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Graf Zeppelin (Flugzeugtrager A) Conventionally-Powered Aircraft Carrier Project

Germany's sole aircraft carrier of World War 2 - Graf Zeppelin - was never completed as materials for the project were instead rerouted to the ground war and effective U-Boat submarine program.

 Updated: 9/26/2016; Authored By JR Potts, AUS 173d AB; Content ¬©

Nazi Germanys first and only carriers were proposed as part of the Z plan for the buildup of the fleet. The Kriegsmarine never named a vessel before it was launched, so it was given the designation "A" before she got underway. The contract to build the ship was awarded to the Friedrich Krupp Germaniawerft in Kiel in 1936. The carriers were conventional in appearance, and were intended to be supported by squadrons of Me109's and Ju87 aircraft adapted for carrier duty.

The operating preparation plan was the German carrier would be part of a commerce raiding fleet and could provide many needed tasks that were lacking in the Kriegsmarine Naval arrangement. Tirpitz and Bismarck were built to attack and disrupt commerce shipping, the carrier's air groups could find enemy commerce ships and defend the battle cruiser from air attack and allied warships if needed.

Under the terms of the 1935 Anglo-German Naval agreement, the German navy was allowed about 42,672 tons / 42,000 tons for carrier tonnage and two ships with a maximum of 20,000 tons being authorized. German designers were not experienced in carrier design, and flaws were evident as the need for high speed, good protection and heavy armament was lacking. Good handling at sea in high speeds was required and the design developed a long hull with adequate freeboard. Large hanger space with three elevators and two catapults were also standard. The flight deck was heavy so additional hull bulges were needed for strength, the flight deck also stopped short of the bow as in some Japanese designs. The tonnage allowed under the 1935 agreement was increased by 50 per cent during the course of construction but was not challenged.

Design problems continued especially with the catapults and the aircraft. The aircraft problems were acerbated by the Luftwaffe high command who demanded the air groups would be under their control not the Kriegsmarine. This rivalry slowed the new aircraft designs needed for carrier duty and the timing for being commissioned.

Flugzeugtrager is German for aircraft carrier, the Peter Strasser or Flugzeugtrager B was scrapped in 1949 and was the sister ship of the Kriegsmarine's only launched aircraft carrier, the Graf Zeppelin. Wartime priorities and the need for war material to support ground forces and submarines forced the Graf Zeppelin never to be completed. She was captured by the Russians in 1945. In 1946 the carrier was loaded with various containers, and construction equipment and was probably used to carry the looted factory equipment from Poland and Germany to the Soviet Union. In 1947 she was sunk as a target vessel after being loaded with bombs and other munitions that would be normally carried during the war as a training exercise for Russian military forces. A Polish oil firm in 2006 working in the Baltic Sea has indicated they have found the remains of the Graf Zeppelin. The Polish Navy using sonar confirmed the wreckage is the Graf Zeppelin at 206 meters.

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Graf Zeppelin (Flugzeugtrager A) Technical Specifications

Service Year: 1938
Type: Conventionally-Powered Aircraft Carrier Project
National Origin: Nazi Germany
Ship Class: Graf Zeppelin

Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

Complement (Crew): 2,026
Length: 860.7 feet (262.34 meters)
Beam (Width): 103.3 feet (31.49 meters)
Draught (Height): 24.11 feet (7.35 meters)

Surface Displacement: 33,550 tons

Installed Power and Base Performance

Engine(s): 4 x geared turbines developing 147,000kW powering 4 x shafts.

Surface Speed: 35 knots (40 mph)
Operational Range: 8,000 nautical miles (9,206 miles, 14,816 km)

Armament / Air Wing

16 x Sk.15-cm guns
12 x Flak (10.5-cm) guns
22 x Flak (3.7-cm) guns
28 x Flak (2.0-cm) guns

Aircraft: 10 x Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters
20 x Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers
20 x Fieseler Fi 167 torpedo bombers

Global Operators

Nazi Germany

Ships-in-Class (2)

Graf Zeppelin (Flugzeugtrager A); Peter Strasser (Flugzeugtrager B)