The Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions." --American Statesman Daniel Webster (1782-1852)

Sunday, September 30, 2018

WWII German Aircraft Carriers could they have impacted the war?

 I have posted before about WWII Germany's only Aircraft Carrier.  I had blogged about that carrier back in 2016.  Now this is a "What if" if Germany had gotten their carriers into the war especially after seeing the effect that carriers were having on the war in the Pacific.   

It might be easy to throw out a discernible “no” when asking such a historical “what if” given that we know the real outcome. What if the Germans developed the atomic bomb? What if America was ready for Pearl Harbor? What if the D-Day landings had failed? Yet, military history captures the imagination in part, in that we get to live out events beyond our own time in history.
The German military was feared for many reasons in the 1930’s and 40’s, but the might of their aircraft carriers was not one of them. Germany would produce only 2 aircraft carriers, if you could actually call either a full production. Both remained in port and neither would see service.
Stern View of the Graf Zeppelin German Aircraft Carrier.
Given that we know the outcome without the carriers in action and that outcome was less than favorable to the Germans, let’s consider the alternative. Could Germany have won the battle of the Atlantic with momentum on it’s side had the aircraft carriers been pressed into service? Would allied shipping already in a state of fear over the dreaded U-boat have been given more problems than they could solve with the addition of air power at sea?
Graf Zeppelin at her launch December 1938
It can be said of war that the military leadership’s primary mission is to give the enemy more problems than they can solve. It is the premise behind combined arms exercises that bring to bear the full spectrum of military power. Air, land, and sea converge to create these myriads of problems for the enemy.
In that sense, it would be a discernible yes that the presence of German aircraft carriers in the Atlantic would have created another problem for the allies.
U-570 scourge of the sea to the allies during WW2
Ponder the Bismarck roaming the open seas among herds of wolfpack U-boats and the aircraft of the Graf Zeppelin soaring overhead. The Allied “problems” would now exist under, on the surface and above the sea.

The importance of aircraft carriers in the Pacific proved their strategic and tactical value. It demonstrates with certainty that Germany would have gained some strategic and tactical value had they put completed carriers to sea. Would it have been enough to win the Battle of the Atlantic?
Bismarck in 1940. By Bundesarchiv,
To answer this question, one needs to discover the reason Germany decided to forgo the full production of aircraft carriers in the first place. In the 1930’s Germany did indeed put out a call for two aircraft carriers the first of which would be the Graf Zeppelin launched on December 8, 1938.
The 2nd designated Flugzeugtrager B would follow but would quickly find itself scrapped. Neither saw functional service and the reason boiled down to a limit in resources and a change in priorities.
RAF reconnaissance photo showing Graf Zeppelin at Gotenhafen – 6 February 1942
With Germany’s rapid advance on the ground throughout Europe there was an emphasis placed on coastal guns and shore defenses. Moreover, there was a reported shortage of anti-aircraft guns that would be necessary to defend the ship.
As the war pressed on, a shortage of pilots further stretched resources to the limits and by 1943 the new head of the Kriegsmarine, Karl Donitz, ordered the program scrapped. Whereas the presence of aircraft carriers in the Atlantic would have indeed created a new problem for the Allies to solve, it would have most certainly pulled resources from other parts of Germany’s losing war effort.
Flugzeugträger B under construction. By Bundesarchiv 

In the end, the quality of both the Graf Zeppelin and the Flugzeugtrager B would have fallen far behind that of the Allied Navies. Unless one hopes to imagine a fantastic scenario where Germany would have produced 5 to 8 carriers in a world where they lacked the resources to produce 2, the point seems moot.  By 1942, the Americans and Japanese were far ahead of the Germans in quality of their carriers and the numbers.
German aircraft carriers roaming the Atlantic would have most certainly caused problems and won its fair share of victories, but the fate of the war itself would have been sealed.
Drawing depicting the Graf Zeppelin
In the end, the Graf Zeppelin and the Flugzeugtrager B would have found companionship at the bottom of the Atlantic with the famed Bismarck. To have won a battle is not to have won the war. When one considers the Battle of the Atlantic as the sum of events from 1939 to 1945, it doesn’t appear that the outcome would have been any different If Germany had hoped to compete in the Atlantic with carriers, 1938 was far too late to have launched its first. The victory in this scenario again goes to the Allies and modern divers would have two new ghost ships in the Atlantic in which to explore


  1. I had never heard that they made an aircraft carrier

  2. Hey Borepatch;

    I didn't either at first until I ran across the reference of the carrier on a historical document, and started digging and "Voila" there it was. The Germans really didn't develop it because Hitler being an "Army" guy didn't know much about the Navy and the resources. If he had waited until 1945 like his generals wanted to, there would have been a carrier or 2 in the German fleet. Hitler jumped the gun.

    Thank you for posting :)

  3. They also didn't have any carrier acft, nor the time to design any, nor any pilots capable of actually USING a carrier. They never adopted the forward looking mentality because of the 'war' between the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine.

    1. Hey Old NFO;

      You are correct, you think we had interservice rivalry?..shoot the Germans made us look like pikers,

  4. Carriers are vulnerable, and especially vulnerable when not escorted by a additional supporting ships. Germany didn't have such a navy. Consider the British carriers today. British planners concede they could only be operational in hostile situations with escort provided by other nations, Britain has carriers, but not a navy sufficient enough to provide operational escorts.

  5. They would have been good in the Baltic, but were way out of their league by '42. Heck, her designed loadout was equivalent to one of our jeep or light carriers. Good against the Russkies, but against the US or England? Not a chance.

    Now, if they had at least one in 39, it would have affected nothing. The Kriegsmarine was numerically behind the ball, and after 39 just kept falling farther and farther behind. Their one hope at increasing their fleet size, by capturing French vessels, failed.

    It is scary how far Hitler and his forces did get, considering how backwards they were in 39. Even their good stuff was affected by being overdesigned or by being manufactured by slaves.

    It is a good thing Germany jumped when it did. No telling where the stupid of the Neville Chamberlains and FDRs would have gotten us if WWII hadn't started when it did.


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