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Why didn't Germany have any aircraft carriers?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: May 23, 2013 
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Why didn't Germany have any aircraft carriers?

Tom DeBarber

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Dear Mr. DeBarber,

The principle reason for Nazi Germany never completing an aircraft carrier was constant changes in priority. One had, in fact, been ordered on November 16, 1935, was laid out in Kiel on December 26, 1936, and launched as Graf Zeppelin on December 8, 1938. The ship was never completed, however. After Germany's victories in the West in 1940, the Kriegsmarine placed higher priority on coastal guns and other defenses for its new bases. When it came to aircraft, this was originally to have been navalized Messerschmitt Me-109T fighters (the "T" signifying Träger, or "carrier"), and Junkers Ju-87E dive bombers, but Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring insisted that the Luftwaffe's growing needs precluded spending too much time and money on more specialized aircraft for a naval vessel. The final blow came after the disappointing Battle of the Barents Sea on December 31, 1942, and Adolf Hitler's subsequent rant against the entire High Seas Fleet. Although the new naval commander in chief, Karl Dönitz, talked Hitler out of scrapping the entire fleet, on-and-off work on Graf Zeppelin ceased for good and it was never made fully operational before April 25, 1945, when it was scuttled in Stettin. The Soviets raised and took possession of it, but later expended it as a target on August 16, 1947. A later project involved converting the uncompleted heavy cruiser Seydlitz into the carrier Weser, but that was curtailed in June 1943, and the Soviets scrapped what they found of it after the war.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History



3 Responses to “Why didn't Germany have any aircraft carriers?”

  1. 1
    Bob Brown says:

    Just another reason for the Allies to be grateful for the utter stupidity shown by the Nazi High Command.

  2. 2
    Beau says:

    Part of the reason for these changing priorities, however, was the changing relationship between Britain and Germany. When the Graf Zeppelin was commissioned, Hitler believed that there was a chance Britain would wind up allying itself with Germany (whether or not that was realistic is another question entirely). Once it became apparent that the British had no interest in an alliance and the Kriegsmarine knew it would be squaring off against the Royal Navy, targets as big and vulnerable as an aircraft carrier became impractical. You don't have to look much further than how the Germans deployed the Graf Spee or the Bismarck to understand their reluctance to engage in a full confrontation with the Royal Navy.

    More importantly, resources were already tight in Germany and other weapons, such as the U-Boat float, had a much higher ROI than a single carrier.

  3. 3
    George says:

    Actually 4 carriers had been ordered and 2 laid down. The second was thought to be named Peter Strasser after the namesake Zeppelin commander of the First World War – and it was completed to the armoured deck but never launched and scrapped in 1940. The last two were cancelled before construction began.

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