Plan Z

Plan Z

Plan Z was the name given to the planned re-equipment and expansion of the Nazi German Navy (Kriegsmarine) ordered by Adolf Hitler on January 27, 1939. [Overy, p. 50] The plan called for a Kriegsmarine of 10 battleships, 4 aircraft carriers, 3 battle cruisers, 44 light cruisers, 8 heavy cruisers, 68 destroyers and 249 U-boats by 1944 that was meant to challenge the naval power of Great Britain. [Overy, pp. 50-51]



Following the end of World War I, the German armed forces became subject to the stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles. For the navy, this meant it was restricted to six armoured warships ("panzerschiffe"), six cruisers, twelve destroyers and twelve torpedo-boats. With the scuttling of the majority of the High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow, new construction was needed. The first major ship to be built after the war was the light cruiser "Emden". This was followed by a further three light cruisers of the K class, "Königsberg", "Karlsruhe" and "Köln", and a further two ships that were modified versions of the K class, "Leipzig" and "Nürnberg".


The Treaty also stipulated that Germany could replace its armoured ships as needed, but with vessels that were not more than 10,000 tons displacement. When it came time to replace some of the earlier vessels, the "panzerschiff" concept was created. This was designed primarily as an aggressor towards merchant shipping, or merchant raider, with the proviso that it be "stronger than faster enemies" (cruisers) and "faster than stronger enemies" (battleships). This led to the "Deutschland", a ship with six 11-inch guns and a speed of 28 knots. Two further units, "Admiral Scheer" and "Admiral Graf Spee" followed. These were called "pocket battleships" in the outside world.

The panzerschiff concept was by no means new. The same "stronger than faster, faster than stronger" design concept was the basis of the battlecruiser that was widely built prior to World War I. In combat, the battlecruiser was put into the same lines as the battleships, where it could no longer use its superior speed to stay out of trouble. Battlecruiser on sides suffered high losses during the Battle of Jutland and the class was considered dead by military planners. However, changes in technology, especially power plants, re-invigorated the design class, allowing the Germans to build ships that were smaller, better armored and still faster than their WWI counterparts. The new designs were widely lauded around the world.

Nazi rise to power

In 1933, Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany. He withdrew from the stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles and began the systematic re-building of the armed forces. The prestige brought by the panzerschiffe led to two improved vessels, Panzerschiffe D & E to be ordered - these became the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau", which were larger than their predecessors, with nine instead of six guns. At the same time, studies were made into the construction of two even larger vessels. These were initially going to be panzerschiffe with 13" guns, but with the improvements to the French fleet at the time, the new ships were redesigned as full "schlachtschiffe" (battleships). At this time, it was decided to embark on a large scale re-building of the German Navy, and so Plan Z was evolved.

Plan: Battle Fleet v U-Boat

Within the Kriegsmarine, two bodies of opinion were massed as to the direction of the re-equipment of the Navy:
*A large battle fleet capable of taking on the most powerful opponents (Britain and France).
*A large force of U boats and medium sized warships such as the panzerschiffe for destruction of the enemy's commercial shipping.

It was pointed out that in order to carry out commerce raiding in the Atlantic Ocean, German ships would have to pass through the North Sea, which was likely to be filled with British battleships. So, the large fleet option was chosen.

The Plan

The plan as it came about would have seen the completion of the two battleships under construction ("Bismarck" and "Tirpitz") to an interim design, as well as three heavy cruisers ("Admiral Hipper", "Blücher" and "Prinz Eugen"), plus a further two launched in 1939, before the major construction work began. The plan was then to have the majority finished by 1945:

*Four aircraft carriers, (two of the "Graf Zeppelin"-class, plus two others)
*Six H Class battleships
*Three "O Class" battlecruisers
*Twelve "Kreuzer P Class" Panzerschiffe
*Two Hipper Class heavy cruisers ("Seydlitz", and "Lützow")
*Four "M Class" light cruisers
*Two "Improved M Class" light cruisers
*Six " Spähkreuzer Class" large destroyers

The first work saw construction begin on the aircraft carrier "Graf Zeppelin" in 1936, with a second planned to begin in 1938. In mid 1939, following the launch of both "Bismarck" and "Tirpitz", the keels of the first three improved battleships were laid, while orders were placed for the modified Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters and Junkers Ju87 dive bombers for the aircraft carriers. However, with the outbreak of the Second World War, it was decided that the large and expensive construction projects required too much of the materials vital to keep the army and Luftwaffe up and running. As a consequence, work on the battleships was halted, and the materials were diverted to the construction of U-Boats.




*Hillgruber, Andreas "England's Place In Hitler's Plans for World Dominion" pages 5-22 from "Journal of Contemporary History", Volume 9, 1974.
*Overy, Richard & Wheatcroft, Andrew "The Road To War", Macmillan Press: London, United Kingdom, 1989

See also

* NV Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw

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