Re: Commerce Raiders
- From: Louis C <louisc00@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 24 Dec 2010 11:51:15 -0500
Rich Rostrom wrote:
Neither the battleships, nor the battlecruisers (SCHARNHORST and
GNEISENAU) nor the "pocket battleships" were "cost effective" for
At what point do we decide that a given weapons system was cost
effective? Scharnhorst & Gneisenau sank a British carrier and tied up
a lot of resources when they were in Norway or in Brest. When they did
sortie, they wrought considerable havok on British convoys, not just
with direct sinkings (which were comparatively few) as by the fact
that the Admiralty cancelled all new convoys until it was certain that
the Atlantic was safe. That was a huge disruption in British convoy
Then we should add all the effort the British devoted to taking these
ships out. It's not clear to me that the U-boats were more cost-
effective: they certainly cost the Allies more, but then Germany had
invested more in them as well, and in the end they, too, were
It seems to me that keeping the Allies guessing as to which way the
greatest threat lay played in the Germans' favor early in the war.
The pocket battleships were cute, but were not really cost
effective either. They were not strong enough to challenge
the greater number of British ships, nor fast enough to
avoid being caught. This would have been even more true
once aircraft carriers were available for search and attack.
In 1939, there were exactly 5 ships in the Allied navies that could
both catch up with and sink a pocket battleship. Everything else was
faster but less powerful (cruisers) or more powerful but too slow
(battleships). The Allies certainly used a lot of resources to try to
catch the two German pocket battleships early in the war.
The battle of River Plate showed that while a pocket
battleships had the guns to smash British cruisers, they
didn't have the armor to shrug off even light cruiser shells.
And while the 11" guns outranged the British 8" and 6",
long-range gunfire misses a lot. It took a lot of fire to
have a decisive effect; that uses up ammunition, and
the pockets didn't carry a whole lot of 11" shells.
Also, the actual battle was very close to a perfect scenario from the
German point of view: Graf Spee met one of the weaker search groups,
the most powerful ship of which (CA Cumberland) was away at the time
of the battle. So it seems clear that if one of the raiders was
caught, that would be the end of its career. Of course, many raiders
were never caught.
The German heavy surface fleet was built in the expectation
that Germany would have until 1944 to prepare for war. Germany
would then have as many as eight battleships and five battlecruisers -
a fleet posing a serious threat to British control of the North Sea.
I don't think that Germany would have had that many ships by 1944,
given all the troubles that their naval construction was running into.
And even if Germany had got all these ships, by 1944 the British would
have completed the 5 KGVs plus possibly the first couple of Lions if
it had looked like a battleship-building race was on. The French would
have at least 3 modern battleships completed by then, and likely more
if it looked like a battleship-building race was on and they didn't
have to fight a land war at the same time.
I think there is no question that Germany would have been
better off building more submarines, cruisers, and destroyers
instead of the battlecruisers and battleships.
I agree Germany should clearly have set its goals on raiding, as
opposed to Raeder never quite deciding whether he should go for guerre
de course or a conventional, Mahanian, build plan. It's also clear
that the Germans wasted resources on some of their big ships (not
outright cancelling the follow-up ships to the Bismarcks was clearly a
waste). But I'm not sure the battleships didn't pay for themselves,
and I'm definitely not sure what use the Germans could have got out of
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