German Warships of World War Two

The three ‘K’ class light cruisers.

Königsberg, Karlsruhe, and Köln were commissioned in a nine month period beginning on 4.17.29, 11.6.29, and 1.15.30, respectively. These were “treaty cruisers,” built within the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 and it showed. They were not well built, welded instead of riveted wherever possible and were often damaged by heavy seas. The Karlsruhe almost broke apart in a tropical hurricane in 1936. Each cruiser had an armament of nine 5.9 inch guns in three turrets with three guns per turret.

The light cruiser Königsberg referred to here was the third ship named after the East Prussian city. The first ship, commissioned in 1907, had some amazing adventures which I will detail in a later post. The latter two had but few interesting moments. While participating in the invasion of Norway, the third Königsberg was sunk by Royal Navy Skua dive-bombers on 10 April 1940 in the port of Bergen.

The Karlsruhe wasn’t a lucky ship. As said, she almost broke apart in a tropical hurricane in 1936 when a number of her longitudinal frames buckled. Had the ship foundered, six-hundred and six men aboard, including dozens of seekadetts, would have perished. During the height of the storm, the ship recorded winds of Force 12, which is hurricane force on the Beaufort Scale, with winds in excess of 73 miles per hour. In a Force 12 hurricane, the Beaufort Scale says the sea conditions will be as follows: “Air filled with foam. Sea completely white. Visibility greatly reduced.” I’m glad I wasn’t aboard.

During the invasion of Norway in late Spring 1940, the Karlsruhe successfully landed German troops at Kristiansand. On 9 April 1940 the ship began steaming back to Germany but late in the day was hit by a torpedo fired by the British submarine, HMS Truant. In a controversial decision which cost him his career, the Kommandant of the Karlsruhe, without inspecting the damage himself, ordered the crew off the ship onto her escorting ships and then ordered the escorts to sink the Karlsruhe, which they did. Wrote Fleet Commander Vizeadmiral Lutjens on the after-action report, “…I cannot disabuse myself of the impression that the will was lacking to come to grips with the situation and so save the ship.” Ouch!!!! (This report cited in German Light Cruisers of World War Two.)

The light cruiser Köln suffered from the main problem of the other two: she just wasn’t built strongly enough to stand heavy weather at sea. The ship was decommissioned in the middle of the war but recommissioned in the summer of 1944. She spent a number of months anchored in a fjord in Norway because she was barely in working order and she wasn’t good for much else. The Köln returned to Wilhelmshaven where she was hit by Allied bombers on 30 March 1945 while at anchor and sank on an even keel in the harbor with her main deck slightly above water. The author of German Light Cruisers of World War Two, Gerhard Koop, was an officer aboard the Köln at that time and reports he lost all of his belongings except the uniform he was wearing when the cruiser sank.

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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