Wreck of the Graf Zeppelin

Divers find Hitler’s aircraft carrier

grafzep.jpgA 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.


  1. From the pics it looks like is a huge beast of a carrier for WW2 standards… am I right or wrong?

  2. Given how well German battleships performed, I have no doubt that this ship would have equalled their level of excellence.

  3. Stories like this make me thankful that Hitler was a military idiot and did not stick to the plan to start the war around 1949. If he had waited, monsters like this and more Bismark class battleships would have been fully functional.

  4. Bram, Or contenting himself with conquering western Europe, recocking, and then attacking east to destroy the Slav. Not to get too Harry Turtledove about it.

  5. Hitler’s only chance would have been to try to arrange things so that he’d only be taking on one power at a time. The US and Britain were both more powerful economically than Germany, and the USSR was close. Taking on all three at once was kinda slow. Better coordination with Japan would have helped, too. As we all know from the axis and allies game.

  6. And, in comparison to Nazi battleships, the Graf Zeppelin would have been more like the Tirpitz than the Bismark…hiding in a hole until the end.

  7. I read somewhere, (a W. E. B. Griffin book I think) the argument that Hitler lost the war when he failed to secure Gibraltar in 1939 or 1940. The Spanish refused permission to allow a German division passage through their territory to attack the British their. The Germans should have gone anyhow. Grabbing the rock would have allowed them to seal the Mediterranean off to the British Navy and changed the course of the war.

  8. The Graf Zep was an unremarkable design, at best. Her displacement about the same as an Essex class but her capabilities were closer to an Independence class CVL. Her main emphasis was on her armament, that included 16×5.9′ guns in double casements. More of her weight was taken up in armor. Her air group went through several derivations, but was essentially about 30 ME-109 fighters and 12 JU-87 Stukas. IIRC she did not have a long range, so required frequent fueling. Add to that the complications that her air group would have belonged to the Luftwaffe, and that Goering did not like the Navy brass, her fate was inevitable.

  9. Geeklethal, Nazi’s dont have ships ! And thankfully the US was able to gather so many of those ‘ NAZI’ idiots that you think so low of, since it Jump started our own rocket program. Oh and lets see what else, Our m-60 medium mg ( very mg 42/43). Torsion suspension on MBTs. the concept of radio communication with all manuever units. Steel reinforced concrete structures…Yea didnt think of that did you? Go on hating people that you know very little about. Just remember that it was the French who wanted such outragiouse reparations on the Treaty of Versaisse. Look it up.