Though all three ships of the class would easily exceed the allowed 10,000 tonnage limit (the Graf Spee alone topped 16,000 tons at construction's end) they were never truly "battleship-caliber" vessels by definition. Selected machinery arrived in the form of 8 x MAN diesel engines producing 56,000 shaft horsepower to two propeller shafts and this came with the added benefit of speed and proved a weight-saving measure, allowing attention to be paid to overall protection of the vessel through armor and, consequently, armament. Construction consisted of electric welding which further saved weight and was a contrast to the accepted practice of riveting. What German naval engineers had in fact produced was more of a "tweener" warship design - neither true battleship nor a true cruiser. The end-product sported "battleship-like" armament and armor but it was an inherently faster ocean-going design - speeds exceeding 28 knots. The vessel took on the performance capabilities of a cruiser type ship. To this end, the design became known to the world as a "pocket battleship" and the Graf Spee would be further set apart from her contemporaries in that she was also completed with an early form of shipborne radar known as "Seetakt" - the first German naval war vessel to be equipped as such.
The Graf Spee was armed with 6 x 11" main guns across two main turrets - three guns to a turret - with one turret emplacement set forward and the other held aft. This was supplemented by 8 x 5.9" guns and further strengthened by 6 x 105mm, 8 x 37mm and 10 x 20mm cannons throughout. The larger-caliber weapons were suitable against surface ships and land-based targets while the smaller-caliber systems could be used against both surface vessels and low-flying aircraft. Additionally the vessel was given true "ship-killing" capabilities in the form of 8 x 533mm torpedo tubes. Two Arado Ar 196 floatplane aircraft were carried aboard and launched from a catapult held amidships behind the bridge superstructure. These aircraft provided the vessel with the required "eye in the sky" conducting various reconnoitering sorties and, if called too, attacking with machine guns, bombs and depth charges. The aircraft could then be recovered from the water via a crane to be used again. The Graf Spee's side profile was characterized by its single smoke funnel held at amidships and high ranging mast. A crew of 1,150 officers and sailors made the vessel their wartime home.
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