Germany’s Unfinished Aircraft Carrier Of WWII

Nazis had problems with leadership. Not only did different military branch leaders scheme against each other, but they all answered directly to a führer who, by some accounts, was quite possibly schizophrenic. This dysfunctional leadership doomed many projects, including the Graf Zeppelin, but few hurt the ship’s potential more than its own architect.

While the Graf Zeppelin launched in 1938, it was only 85% complete at the time. Work stalled afterward due to a shortage of builders and materials caused by the start of World War II. Shipyards had to focus on U-boat construction, so all other projects were put on the back burner. However, the Graf Zeppelin’s first true death knell occurred after Germany conquered Norway in 1940. To defend their newly occupied territory, Erich Raeder ordered the Kriegsmarine (Nazi Germany’s navy) to strip the Graf Zeppelin of its 15cm guns and use them as shore batteries since the carrier wouldn’t be ready before 1941.

For a time, the Graf Zeppelin seemed as if it was forgotten, but in April of 1942, Raeder asked Hitler to revive the project. Raeder had seen what British aircraft carriers had done to Bismarck and Tirpitz and the devastation Japanese carriers wrought on Pearl Harbor. Raeder convinced Hitler to resume construction on the Graf Zeppelin, but since its planned technology was outdated, Raeder demanded newer fighters, modernized catapults, and more advanced AA guns.

Not only did the head of the Luftwaffe (Nazi Germany’s air force), Hermann Goring, refuse to construct new planes, but in January of 1943, Hitler, in one of his classic tantrums, replaced Raeder with the Kriegsmarine’s Commander of Submarines, Karl Dӧnitz, and demanded all larger ships be scrapped. While the Graf Zeppelin avoided this fate, all major work was still canceled.

[Featured image by Royal Air Force via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | Public Domain]

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