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Before World War II, Germany created the Deutschland Class of heavily armored cruisers in order to comply with the regulations in the Treaty of Versailles. Three of these cruisers (called pocket-battleships by the British) were built: the Deutschland, the Admiral Graf Spee, and the Admiral Scheer. In 1940, the Admiral Scheer and the Deutschland were reclassified as heavy cruisers, and the Deutschland was renamed to the Lützow.

The Admiral Graf Spee and the Admiral Scheer both had success in their task of disrupting trade and supply to the Allied Powers.

The Admiral Graf Spee was active in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans where it captured or sank 8 different ships between October 5, 1939, and December 7, 1939 (Wikipedia), (Britannica).

The Admiral Scheer was also active in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and became the most successful capital ship commerce raider in World War II (Wikipedia), (Military Factory).

As far as I am aware, the Deutschland had no such feats, despite participating actively until the end of the war. The ship participated in battles (the Battle of Drøbak Sound, the Battle of the Barents Sea), but was damaged in these conflicts (Wikipedia). Was this lack of success the result of its location in the North Sea, or something else?

EDIT: By success, I mean raiding commerce during the war since that seems to be the main purpose of the Deutschland Class. In that case, why was the Deutschland not sent on commerce raiding missions as opposed to larger battles?

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    It seems by your own quotes that the ship was not sent to raid commerce. So... I would imagine it has a hard time holding up in the statistics in regards to that. Can you clarify what you define as "success"? – nvoigt Oct 8 at 5:45
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    The pocket battleships didn't actually comply of course. They were just built in such a way that they looked almost like a good-faith effort to abide by the treaty, so that the British could pretend there was a difference of opinion/mistake, and not feel honor-bound to make an issue of it. – T.E.D. Oct 8 at 16:37
  • @T.E.D.: Careful, there. I know this is an oft-repeated "well-known truth". But the lead ship, Deutschland, exceeded the Versailles limit for standard displacement by a meagre 5%. It was violating the spirit of the treaty (limiting the German navy to coastal defense) in a rainbow variety of ways (including funny games with the gun caliber, and the by-the-letter interpretation of the "standard displacement" rules). But the design was sound, including welded (not riveted) armor as load-bearing element (not applique). (tbc.) – DevSolar Oct 8 at 20:38
  • (ctd.) The weight quickly went up with each following ship, with the Admiral Graf Spee having a whopping 15% more standard displacement than the Deutschland, but it is (IMHO) not a fair statement that the class "of course didn't comply". That's short-changing the engineering feat that was the Deutschland. – DevSolar Oct 8 at 20:41
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    @DevSolar - Right. As I said, it violated it by an amount calculated to be small enough that it wasn't a blazingly obvious violation of the treaty that the British would feel compelled to respond to. They were sticking a toe over the line, rather than dancing over it. – T.E.D. Oct 8 at 20:51
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...why was the Deutschland not sent on commerce raiding missions as opposed to larger battles?

Bad timing, and a bit of bad luck. She wasn't "less effective" by any means (other than being somewhat lighter build than her sister ships), she just did not get a chance at that one good raiding sortie that her sister ships had.


I'll mis-use the quotation markup here -- normal text on Deutschland / Lützow, quoted text on her sister ships and general course of the war.

At the outbreak of the war, Admiral Graf Spee was already in the South Atlantic, where she could immediately engage in commerce raiding -- in summer conditions. Admiral Scheer remained at anchor close to Wilhelmshaven.

The Deutschland had a short first stint as commerce raider in the (stormy, at this time of year) North Atlantic, during which she sank two ships and captured a third. She was then (November 1939) recalled for refit, including a new bow section to increase her seaworthiness. (Both the Deutschland class cruisers and the Scharnhorst class battleships had issues with wet foredecks, in part because they were lying so low in the water, in part because their bow section proved to be inappropriate for the North Atlantic.)

Admiral Scheer went directly from anchorage to refit. Admiral Graf Spee would have required refitting as well, plus an overhaul of her engines. After all, she had sailed to Madagascar and back. But in December 1939 she had already met her fate in the Battle of the River Plate, ending her stint after nine ships sunk (if I count correctly).

In March 1940, the refit of Deutschland (and her renaming to Lützow) was done. But Operation Weserübung was up, and Lützow was ordered to participate in the operation.

Admiral Scheer was at that time still undergoing refits, and would not be able to sail again till July.

During the invasion of Norway, Lützow took heavy damage in the Battle of Drøbak Sound, and had to return to port for repairs. Those took until the end of March 1941. In June, she was to sail to Norway, to eventually return to the Atlantic for raiding.

This was the time when Admiral Scheer was conducting her stint raiding in the Atlantic, sinking 17 merchant ships before returning for an overhaul of her engines.

As bad luck would have it, en route to Norway Lützow was hit by a torpedo bomber rendering her dead in the water, so she had to be towed back to Germany and repaired again. This would put her out of action till May 1942.

By summer 1941, raiding in the Atlantic had basically become impossible. The sinking of the Bismarck had proven how dangerous air superiority at sea was for capital ships. The network of supply ships that had kept the Kriegsmarine units fueled, fed, and armed was no more. Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen sat holed up in Brest under frequent air attacks. (The British joked about the "Brest Bomb Target Flotilla".) This led to the decision to recall the capital ships to better defendable waters (Unternehmen Zerberus, the Channel Dash). They would not return to the Atlantic for the rest of the war. Instead, they were relocated to Norway, to attack shipping there.

None of the German capital ships had significant success in the Norwegian Sea. The situation had changed. Instead of scouring the wide open waters of the Atlantic for lone merchants, the mission now was attacking escorted convois under Royal Navy air cover. The days of the lone raider were over -- not that any surface ship ever got a second stint in the Atlantic -- and so, eventually, German capital ships were either sunk, or retreated to the Baltic Sea.

(Sources: A mere reshuffling of the Wikipedia articles linked in the question, based on what I already knew about their timelines.)

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The Deutschland was sent on a commerce raiding mission at the start of the war. However, she was not allowed to begin raiding until 26th September 1939, because Hitler hoped to make peace with Britain and France after taking Poland.

Deutschland was assigned to the North Atlantic, where the weather in October and November tends to be substantially worse than it is in the South Atlantic at the same time. That was where the Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee had their raiding successes. The Deutschland's biggest success in raiding was tying down the Allied ships searching for her. She returned to port on 17th November and required refitting.

After Admiral Graf Spee was defeated in the Battle of the River Plate on 13th December, the remaining pocket-battleships were never again sent on long-distance solo commerce raids. Since Admiral Graf Spee had been defeated by two light cruisers and one heavy cruiser, rather than the capital ships that were expected to be needed, it was clear that this mission would simply lead to their loss. The fate of the Bismarck emphasised the point.

The Deutschland (renamed Lützow) and Admiral Scheer served out the remainder of their war service in Norway, attempting to attack convoys to Russia. Since those were always escorted by ships with good radar, surprise attacks were not possible.

So Deutschland had one chance at raiding success, but was frustrated by bad weather, in an area and time of year when that was to be expected. After that, raiding in the form expected pre-war wasn't considered practical and wasn't attempted.

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