Graf Zeppelin


Graf Zeppelin

Hitler’s Aircraft 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 and refloated.


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 with torpedoes.


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 Sea.



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Great And Lost Ships Of The World