Divers find Hitler’s aircraft carrier
A reader tips Murdoc off to this exciting discovery:
Polish divers have discovered the rusting wreckage of Nazi Germany’s only aircraft carrier, the Graf Zeppelin, solving one of the most enduring maritime riddles of the Second World War.
For more than half a century the location of the huge vessel was kept secret by the Soviet authorities. Even the opening of the Moscow archives in the 1990s failed to produce a precise bearing. The once-proud ship was simply one of dozens of wrecks that littered the bed of the Baltic Sea near the Bay of Gdansk.
The divers were conducting oil exploration when they found the wreck 250 meters down.
When fleeing German troops scuttled her in April 1945, she had never seen service — a casualty of infighting within the Nazi elite and the changing tide of war.
The Graf Zeppelin was scuttled in shallow water near Szczecin and it proved easy for the Red Army to recover her after marching into the Polish port. According to an agreement with the Allies, German and Japanese warships should have been sunk in deep water or destroyed. The Russians repaired the ship, then used her to carry looted factory equipment back to the Soviet Union. In August 1947 Allied spies observed her being towed back to the Polish Baltic coast and then used for target practice at Leba by Soviet dive bombers. It appeared that the Russians were preparing for possible action against US aircraft carriers.
The specs of the ship look good, but the actual design left a lot to be desired. The ship would operated 40 or 50 navalized Bf 109 fighters and Ju 87 attack planes. These aircraft were reaching the end of their useful life by the time the ship was nearing completion, and navalizing them would have no doubt degraded them even further. Given the naval situation, it’s unlikely the Graz Zeppelin would have ever managed to accomplish much before being dispatched by the Allies.
German-Navy.de has a good little summary of the ship, including a little 3D model to play with. Provides literally seconds of fun. Also, an alternate history where the Germans’ Z-Plan fleet ran wild for a while is availabel at Combined Fleet.