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Graf Spee, some data to clear things up

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Since the announcment that the KMS Graf Spee from wargamming there has been much argument about why the ships were built, what they are, an the like. since I happen to have a veyr good collection of naval history books I thougt I would write a summary to try and answer some of these questions. I hope you all enjoy, and though not perfect I did include my source data so you all can check my figures, and do research of your own. have fun, and happy sailing!



KMS Admiral Graf Spee.

Treaty of Versailles as we know was aimed forever removing Germany as a military threat to Europe. Because much one of the most notable causes of World War One was the challenging of British naval superiority  by the Imperial German fleet. Britain could simply not afford to let the Germans challenge them in naval power, and could not afford not too. So in the Versailles Treaty harsh measures were taken to remove the German military threat. There are too many clauses to go over every facet of the treaty but here are the broad strokes.

  1. Germany was limited to an Army of only 100,000 men, and no more than 10,000 of those could be officers.
  2. The German Navy was limited to 10,000 men, and not more than 1500 officers.
  3. Germany was not allowed any submarines for any reason.
  4. All German military radio traffic was to be intercepted and evaluated by the allied powers. Coding and encryption was not allowed.
  5. Germany was forbidden from having an Air force, or any military air power. Even search and rescue air craft and marine patrol aircraft were banned.
  6. Most of the German High sees fleet was scuttled, scrapped, or to be handed over to the allied powers as war trophies. (thus the Billy Mitchell air power testing on the Ostifriedland (Spelling?), the WW1 German  battleship). What ships Germany could have were limited to costal defense ships, mine sweepers, and the like.
  7. German ships themselves were also regulated, and could be no more than 10,000 tons, and mount no larger than 11” guns. Ships must be at least 20 years old before they were replaced and replacement was only 1-1. (Ships lost at sea could be replaced.) (The class was slated to replace the Preussen type ships which was laid down in 1902 + 20 = 1922)


There is the basis of the “Armored Ships” and why they were built as such. They were and off shoot of a “modern” replacement for old pre-dreadnought battleships, and armored cruisers. Per the treaty these ships would “officially” be tasked as costal defense ships. A similar type of ship (though without the range and speed) were produced by Sweden. (see Sverige class) The Sverige class mounted 11” guns (2x2). Considering that at the time the thinking in the German navy was that a trade or commerce war between France or Poland, and fought in the Baltic, it is easy to think that Poland might have produced something like the Sverige class.


            As a counter to ships like the Sverige class, and giving at least lip service to the treaty of Versailles, the Germans decided on the Deutschland class of “armored ships”. At no time did the Germans ever think these were battleships, battlecruisers, or the made up term “pocket battleship.” The naval thinking these ships were always CRUISERS. Much of the propaganda about the ships came about during the years after Adolf Hitler was elected in Germany. Because Germany could not afford a real fleet, and because of the German public’s need for past military strength, the ships were much hyped as the latest and greatest of German military innovation.

            The ships were not all hype though, as the class were the first major warships every produced with welding. The practice at the time had been riveting, and had been for the last 50 years. Welding saved weight, and production costs. The price was a concern as the ships were ordered BEFORE Hitler came to power, by the Republic. Because the German navy, and German military loved dual, and multipurpose weapons. (Flack 18 the 88mm anti air craft gun later used for anti-tank role). A desire for the ships to be usable in the commerce raiding roll was requested. This request was answered by fitting the ships with diesel engines (another first for major warships). These engines weighted slightly more, but used far less fuel, and so weight could be save in bunkerage.


            Contrary to what some people assume, the Scharnhorst class ships were actually outgrowths of the Armored ships. There was a plan for a 4th and 5th armored ships. The German navy wanted bigger and better ships, and hoped for 15” or at least 14 inch main battery guns. Adolf Hitler however was at the time attempting to negotiate the Anglo-German Naval treaty. He did not want to anger the British and so forbade any increase in main gun size over 11”. However Hitler did decide to allow the number of guns to be increased, as well as the armored protection. The resulting weight increase meant a need for a longer hull, and eventually the Scharnhorst class was laid down. The final specification for the Scharnhorst class was not yet complete when the ships were laid down. This resulted in very little freeboard, and required further modifications and changes. The Scharnhorst class ships were known for being very “wet” ships and this caused problems on operations. The Scharnhorst ships were also slatted to be fitted with diesel engines like the armored ships; however an engine that could reach the required speeds was not available and would have delayed the ships. So instead and untried geared steam turbine system was used and engine problems plagued the class it’s entire career. (This is why the Scharnhorst class has several types of secondary guns, the 4 single 150mm mounts on both ships were guns left over from the Deutschland class armored ships. those single 150mm guns were slated for Armored ships # 4&5) 


            The main guns used on the armored ships were an older type, and not this same as the guns on the Scharnhorst class.  The Armored ships used the SKC-28 projectile with three types of shells High explosive, common, & armor -piercing. The shells had calibers of 4.2, 4.2, & 3.7 (caliber refers to the leant of the barrel or shell in bore diameter, thus a 283mm 4.2 caliber shell is 1188.6mm or about 1.1 meters long. All of the SKC-28 shells weighted 661.4 pounds (300 kilograms). The armor-piercing shells had a 70.4 pound AP cap (32 kg.) The weight of the bursting charge on the three shells were 51.4 lbs. (23.3 kg), 37.3 lbs. (16.9 kg), and 17.3 lbs. (7.8 kg).

            The Scharnhorst class ships used the SKC-34 shells and again there were three types of shells High explosive, common, and armored-piercing. All of the SKC-34 shells were 4.4 calibers long ( 1245.2mm). they weighted 694.5 lbs. (315 kg), 727.5 lbs. (330 kg), and 727.5lbs (330 kg.) The bursting charges of the SKC-34 were 48.1 lbs. (21.8 kg.), 35.3 lbs. (16kg), and 14.6 lbs. (6.6 kg.)


            The different shill types were as follows.

  • : for use against armored targets. Has a base fuze of the long-delay type. (to allow the shell time to enter the target ship.)
  • : has a larger explosive charge, and more fragmentation damage. Used on slightly armored targets (in game such as battleship shooting at lower tier battleships or cruisers).

High-explosive: shells used when most possible fragmentation effect was needed. Shore bombardment, exposed personal, lightly protected ships, and fire control and anti-aircraft posts.


For the SKC-34 round the penetration data was that at 20,000 yards the 283mm AP shell could penetrate 11.47 inches (291mm) of side armor, or 1.87” (48mm) inches of deck armor. At 8600 yards (7900 meters) the shell could penetrate 23.79” of side armor (604 mm) and .76” inches (19mm) of deck armor. The SKC-34 on the Scharnhorst was 54.5 calibers (or about 15.5 meters long, if my math is correct). The Deutschland class armored ships used the L-52 guns ( about 14.7 meters long) (SKC-28 l/52 L meaning leant for those that don’t know, and SK-C meaning naval use).  According to http://www.navweaps.com/ the Deutschland class ships could elevate their guns to 40 degrees which equated to a max range of 36,475 meters (only slightly short of the 16km range listed for the Graf Spee in World of warships).


            The SK-C 28 l 52 gun had a theoretical rate of fire of 2.5 rounds per minuet. The guns also had what is referred to a “gain twist rifling” which means that over the leant of the barrel the twist rate imparted on the projectile changes. In this case it goes from 1-50, to 1-35. (I.E. one full rotation every 50 inches (though it might be meters, or mili-meters I could not find what unit was used to measure the rifling twist, sorry.) In the United States we measure the twist rate in inches and so I am making a educated guess that the data I found since in English was converted to inches, since the U.S. military did very extensive testing on captured Axis guns after the war.


The SK-C 28 L/52 gun on the Deutschland class ships had a ready ammunition supply of 120 rounds per gun. The barrel life for the guns was 340 rounds each. As most of you know large naval guns used rifled liners inside the barrels of the guns. As the guns were fired these liners would wear out. So rather than having to replace the entire barrel the liners could be replaced much easier and cheaper.


Ok well I hope this clears up some things about why the Armored ships were built, who ordered them, and why they were made the way they were. Reclassified in 1941 as heavy cruisers the two remaining ships say some action later in the war.  bombarding Russian army positions in support of the eastern front was one operation that the German navy took part in, and it should be noted it was one of their great achievements. In the west we know little to nothing about it. The surrounded German army, cut off by the advancing red army managed to hold back the Russian forces only with the constant support of German Naval gunfire. This holding action allowed thousands of non-combatants to be evacuated.  Though no one can condone the horrible crimes committed by the Nazi government, the men fighting on the front were mostly conscripts who’s choice was military service or prison camp. Millions of brave men fought in the Second world war on all sides, and non were asked if they agreed with war or political aims of their masters. In that regard I think that we can admire the achievements and inventive engineering of the ship-plane-tank-gun makers without supporting the aims of the governments that employed them. My great uncle was killed during the second world war, while part of the Anzio invasion. Standing next to a tank, and looking over some maps with his unit the tank was hit by a bomb dropped from a Luftwaffe FW-190 (as far as the family has been able to find out) He is buried in the American cemetery near the Anzio beachhead. He was T-Sgt. Eugen Soper. Millions of people died in the second world war, and in my opinion one of the reasons that the KMS Graf Spee hold such a place in history is the gentlemanly conduct of her Capt. and crew during that war cruiser in late 1939. Capt. Hans Langsdorf (spelling?) took great pains to both due his duty and not needlessly take lives. He took great pains to remove the crews from the merchant ships he sunk. Some of these sailors were so impressed that after the scuttling of the Graf Spee, when Capt. Langsdorf Shot himself, laid out on the Imperial German Naval ensign, (not the NAZI flag) they attended his funeral, and participated in the military salute to their fallen foe.  He left it note


“It need not be said that the fate of a Captain cannot be separated from the fate of his ship…”


Scorces :



“Battleships” “Axis and Neutral Battleships of World War II” Willian H. Garzke & Robert O. Dulin, JR.

1985 United States Naval Institute

ISBN 0-87021-101-3



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29 posts
7,727 battles

Thanks guys. If you are intrested the Book I cited is fantastic, very detailed information that covers many details. It also has tables listing the power of the various naval guns. Apparently in the second world war the top three best performing guns were the US Navy's 16" from the Iowa class, next the 18.1" Yamato class guns, and third the 15" guns on the newer Italian battleships. (the Italian guns apparently wore out barrel liners like it was no one buisness.). Anyway the book on Axis battleships is part of a three book series. One of the books is on just American Battleships, and is just as detailed as the one on Axis and netural ships. if you can find the books (IF!) they are worth every penny of their expensive cost. However if there is some basic informaion that anyone would like, just ask and if the data is in there I'll post it up for you. (there is not much more data in those books on the Deutschland class, and the little there was, was included because of their relationship to the scharnhorst class.) The books also cover paper ships like the H-39, H-41, and H-44 classes of germany, plus the IJN Yamato class, and the carrier conversons.


Happy Sailing. 

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