In the German Navy (both the Kaiserliche Marine and Kriegsmarine), the two ship names of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were used together for sister ships; for example the SMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were sister armoured cruisers in WWI and the Germans also planned the names Ersatz Sharnhorst and Gneisenau for two never-built battlecruisers. The names also reappeared together in the Scharnhorst-class battleships of the Kriegsmarine in WWII. Why did the Germans keep on pairing these two ship names together?

Note: I do know that the namesake for these two ships were Prussian generals in the Napoleonic Wars, but why were the names used together on sister ships instead of other names of generals of the same era like Blücher?

  • 3
    Note: Ersatz Sharnhorst and Gneisenau in WWI means that the ship is the replacement(ersatz) of old Sharnhorst and Gneisenau, it does not mean that the ship would have same name.
    – Him
    Mar 13, 2016 at 17:01
  • @Him I know, but I just wanted to point out the fact that the two names went together. Mar 13, 2016 at 17:33
  • All armoured German cruiser and battlecruiser in WWI were named by commander except Fürst Bismarck
    – Him
    Mar 13, 2016 at 18:51
  • Keep in mind that Germany didn't have much of a naval tradition, so they didn't have many admirals to use for names. Most Bismarck-class corvettes were named for marshals, and so was the armored cruiser Scharnhorst.
    – o.m.
    Mar 13, 2016 at 18:56
  • 3
    Your sample size seems a bit small to make statistically significant conclusions </grin>
    – MCW
    Mar 13, 2016 at 22:43

2 Answers 2


Generals Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were co-founders of the German General Staff, having been appointed by King Frederick William III after Prussia's defeat by Napoleon in 1806. They reformed the Prussian army from a small, elite, professional army, to a semi-professional "mass" army that served the country better in later fighting against Napoleon, against Napoleon III in 1871, and in World War I.

Blücher is not mentioned in the "same breath" as them, even in the Navy, because he was a field commander. The Staff Officers were supposed to be adjuncts to, but ultimately checks on, field commanders like Blücher (Gneisenau served this function for him). In this regard, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were viewed as"sibling" military "pioneers," and some of the country's newest, most modern "sister" ships were given their names at various times in history.


The two generals Scharnhorst and Gneisenau reformed the Prussian army at the beginning of the 19th century. The two are considered the fathers of this reform.

  • 2
    This does not really answer why their namesake ships are always named together. Mar 13, 2016 at 20:20
  • 4
    I think it really does.
    – Anaryl
    Mar 14, 2016 at 1:13
  • Kinda weird to name naval vessels after generals. Perhaps it says something about the German navy of the time.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 14, 2016 at 14:39
  • Prior to the navy of the German Empire, there was really only a land army who had fought major battles.
    – jjack
    Mar 14, 2016 at 20:51
  • @jjack Indeed, the first chief of the German navy, von Stosch, was a land general. May 9, 2016 at 0:05

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