May 1942, with Hitler's authorization, the German Naval Supreme Command ordered work resumed on the carrier.
But daunting technical problems remained. Raeder wanted newer planes, specifically designed for carrier use. Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe, replied that the already overburdened German aircraft industry could not possibly complete the design, testing and mass production of such aircraft before 1946. Instead, he proposed converting existing aircraft (again the Junkers Ju 87 and Messerschmitt Bf 109) as a temporary solution until newer types could be developed. Training of carrier pilots at Travemünde would also resume.
On the night of 27–28 August 1942, Graf Zeppelin was the target of the only Allied air attack aimed at the incomplete carrier. Nine Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster heavy bombers from 106 Squadron were dispatched against her, each one carrying a single "Capital Ship" bomb, a 5,500 lb device with a shaped charge warhead intended for armored targets. One pilot was unable to see the carrier due to haze dropped his bomb instead on the estimated position of the German battleship Gneisenau. Another believed he had scored a direct hit on Graf Zeppelin but there is no known record of the ship suffering any damage from a bomb strike that night.
Graf Zeppelin in drydock in March 1943On 5 December 1942, Graf Zeppelin was towed back to Kiel and placed in a floating drydock. It seemed she might well see completion after all, but by late January 1943 Hitler had become so disenchanted with the Kriegsmarine, especially with what he perceived as the poor performance of its surface fleet, that he ordered all of its larger ships taken out of service and scrapped. To Raeder, who had often clashed with Hitler on naval policy, this was a stunning setback. In a long memorandum to Hitler he called the new order "the cheapest sea victory England ever won". Raeder was shortly relieved of command and replaced with former Commander of Submarines Karl Dönitz. Though Admiral Dönitz eventually persuaded Hitler to void most of the order, work on all new surface ships and even those nearing completion was halted, including Graf Zeppelin. On 30 January 1943, all major work on the ship ceased, though some limited, temporary work continued until March.
In April 1943 Graf Zeppelin was again towed eastward, first to Gotenhafen, then to the roadstead at Swinemünde and finally berthed at a back-water wharf in the Parnitz River, two miles (3 km) from Stettin, where she had been briefly docked in 1941. There she languished for the next two years with only a 40-man custodial crew in attendance. When Red Army forces neared the city in April 1945, the ship's Kingston valves were opened, flooding her lower spaces and settling her firmly into the mud in shallow water. A ten-man engineering squad then rigged the vessel's interior with demolition and depth charges in order to hole the hull and destroy vital machinery. At 6pm on 25 April 1945, just as the Russians entered Stettin, commander Wolfgang Kähler radioed the squad to detonate the explosives. Smoke billowing from the carrier's funnel confirmed the charges had gone off, rendering the ship useless to her new owners for many months to come.
After World War 2:
The carrier's history and fate after Germany's surrender was unclear for decades after the war.
Instead, the Soviets decided to salvage the damaged ship and it was refloated in March 1946. According to German historian Erich Gröner, after the Soviets raised the scuttled ship, they towed her to Leningrad.