Admiral Graf Spee

Admiral  Graf Spee

The construction of the third Panzerschiff was planned for 1929, but it was actually started three years later. That decision was partially influenced by the fear of the Western powers reaction, mainly that of Germany’s closest neighbour – France.

The 1931 contract for construction of the first of two Dunkerque class “battle cruisers” armed with 330 mm guns questioned the sense of ordering another Deutschland class units. In the meantime German designers quickly prepared some new designs of the Panzerschiff C, considering even the reduction in number of the main battery guns and their calibre to 210 mm. That in comparison to new French warships that were being built turned out to be hard to accept.


Another design included the concept of arming the ship with 240 mm main battery guns in three triple turrets. However, time was the most significant problem - the Germans simply had next to none. If the armament change to 240 mm guns had been accepted along with 30 knots speed requirement, the same armour protection and 10 000 tons displacement limit, designing of a new warship would have taken too much time. When the idea of the Panzerschiff was being born, the political situation in Germany and in the world was changing, which affected both their design and construction, especially the last unit in the class – Panzerschiff C. After the second unit of the class, Panzerschiff B (Ersatz Lotharingen) was laid down, the future of the German capital ships construction programme was unclear due to proposed changes in the already prepared designs. In 1932 Admiral Reader suggested to increase the displacement of the Panzerschiff C to 15 000/18 000 tons and arm her with nine 280 mm guns in three triple turrets. The second option proposed by the admiral was a warship armed with eight 203 mm guns in four twin turrets. Finally, as Germany had no official means to bypass the Treaty of Versailles, the ship was ordered with the previous design specifications. Therefore, third unit of the class, the so-called Panzerschiff C (Ersatz Braunschweig), was ordered from the Marinenwerft shipyard in Wilhelmshaven (construction number 124) on August 23, 1932. The keel was laid on October 1, 1932 on the Slipway 2. The construction was supervised by director Lottman with constructor Dykmann acting as his assistant.

Superstructures seen from port side. [Visualization 3D: Stefan Dramiński]

The Deutschland class construction programme had so far been unofficially and systematically altered under influence of changes in political situation, both in Germany and in the world. These contributed to construction of three different warships. Formally all there units had the same characteristics but these figures, especially displacement, were the same only on paper. It was not a real secret, as a close look at their appearance and dimensions revealed the truth that the real characteristics did not correspond to those in the official documents. However, such comparison was only possible after all three units had been commissioned. It took place in 1936 when Hitler was powerful enough as not to bother with such “details”, as abiding previously signed treaties.
As far as differences among the units were concerned, the most noticeable was that in the construction of the control tower (“Kommandoturm” in German). The first version installed on the Deutschland was cylindrical and turned out to be too small, if the warship had to act as a flagship. The next unit, Admiral Scheer, had a larger and more functional control tower. However, after first trials it was observed that in strong headwinds it acted as a sail, reducing the ship’s speed by approximately 1 to 2 knots. A decision was quickly made to rebuild it into a more cylindrical one, similar to that on the Deutschland. The Admiral Graf Spee, as the last to be commissioned, incorporated more internal changes then her predecessors. These, however, were soon found to be insufficient. It is worthy of mention that her control tower was also supposed to be rebuilt, but the outbreak of the war and the scuttling of the ship in 1939 made that impossible.


The hull of unit C – Ersatz Braunschweig was launched on June 30, 1934. Admiral von Spee’s daughter Huberta von Spee named her Admiral Graf Spee. Commander-in-Chief of the Reichsmarine Admiral Reader and numerous distinguished guests attended the launch ceremony. The living crew members of the armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau as well as those of the light cruisers Leipzig and Nürnberg, which were all sunk in 1914 while being a part of Vice Admiral von Spee’s squadron, were also invited. Following the launching ceremony, the hull was towed to the B5 fitting berth, where the construction work continued for another year. The construction took three years and three months and cost about 82 million Reichsmark. General characteristics of the Admiral Graf Spee are presented in table no. 1.

Graf Spee 4