Friday, December 20, 2013

Flashback Friday: Plan Z

     This week's Flashback Friday is an overview of Nazi Germany's Plan Z. In January of 1939 Adolf Hitler ordered a build up of the Kriegsmarine, which by 1945 would have looked something like this:
  • 2 Aircraft Carriers
  • 10 Battleships (Six H-class,  2 Bismarck-class, and 2 Scharnhorst-class)
  • 3 O-class battlecruisers
  • 12 P-class Panzerschiffe (pocket battleships)
  • 3 Deutschland-class Panzerschiffe
  • 5 Heavy cruisers
  • 36 M-class light cruisers
  • 24 Spahkreuzer (large destroyers or reconnaissance cruisers)
  • 68 Destroyers
  • 90 Torpedo boats
  • 249 U-boats
     A few things stand out from this plan. First, the emphasis is on surface ships which fits with Hitler's intent on challenging the Royal Navy. Second, too few destroyers are planned compared to the number of cruisers and battleships. Only two destroyers for every BB and cruiser, in comparison the U.S. had about four destroyers for every BB or cruiser. Third, few U-boats. Plan Z did not plan for the massive U-boat campaign in the Atlantic, and the planned U-boat numbers show this. Finally, there is a distant emphasis on surface commerce raiding in the form of the 12 P-class pocket battleships in addition to the 3 Duetschland-class vessels.  
     Plan Z had the sole mission of giving Nazi Germany the ability to challenge the Royal Navy for control of the North Sea, the North Atlantic and nearby waters. Had the plan the plan been completed it would have easily broken local Royal Navy control*. However, had the two fleets met in battle a la Jutland the outcome is debatable. The Royal Navy would have had all the KGVs, Lion-class, and the Vanguard. 12 new BBs in addition to the Hood, Nelson, Rodney, and 12 other WWI-era BBs. 27 battleships, of which 14 of which were modern, against 10 modern German BBs of varying capabilities (the Scharnhorst-class was more of a battlecruiser design). This also leaves out the question of escorts and the influence of naval air power which was instrumental in the Pacific and in sinking the Bismarck.
     In the end Plan Z was another Nazi pipe dream because of the titanic economic costs and British naval and shipbuilding superiority. It provides fodder for what-if scenarios today, but was of little practical value in WWII.

*Clarification, the German Navy would have been able to break out of the North Sea and Bay of Biscay (assuming France would have fallen if the war had started in 1945) with relative impunity.


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