Carrier Graf Zeppelin
By James Donahue
Polish divers in the
Baltic recently found the ruins of the Graf Zeppelin, Germany’s only aircraft carrier
afloat during World War II.
Few have heard about
this ship because it never participated in the war, even though it was launched in 1938. That is because the German high command
never had the carrier completed, but concentrated their efforts on building a U-Boat fleet. The ship’s guns were removed
and used for coastal defenses in Norway.
When the keel was laid
for the Graf Zeppelin in 1936, German Grand Admiral Erich Raeder had an ambitious shipbuilding program in mind called the
Z-Plan, in which four carriers were to be built by 1945. Two keels were laid down that year, but only the Graf Zeppelin was
launched. “Carrier B” which never had a name was never launched. It was rumored that it would have been called
the Peter Strasser, but that was never confirmed.
Throughout the war there
was political infighting that got in the way of any further development of carriers for the German Navy. Hitler vacillated
in his interest, Marshall Hermann Goring, Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe put his emphasis on air power and could not
see the effectiveness of aircraft on the moving decks of ships, and Admiral Karl Donitz was a submariner and that is where
his emphasis was placed. Consequently Admiral Raeder was simply outgunned for the money to build his surface ships.
Thus the Graf Zeppelin
was a floating vessel and partly fitted out for service. But at 85 percent completion, it never sailed into battle and never
had an aircraft land or take off from its decks.
Ironically, the hull
of the ship was put into service once, but not by the Germans. The Russians apparently used it as a barge after the end of
the war. This is how that happened.
As the war was coming
to an end, the Graf Zeppelin, along with the other fleet vessels, was purposefully taken out to sea and scuttled. But the
carrier was scuttled in shallow water at Szczecin just days before the Red Army entered Berlin. The Russians decided to salvage the ship so it was pumped out
The last known photograph
of the carrier shows it under tow on the way out of Swinouiscie in April, 1947. The deck is laden with various containers,
boxes and construction equipment, bound for the Soviet Union. After that, nothing more was
known of the Graf Zeppelin.
One report said the barge
was towed to Leningrad. There, after an examination of the
hull, the Russians determined that rebuilding the ship for service in the Russian Navy would be impractical. So the ship was
towed out to sea and used as a practice target for the Soviet Navy and its aircraft.
The massive hull was
so well constructed, however, that even after being struck by 24 bombs the old ship refused to sink. So it was finished off
The Graf Zeppelin measured
about 850 feet in length, making it comparable to the carriers operating at that time in the British and United States Navies.
It had a potential range of 8,000 nautical miles, which means that it could easily have reached the North