Let's go back to the year von Witzleben's government finally got a firm grip of the situation in Germany. And yes, as our friend from Poland Rhade put it in his post, Germany saw then itself (1936 and in the AU described here) as sort of guarantee to small nations mainly bordering with the USSR. That is the main reason for Germany signing the different "trade agreements" with the described neighbouring countries, to establish a firm grip in Central Europe based on the premise of openly friendly relations with Great Britain and having the longer term strategy of cooperation with these nations. Von Witzleben had in his cabinet an important German politician who quickly surrounded himself with several young politicians mainly in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and in the Ministry for Trade and Commerce who were enthusiastic defendants of pan-european relations and with whom he participated in all the important meetings with the countries bilateral agreements were to be signed. His name? Konrad Adenauer.
Going back somewhat: What was the naval reality the new government faced in 1936? What was Germany's KM then and what was being laid down, following still Hitler's initial expansion plans?
Bismarck class (42,000 tons, 8 × 380 mm guns)
Bismarck, laid down 1936, commissioned 1939, completed Februari 1941 (due to delay in construction as ordered by the government).
Tirpitz, laid down 1936, commissioned 1941, completed 1943 (due to delay in construction as ordered by the government).
Scharnhorst class (32,000 tons, 9 × 280 mm guns)
Scharnhorst, laid down 1934, commissioned 1936, completed January 1939.
Gneisenau, laid down 1934, commissioned 1936, completed May 1938.
Deutschland class (15,000 tons, 4 × 280mm guns)
Schleswig-Holstein, 1906. Modernized between 1936 and 1937 and again in 1941 to be transformed into an Escort Aircraft Carrier
Schlesien, 1906. Modernized between 1936 and 1937 and again in 1941 to be transformed into an Escort Aircraft Carrier
von Zeppelin class (33.500 tons, up to 48 airplanes carried)
von Zeppelin, laid down 1936, commissioned 1938, completed May 1939, operational as of September 1939, back to the yard for detailed works December 1939 until March 1940.
Admiral Hipper class (14,000 tons, 8 × 203 mm guns)
Admiral Hipper, laid down 1935, commissioned 1937, completed 1939
Blücher, laid down 1937, commissioned 1938, completed 1940
Seydlitz, laid down 1936, not commisioned, cancelled
Prinz Eugen, laid down 1936, commissioned 1938, completed 1940
Deutschland class (12,000 tons, 6 × 280 mm guns)
Deutschland (renamed Lützow), laid down, 1929, commissioned 1931, completed 1933, modernized 1939 and again 1943
Admiral Scheer, laid down 1931, commissioned 1933, completed 1934, modernized 1939 and again 1943
Admiral Graf Spee, laid down 1932, commissioned 1934, modernized 1939 and again 1941.
Let's stop here to work on the ships already listed. Then we will go down for the lighter units (and the aircraft carriers build in the meantime). We can see that until the end of 1939 Germany had the following heavy combat ships in service:
- Scharnhorst and Gneisenau battleships
- Schleswig-Holstein and Schlesien auxiliary battleships
- von Zeppelin aircraft carrier
- Admiral Hipper, Blücher and Prinz Eugen as heavy cruisers
- Lützow, Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee as auxiliary cruisers (although deeply modernized in 1939)
All these ships were in general terms within the Versailles treaty and their construction helped many German workers to regain a steady job, especially in the very hard times following the worldwide Great Depression. But their construction helped also the German naval industry to modernize their views and detailed knowledge. Prime-Minister von Witzleben had mixed feelings towards the Kriegsmarine (DKM), since it was in reality not necessary for Germany in those hard times of the 30s to have too big a Navy, on the other hand if Germany wanted to act as a "subtle wall" towards the increasingly stronger URSS and act as "guardian" of Middle and Northern Europe, an adequate presence on the right spots in naval termos was of the utmost importance (Eastern Baltic sea and the Black Sea). Should the Soviet Union get too strong, some nation in Middle Europe had to have the means to at least stop them, and this military aim had to involve also the DKM up to a certain point. This mid term strategy was also the subject of many talks the German government had with the UK in the first place, but also with all the other nations with which the cooperation treaties were signed with. And Stalin's services got word of these talks, obviously. One reason more for Stalin to look very skeptical at Germany and at all the central and northern European nations (except France).
One important side aspect of all this talk about Germany's strategic thoughts relates to its more than vital dependance on oil from Romania and its vast Ploesti reffineries. Although most of the supplies to Germany were done through the Danube river, Ploesti was easily in range for Soviet midsized ships carrying troops and artillery, should an attempt for an invasion occur. And for Romania Germany was its main client, this meaning that more than a "trade agrement" was undersigned between the two countries... Romania's authorities began works on its port of Varna, following secretly German plans, to allow the DKM to deploy there a specific fleet to secure the shores of the western Black Sea (and maybe more than that...).
Back to the strategic thoughts of the German regime: von Witzleben knew very well that the Russian ports of Murmansk in the far north, Odessa and Sevastopol both in the Black Sea, were of vital importance for Moscow, so he always kept an eye on the naval strategies to be outlined for Germany, regarding the usefulness of the DKM. And that he had to be very cautious about and on two aspects: Try to avoid Moscow of getting too much knowledge about the German real intentions, and on the other hand the public opinion in Germany, which had endured very tough times after the end of WWI and many still saw the now defunct Hitler as "the savior of the nation"... Only the fact that the imprisoned and then liberated nationals of jewish origin spread widely the news of the crimes Hitler's regime was already committing by 1935, when the "putsch" occured, got the new German government a fistful of real arguments to counter those "lunatic dreamers". The shock waves these facts caused worldwide helped obviously von Witzleben and his "New Order" regime.
Last edited by Cargil48 on August 30th, 2020, 2:35 pm, edited 5 times in total.