German Kriegsmarine

German Kriegsmarine (Navy) at the beginning of the Second World War in September 1939.
Ship classes and warships, organization.

Pocket-battleship 'Admiral Graf Spee'
Pocket-battleship ‘Admiral Graf Spee’ prewar in port.

t_arrow2 Here to Part I: Fleets 1939

The Treaty of Versailles strictly limited the size of the German Navy and forbade the design or construction of submarines, aircraft carriers, naval aircraft or heavy coastal artillery. The displacement of new vessels was limited to 10,000 tons.

Hitler chose to ignore the restrictive terms of the treaty, but was also anxious to remain on good terms with England. On 18 June 1935 the Anglo-German Naval Treaty was signed and while this limited the strength of the German Navy to 35 per cent of that of the Royal Navy, it permitted Germany to have submarines and all other types of ships forbidden her under the Treaty of Versailles. An ambitious program of ship-building (the ‘Z’ plan) was set under way in 1937, and by September 1939 the Germany Navy comprised:


Ship classNumbersShipsUnder Construction
Battleships22 Scharnhorst (battlecruisers)11 (only 2 Bismarck finish)
Old Battleships22 Schlesien (Pre-Dreadnoughts)-
Pocket Battleships3 1 Deutschland, 2 Admiral Scheer -
Aircraft Carriers- 2 (Graf Zeppelin, none finish)
Heavy Cruisers22 Admiral Hipper3 (only 1 finish)
Light Cruisers6 1 Emden, 3 Königsberg, 1 Leipzig, 1 Nürnberg6 (none finish)
Destroyers22 16 Leberecht Maass, 6 von Roeder12
Torpedo Boats20 6 Möwe, 6 Wolf, 8 T113
Submarines62 6 Type IIA, 18 Type IIB, 2 Type IA, 10 Type VIIA, 8 Type IXA, 11 Type VIIB, 7 Type VIIC50

German merchant fleet: 400 ocean-going merchant ships (more than 3/4 overseas at the time of the outbreak of WW2).


The German Kriegsmarine had been split up into 3 elementary arms under the control of a leader (Fuehrer) or flag-officer. The capital ships came under the straight order of the Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine (OKM) and then followed by group commands (Gruppenkommandos).
The flotillas of patrol boat, coastal defense ships, minesweepers, and auxiliaries of all kinds and dimensions came under the naval security department. The last arm, which was to result in the most effective danger to the Allies on the ocean, was the U-boat command.

Type II U-boats
Type II U-boats from a training flotilla.

Conscripts and volunteers undergone their elementary training in regiments (Schiffs­tammregimenter), while petty officers (Unteroffiziere) been given their training in NCO battalions (Marineunteroffizierlehr­abteilungen). A group of qualified personnel was kept in reserve units for mission whenever necessary.
The German and occupied foreign coastlines had been protected by coastal artillery and anti-aircraft artillery battalions. There were no marine corps as such and combat troops for com­bined operations or assignments on land were pulled either from the ship’s crew, or from the exercising as well as reserve units.
By May 1941 the strength of the Kriegsmarine had reached 404,000 men in all ranks.

In contrast to many of the other important navies, the Kriegsmarine was lacking its own planes. A Luftwaffe officer had been sent to OKM and was in charge of giving the Navy with its demands in the air. The Fuehrer der Marineluft­streitkrafte was Major-General Geissler and either his planes as well as crews had been care­fully picked for the extraordinary duties they had to undertake.

WW2 started with both outstanding results and serious setbacks. U-boats achieved their initial significant triumphs by sinking the British aircraft carrier Courageous and battleship Royal Oak, and magnetic mines introduced the British with an unpleasant if exclusively short-term surprise.
Naval units enjoyed a significant part in the conquest of the Polish coastal citadel at Westerplatte close to Danzig; German vessels smartly carried German troops to Norway during Operation Weser Crossing and U-boats threatened Britain’s ocean-going life-lines.
However, in the process, the Kriegsmarine lost 3 beneficial heavy cruisers as well as 10 destroyers. The crucial struggles of the sea war were nevertheless up ahead.

German minesweeper in ice seas
German minesweeper in ice seas off Norway in the winter of 1940-41 (photo of the grandfather of the author).

t_arrow2 here to Part I: Fleets 1939

References and literature

The Armed Forces of World War II (Andrew Mollo)
Flotten des 2. Weltkrieges (Antony Preston)

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