Units: Admiral Hipper, Blücher, Prinz Eugen
Type and Significance: These vessels were among the largest heavy cruisers in the service of the German Navy in World War II.
Dates of Construction: Laid down between 1935 and 1936 and completed between 1939 and 1940.
Hull Dimensions: 665’ 8” x 69’ 10.5” x 19’ (Admiral Hipper, Blücher); 679’ 1.5” x 70’ 6” x 21’ 8” (Prinz Eugen)
Displacement: 14,050 tons (Admiral Hipper, Blücher); 16,974 tons (Prinz Eugen)
Armor: A belt between 1.5 inches and 3.25 inches thick, a deck up to 1.25 inches deep, and a maximum of 6.25 inches of protection for the main turrets.
Armament: Eight 8-inch guns in four dual-gunned turrets, two each being located fore and aft. Also 12 4.1-inch pieces, 12 1.5-inch antiaircraft guns, eight .8-inch antiaircraft weapons, 12 20.8-inch torpedo tubes, and three aircraft.
Machinery: Turbines that produced 132,000 horsepower.
Speed: 32.5 knots
Summary: Two of these units did not survive World War II. The Blücher was sunk on 9 April 1940 by land-based gun and torpedo installations during the German invasion of Norway. The Admiral Hipper was scuttled on 2 May 1945 after sustaining heavy damage from Allied bombing raids. The Prinz Eugen has the distinction of being the only large German warship to survive World War II. It was used as an experimental ship in the atomic bomb blasts at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. It sank on 22 December 1946 as a result of damage sustained in the experiments. Two other units were never completed. In 1942, construction on one of these, Seydlitz, was nearing completion when the decision was made to convert it to an aircraft carrier. This plan was soon cancelled, and the hull remained unused for most of the war. On 10 April 1945, the vessel was scuttled to prevent its capture by the Russians. It was refloated by the Russians and scrapped. The other incomplete ship, Lutzow, was sold to the Soviet Union in early 1940. It served as an accommodation ship from 1945 to 1956, when it was scrapped.
Admiral Hipper led the assault on Trondheim during Operation Weserübung; while en route to her objective, she sank the British destroyer HMS Glowworm. In December 1940, she broke out into the Atlantic Ocean to operate against Allied merchant shipping, though this operation ended without significant success. In February 1941, Admiral Hipper sortied again, sinking several merchant vessels before eventually returning to Germany via the Denmark Strait. The ship was then transferred to northern Norway to participate in operations against convoys to the Soviet Union, culminating in the Battle of the Barents Sea on 31 December 1942, where she was damaged and forced to withdraw by the light cruisers HMS Sheffield and HMS Jamaica.
Enraged by the defeat at the battle, Adolf Hitler ordered the majority of the surface warships scrapped, though Admiral Karl Dönitz was able to convince Hitler to retain the surface fleet. As a result, Admiral Hipper was returned to Germany and decommissioned for repairs. The ship was never restored to operational status, however, and on 3 May 1945, Royal Air Force bombers severely damaged Admiral Hipper while she was in Kiel. Her crew scuttled the ship at her moorings, and in July 1945, she was raised and towed to Heikendorfer Bay. She was ultimately broken up for scrap in 1948–1952; her bell resides in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
Following her commissioning in November 1939, Blücher conducted a series of sea trials and training exercises in the Baltic, which lasted until March 1940. She was pronounced ready for service with the fleet on 5 April 1940. Assigned to Group 5 during the invasion of Norway in April 1940, the ship served as Konteradmiral Oskar Kummetz’s flagship. The ship led the flotilla of warships into the Oslofjord on the night of 8 April, to seize Oslo, the capital of Norway. Three old 28 cm (11 in) coastal guns in the Oscarsborg Fortress engaged the ship at very close range, scoring several damaging hits. Two old 28 cm (11 in) coastal guns in the Oscarsborg Fortress engaged the ship at very close range, scoring two damaging hits. Two torpedoes fired by land-based torpedo batteries struck the ship, causing serious damage. A major fire broke out aboard Blücher, which could not be contained. After a magazine explosion, the ship slowly capsized and sank, with major loss of life.
The wreck remains on the bottom of the Oslofjord; several salvage attempts were considered after 1963, but none were carried out. The ship’s screws were removed in 1953 and divers removed over 1,000 t (980 long tons; 1,100 short tons) of fuel oil from the ship’s bunkers in 1994, though oil from unaccessible fuel tanks is still leaking from the sunken ship. At the time the divers removed the oil, they also recovered one of her Ar 196 floatplanes, which is preserved in Stavanger.
Prinz Eugen saw extensive action during Operation Rheinübung, an attempted breakout into the Atlantic Ocean with the battleship Bismarck in May 1941. The two ships engaged the British battlecruiser Hood and battleship Prince of Wales in the Battle of Denmark Strait, during which Hood was destroyed and Prince of Wales was severely damaged. Prinz Eugen was detached from Bismarck during the operation to raid Allied merchant shipping, but this was cut short due to engine troubles. After putting into occupied France and undergoing repairs, the ship participated in Operation Cerberus, a daring daylight dash through the English Channel back to Germany. In February 1942, Prinz Eugen was deployed to Norway, although her time stationed there was cut short when she was torpedoed by the British submarine Trident days after arriving in Norwegian waters. The torpedo severely damaged the ship’s stern, which necessitated repairs in Germany.
Upon returning to active service, the ship spent several months training new officer cadets in the Baltic before serving as artillery support to the retreating German Army on the Eastern Front. After the German collapse in May 1945, the ship was surrendered to the British Royal Navy before being transferred to the US Navy as a war prize. After examining the ship in the United States, the US Navy assigned the cruiser to the Operation Crossroads nuclear tests in the Bikini Atoll. After surviving both atomic blasts, Prinz Eugen was towed to Kwajalein Atoll where she ultimately capsized and sank in December 1946. The wreck remains partially visible above the water; one of her screws was salvaged and is on display at the Laboe Naval Memorial in Germany.
At the time construction on Seydlitz was halted, she was approximately 95 percent complete. The unfinished ship remained inactive until March 1942, when the Kriegsmarine decided to pursue aircraft carriers over surface combatants. Seydlitz was among the vessels chosen for conversion into auxiliary aircraft carriers. Renamed Weser, conversion work began on the ship in May 1942. The majority of the superstructure was cut away, with the exception of the funnel, to prepare for the installation of a flight deck and an aircraft hangar. In total, approximately 2,400 t (2,400 long tons; 2,600 short tons) of material from the ship was removed.
As a carrier, the ship was to have had a complement of ten Bf 109 fighters and ten Ju 87 dive-bombers. She would have been armed with an anti-aircraft battery of ten 10.5 cm SK C/33 guns in dual mounts, ten 3.7 cm SK C/30 guns in dual mounts, and twenty-four 2 cm Flak 38 guns in quadruple mounts. Conversion work was halted in June 1943, however, and the incomplete vessel was towed to Königsberg where she was eventually scuttled on 29 January 1945. The ship was seized by the advancing Soviet Army and was briefly considered for cannibalization for spare parts to complete her sistership Lützow, which had been purchased by the Soviet Navy before the war. This plan was also abandoned, and the ship was broken up for scrap.
In October 1939, the Soviet Union requested the purchase of the incomplete Lützow. After a series of negotiations, the Kriegsmarine agreed to the sale in February 1940, at the price of 150 million Reichsmarks. The transfer was completed on 15 April. The vessel was still incomplete when sold to the Soviet Union, with only half of her main battery of eight 20.3 cm (8.0 in) guns installed and much of the superstructure missing. Renamed Petropavlovsk in September 1940, work on the ship was effected by a German-advised Soviet shipyard in Leningrad. Still unfinished when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the ship briefly took part in the defense of Leningrad by providing artillery support to the Soviet defenders. She was sunk by German artillery in September 1941 and raised a year later in September 1942. After repairs were effected, the ship was renamed Tallinn and used in the Soviet counter-offensive that relieved Leningrad in 1944. After the end of the war, the ship was used as a stationary training platform and as a floating barracks before being broken up for scrap sometime between 1953 and 1960.