cruiser Nürnberg: post-WWII service

The most famous German surface warship to survive WWII was the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, studied by the US Navy after WWII and then expended as a nuclear target.

The only large WWII German warship to see active duty in its intended role during the Cold War was the light cruiser Nürnberg, which served on in the Soviet navy.

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(The light cruiser Nürnberg of the WWII German navy.)

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(The Soviet light cruiser Admiral Makarov, the former Nürnberg, during the mid-1950s.)

the ship

Nürnberg was the second of two Leipzig class light cruisers. The two were actually not full sister ships. Nürnberg was slightly longer and larger than Leipzig, and used a new kind of nickel-alloy armor. Additional gunnery control equipment was included aboard Nürnberg. A four-year gap separated the two half-sisters, this being as the Kreigsmarine was studying a new heavy cruiser design and decided to build one more light cruiser in the meantime to keep the fleet buildup going. 

Nürnberg was the last and largest of what the Kriegsmarine called the Spähkreuzer (“reconnaissance cruiser”) concept which had started with the Königsberg class during the Weimar Republic era.

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(American WWII Office Of Naval Intelligence recognition guide for Nürnberg.) (official US Navy drawing)

As commissioned in November 1935, Nürnberg measured 595′ x 53′ x 18’8″ and displaced 9,960 tons. The crew was 25 officers and 648 enlisted sailors. Nürnberg used a COSAD (combined steam and diesel) propulsion lineup, which in the 1930s was still somewhat experimental. The centreline propeller shaft was turned by four MAN M7-30/44 diesels on a common gearbox. The outboard shafts were powered by steam, from six watertube boilers and two Krupp-Germania geared steam turbines. It was desired that the diesels be used alone for general cruising, with a maximum speed of 10 kts. The full 32 kts combat speed was achieved with the whole lineup in unison.

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(The aft main battery of Nürnberg before WWII.)

The main armament was nine SK C/25 150mm (5.9″) guns in three triple turrets. The arrangement was one turret forward and two aft. This gun fired a 100 lbs PzGr. L/3,7 armor-piercing shell (3,150fps muzzle velocity) out to 13 NM. During WWII an AA round was also developed for this gun but it performed poorly.

Nürnberg originally carried a dozen surface-to-surface torpedo tubes, in four banks of three. A catapult for a scouting seaplane was carried.

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(Heinkel He-60 being lifted aboard Nürnberg. One of the torpedo tube banks is also visible.)

The original anti-aircraft armament was eight SK C/30 37mm guns and a few 20mm weapons. The armor, which was distrubuted irregularly around the ship, had a 2″ belt, 1¼” horizontal deck, and 3¾” around the wheelhouse. The three main turrets had 3″ faces and 1¼” elsewhere.

During WWII a 1942 modernization added radar, eliminated the seaplane catapult and the aft two triple torpedo tubes, and greatly increased the AA armament. A second modernization proposed in December 1944 was never done due to Germany’s deteriorating war situation.

the end of WWII

Nürnberg‘s last operation was “Titus” during mid-January 1945, a minelaying sortie out of occupied Norway. The ship moored at Copenhagen in occupied Denmark at the operation’s conclusion. When Nürnberg tied up in Copenhagen, the cruiser’s tanks held only 270t of fuel, all of it being “Ersatzöl” (“substitute oil”), a synthetic fuel as Germany was critically short of petroleum products by then. 

With the sea war already effectively lost and little fuel remaining, Nürnberg had no further role to play and remained pierside at Copenhagen for the remainder of WWII.

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(Nürnberg at Copenhagen at WWII’s end.)

On 5 May 1945 Nürnberg received orders to stand down from Admiral Karl Doenitz, who was running what remained of the Third Reich out of the Mürwik Naval Academy in Germany. WWII in Europe ended on 8 May 1945.

the first postwar days

For two weeks Nürnberg remained in Copenhagen under guard of the Danish military and British troops, who had arrived at the waterfront on 9 May 1945. On 22 May 1945 two Royal Navy cruisers, HMS Dido and HMS Devonshire, arrived at Copenhagen to take custody of Kriegsmarine units there, which included the cruisers Prinz Eugen and Nürnberg.

The Royal Navy decided to consolidate surrendered German surface warships at Wilhelmshaven and on 24 May 1945, Nürnberg set sail for a four-day journey, arriving at Wilhelmshaven on 28 May.

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(Nürnberg escorted by Liberator bombers of the Royal Air Force to Wilhelmshaven.)

disposition of ex-Kriegsmarine ships

At the July 1945 Potsdam Conference the United States, USSR, and Great Britain agreed that the remains of the defeated German navy would be divvied up by a three-way committee called the Tripartite Naval Commission. The USSR’s commissioner was Admiral Gordey I. Levchenko, the UK’s was Vice Admiral Sir Geoffrey Miles, and the USA’s was Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley.

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(Admiral Levchenko had commanded WWII naval forces in Leningrad during the seige. The British and Americans regarded him as a skilled but stubborn negotiator, but one able to calm tense discussions with playful jokes. After the Tripartite Naval Commission, he commanded the Baltic Fleet and later was deputy commander of the whole navy. He retired in 1960 and passed away in 1981.)

The admirals had underneath them a Technical Subcommittee which did most of the “nuts & bolts work” of researching, organizing, and planning for the three-way division. This was not an easy task. There were about 500 warships ranging in size from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen to u-boats to destroyers and minesweepers, down to torpedo craft and smallboats with engines bigger than 450hp. There were at least twice as many, over a thousand, merchant ships which had been requisitioned by the Kriegsmarine since 1939 or other types not classified as “warships” but still subject to the Tripartite Naval Commission’s jurisdiction. Ships were scattered as far east as Yugoslavia, as far west as Canada, and as far north as Norway with the bulk being in German, British, or Polish ports by mid-1945. The Technical Subcommittee’s work began in August 1945 as WWII in the Pacific was ending.

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(Nürnberg amongst surrendered u-boats at Wilhelmshaven in mid-1945, awaiting the outcome of the Tripartite Naval Commission.)

As the Tripartite Naval Commission was acting on behalf of their national governments, naturally the admirals viewed the stakes as high. Negotiations were exhaustive and at times bitter. For example there was disagreement on whether drydocks were “ships” or “port equipment”, how horsepower of engines should be calculated, how much German ammo and spare parts each ship was entitled to, and so on.

As far as the Technical Subcommittee, all three teams worked in good faith and diligently to get the job done as fairly as possible to all concerned. The United States had what was perhaps a secret weapon on the Technical Subcommittee, Capt. Arthur Graubart.

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(Capt. Arthur Graubart in 1946 and later in retirement. He is wearing a Prinz Eugen ship’s ball cap; he was the captain of the war prize cruiser during its one-way journey to Bikini Atoll under the American flag. Graubart passed away in 2003.)

Capt. Graubart, who spoke fluent German, had been the US Navy attache to the Berlin embassy prior to the USA entering WWII in December 1941. He later organized submarine bases in the Pacific and also authored a handbook on the German navy; being recognized as an expert on the Kriegsmarine within the WWII US Navy. After Germany’s May 1945 surrender he was made the leading American officer on the Technical Subcommittee. Perhaps more than any of the others, Graubart knew exactly what did and did not have real value going forward within surrendered German naval ships. His outlook was that the most valuable technology was in the u-boats; as far as the surviving German surface warships by far the biggest prize would be the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. The US Navy had no need for one more cruiser but Prinz Eugen‘s GHG sonar would benefit the US Navy and by the same token, harm it if Prinz Eugen ended up in the USSR. As far as ships like Nürnberg, Graubart felt they held little value one way or the other.

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(All three navies later agreed that Capt. Graubart had been correct; the wealth of future value lay primarily in the surrendered u-boats. The USSR’s B-27 had been U-3515, a Type XXI u-boat during WWII. Awarded to the Soviets, it served in the Baltic as a frontline submarine out of the former u-boat base at Libau (Liepāja after WWII) until 1955, then as the training submarine BSh-28 until 1957, then as the battery charging barge UTS-3 until 1970. The Soviets also captured a trove of technical books from shipyards in Danzig and Stettin during 1945.) (photo via deepstorm.ru website)

The Technical Subcommittee first excluded German riverine ships altogether, and then split surrendered u-boats off from surrendered surface warships. The u-boats were still subject to the Tripartite Naval Commission but handled with a different protocol. The surface warships were divided into three categories.

Category A were fully-operational warships. Nürnberg was a category A ship.

Category B were warships which could be made fully-operational in under 6 months repair time.

Category C ships were sunken wrecks, warships never completed, scuttled warships, or anything requiring more than 6 months to repair.

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(The heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper was severely damaged by the same 3 May 1945 Royal Air Force air raid on Kiel which sank the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer. The sea war was already over by 3 May – indeed, WWII in Europe had less than a week to run – but the British were trying to reduce the number of hulls that might end up in Soviet hands. Admiral Hipper was a category C ship.)

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(The half-sister of Nürnberg, the light cruiser Leipzig, had already been non-operational since accidentally being rammed by Prinz Eugen in October 1944. It was a category C ship, despite a proposal by the Soviets that Leipzig be moved up to category B. After WWII it was falling apart at the seams and after use as a barracks for the German Minesweeping Authority, Leipzig was discarded in December 1946.)

Categories A and B were divided into three groups. Group “X” had Prinz Eugen, one large destroyer and five lesser surface escorts. Group “Y” had Nürnberg, four large destroyers, and six lesser destroyers plus some other types. Group “Z” had thirteen destroyers, eight of them being high-end, plus a few scattered smaller ships. Each country would pick a group by random drawing.

Category C ships were prohibited from further use and were supposed to be scrapped or destroyed by 15 August 1946. The three WWII allies later each ignored this to varying degrees as they saw fit.

As the Technical Subcommittee wound up its work, Capt. Graubart grew increasingly suspicious of the Soviets and made this known to his superiors. This did not go unnoticed by the Soviets and they requested he be replaced, to no avail. Specifically Graubart felt adamantly that the United States should not allow the technology within Prinz Eugen to head east.

There is anecdotal evidence perhaps, that he may have been heeded and if the USSR would have won group “X”, the USA would have simply ignored the outcome and just retained Prinz Eugen.

But this is academic now, as when the drawing was finally held, the USA won “X”, the USSR “Y”, and the UK “Z”. Thus, Prinz Eugen headed to Massachusetts and eventually to Bikini, while Nürnberg was now Soviet property.

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(Nürnberg was a successful addition to the Soviet fleet, but in comparison the Soviets got as much or more value from the Tripartite Naval Commission’s “minor allocations” as the cruiser or German destroyers. The USSR’s T-713 had been the Kriegsmarine’s M-348 during WWII, a M1940 class coastal minesweeper. After WWII T-713 was very active in the Baltic Sea and Gulf Of Finland sweeping leftover WWII sea mines, a role performed until September 1955. Then it was renamed Vint, serving as a naval oceanography ship until August 1964.)

That was the end of the Kreigsmarine and the beginning of Nürnberg‘s service under the hammer & sickle.

to the USSR

On 1 January 1946, the ex-Nürnberg commissioned into the Soviet navy under the new name Admiral Makarov.

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(Admiral Makarov, the ex-Nürnberg, after recommissioning into the Soviet navy. The WWII German FuMo 25 radar was still aboard at this time.)

On 2 January 1946, Admiral Makarov made a last refueling stop at Kiel in the British occupation zone, and then headed east in the Baltic Sea for a three-day voyage to the Soviet Union.

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(Admiral Makarov departing Kiel for the final time in January 1946.)

The cruiser’s first destination was the port of Liepāja in the Latvian SSR. During WWII, under its German name Libau, Liepāja had housed a small u-boat base in addition to one of the Kriegsmarine’s torpedo technical schools, a seaplane ramp, and a naval radio post. The city had never been retaken during WWII. Far cut off from the rest of the Third Reich by early 1945, German forces in Libau fought on to the very end.

The Soviet navy’s Baltic Fleet had major plans for Liepāja which in January 1946 was still a flattened ruin. From 1945 – 1948, it was a conduit for WWII German chemical weapons being transported to the USSR. In 1949 some of the Latvian population was deported and in 1951 it was declared a “closed military city” forbidden to foreigners and requiring special permission to enter even for Soviet citizens.

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(A 1951 memo from Josef Stalin declaring that Liepāja would be a closed city. The rebuilt Libau u-boat facilities were used by the Soviet navy’s 14th Submarine Squadron and a reserve command post was also built. Later bunkers for nuclear weapons were added. Two Luftwaffe hangars which survived WWII were used as warehouses into the 1950s. The WWII Libau harbormaster’s post existed at least to the late 1960s. Soviet sailors stationed at Liepāja called it “the Doenitz Tower”.)

Seeing as it had been a German base during WWII, Liepāja (which is ice-free for most of the year) probably seemed, at least at first, to be a good home for the war prize cruiser.

During the interim between the end of WWII and the handover to the Soviets, a portion of the final German crew remained aboard Nürnberg including the final WWII captain, Capt. Helmut Gessler whom the Soviets made personally turn the cruiser over to them. For the voyage to Liepāja a small German contingent was still aboard Admiral Makarov to assist with any mechanical problems which might arise. The Tripartite Naval Commission had agreed that any German sailors used for this purpose by any of the three allies not be detained afterwards – this being a concern as the USSR was still holding tens of thousands of German POWs – and in this instance, the Soviets honored their word and sent the Germans home.

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(Soviet line drawing of Admiral Makarov in 1946, still unchanged from the final WWII German appearance.)

In Liepāja a Soviet “military technical commission” inspected Admiral Makarov from bow to stern. This team determined that Admiral Makarov was desirable for continued operational use and suitable for combat in the Baltic Sea. The inspectors also said that the cruiser would need an “average repair” (typical upkeep period) mechanically, and a major shipyard overhaul for the combat features; both as soon as possible. The commission recommended that Admiral Makarov was a suitable replacement for the cruiser Kirov in the Soviet 8th Fleet. On 17 October 1945, Kirov had struck a leftover WWII sea mine and nearly sank, and would be out of service for some time leaving the 8th Fleet without a cruiser. Finally this commission suggested that Liepāja was not a suitable homeport for Admiral Makarov.

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(Admiral Makarov with the WWII German FuMo 25 radar set having been removed.)

During the interim between the end of WWII and the 1 January 1946 turnover, Soviet representatives had been given extremely limited access to Nürnberg while it was at Wilhelmshaven. Now with Admiral Makarov in the Soviet Union, a more detailed analysis could be made. There were not many new secrets to uncover. The Soviets had already captured G7a torpedoes during WWII, and nothing about the cruiser’s guns was remarkable. The FuMo 25 radar, a general search set, had a range of 10 NM and was not particularly noteworthy compared to the Type 281 and Type 291 radars which Great Britain had lend-leased to the USSR during WWII. The smaller FuMo 63 Hohentwiel-K radar may or may not have been new to the Soviets in 1946, but was less advanced than FuMo 65 Hohentwiel-U1 sets already obtained on surrendered u-boats.

While Admiral Makarov was still in Liepāja the crew began the long task of translating and changing all the gauges, placards, and displays aboard from German to Russian.

Admiral Makarov shifted homeports to the city of Tallinn in the Estonian SSR, where there was better industrial support available ashore. Here some problems cropped up. The Soviet Navy considered the Leipzig class analogous to their own two WWII Kirov class gun cruisers, and planned to operate Admiral Makarov the same way. However there was a multitude of mechanical and technical differences between the two designs, and it proved impossible to “shoehorn” watchbills and battle bills from the Kirovs into Admiral Makarov.

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(Admiral Makarov with all German WWII radars removed. These may have been impossible to support long-term with no spare parts readily available.) (photo via navsource.narod.ru website)

For example, the two Kirovs had anti-submarine weapons and a primitive NBC filtration system absent on the German-made ship, whereas Admiral Makarov‘s steam-diesel propulsion plant was different than the all-steam system on the Soviet-made cruisers. Overall a whole new set of operating guidelines would need to be made for this one ship.

The 1946 recommendation for a major overhaul was still standing, and in 1949 the TsKB-17 design bureau drew up a detailed plan for a major repair. The WWII German weapons aboard Admiral Makarov were considered of sufficient quality and the USSR still had sufficient ammunition, so it was decided against a major rearmament. Instead all the combat systems aboard would be inspected, cleaned, and refurbished along with the propulsion machinery and hull. New Soviet electronics would be added. Some of the light WWII German AA weaponry and searchlights were deleted.

This repair period lasted from 1951 – 1952 and was done by the #890 State Shipyard in Tallinn.

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(Admiral Makarov in the 1950s after the overhaul. Two small radars were fitted atop the superstructure and Soviet naval radio antennas installed. Pennant numbers in the Soviet navy differed from the US Navy, where hull numbers are “assigned at birth”. In the Soviet system, they changed whenever a ship shifted fleets or homeports, for major exercises, or at an admiral’s discretion. Admiral Makarov wore 47, 36, and 96 at various times.)

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(Admiral Makarov anchored on the Neva river in Leningrad during the mid-1950s. The new electronics were a “Ball Gun” radar, a small navigational set, and a “Ski Pole” IFF system.)

The refurbishment was a success and in 1952 Admiral Makarov rejoined the fleet, still at this time being considered a frontline combatant. The ship was quite active and normally sailed 5,000+ NM annually, mostly in the Baltic and North seas. Admiral Makarov hosted several Soviet admirals during exercises and was also toured by officers of the Polish navy.

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(Admiral Makarov at anchor during the mid-1950s. The ship astern is Vyborg, formerly the WWII Finnish Väinämöinen, which was ceded by Finland as WWII reparations in 1947.)

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(Vyborg, the ex-Väinämöinen, had commissioned into the Finnish navy in 1932. More than a monitor, yet not really a battleship, but not a cruiser either; this pre-WWII style was used by several Scandanavian navies and also by the Thai navy and was commonly called a “coastal defense ship”. It was armed with two twin 10″ gun turrets. After being ceded to the USSR in 1947 and renamed, Vyborg served at Porkkalanniemi, a Finnish peninsula which the Soviet Union was entitled to occupy until 1994. However the occupation of the small peninsula was expensive and in January 1956 Nikita Khrushchev returned it to Finland. Vyborg then became just another oddball of the Baltic Fleet, being stationed alongside Admiral Makarov at Tallinn. Vyborg was downrated to a floating barracks in 1958 and scrapped in 1966.)

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(Admiral Makarov’s stern during the mid-1950s. Of interest is the quad AA gun above the upper aft turret. It is a Vierling FlaK 38, a quad 20mm Mauser weapon normally used ashore by the Wehrmacht. This had been installed as an emergency anti-aircraft addition in 1942. It is somewhat surprising that the USSR did not replace it with a Soviet 23mm gun to standardize ammunition with other ships.)

On 24 December 1955 Admiral Makarov was downrated to a training cruiser for the Baltic Fleet, a role which it had more or less already been unofficially performing since October 1954. The homeport was shifted to Kronstadt. The new role did not diminish the activity of the cruiser and in fact, increased it, with the ship sailing in excess of 6,000 NM annually on officer cadet cruises and gunnery training drills.

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(Admiral Makarov at anchor.)

On 27 March 1956, plans were laid to shift Admiral Makarov from the Baltic Fleet’s training cruiser to the Northern Fleet’s, which would necessitate a shift in homeport to (presumably) either Murmansk or Arkhangelsk.

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(Admiral Makarov at sea.)

But this was not to be. On 21 February 1957 Admiral Makarov suffered a major boiler explosion and fire in the engine room.

The 1957 accident could not have come at a worse time politically. On 29 October 1955, the Black Sea Fleet’s training battleship Novorossiysk – itself a trophy ship, formerly the WWII Italian battleship Giulio Cesare – had sank at anchor in Sevastopol due to an unexplained explosion. The incident was the Soviet navy’s worst peacetime disaster. The 1955 – 1956 inquiry was led by Gen. Vyacheslav Malyshev, who found deficiencies all around but also called upon the Soviet navy to re-examine its need to still operate trophy WWII Italian warships more than a decade after WWII had ended. Now the last thing desired within the Soviet navy was another accident with another WWII trophy ship.

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(The light cruiser Kerch had been the Italian navy’s Emanuele Filiberto Duca d’Aosta during WWII. Disposition of Italian prize ships was handled separately from Germany’s, and was not completed until 1949. Kerch was considered tactically limited and problematic mechanically, nowhere near as beloved in the Black Sea Fleet as Admiral Makarov was in the Baltic Fleet. After the Novorossiysk disaster Kerch was downrated to a training ship and in 1958, renamed OS-32 and used as an experimental hulk. It was scrapped in 1959.)

The damage to Admiral Makarov was not irreparable but in the big picture, it did not make a lot of sense to invest much more into the cruiser. Even discounting the accident, Admiral Makarov would pass the Leipzig class’s designed hull lifespan in 7 more years anyways. Post-WWII Soviet cruiser construction was adequate to the navy’s needs by the late 1950s and a 1930s vintage, foreign-made ship was no longer an urgent thing. Admiral Makarov had given 11 years of good solid service with minimal Soviet investment, and there was a sense that it was time to move on.

On 13 March 1957 Admiral Makarov was downrated to a floating barracks at Kronstadt and most of the crew was reassigned to other ships. During the summer of 1958, Admiral Makarov was earmarked for use as a target ship in an upcoming atomic bomb test at Novaya Zemlya in the arctic. The planned test was scrubbed on 28 August 1958 and for unclear reasons, Admiral Makarov was taken back off the list of available nuclear targets and continued in use as a floating barracks.

On 20 February 1959 Admiral Makarov decommissioned and was put on the scrapping list. During 1960, any usable Soviet gear added during the 1951 – 1952 refit was stripped off by the Kirov Zavod shipyard, as was some of the German armament and some of the superstructure. However the scrapping then paused, with the hulk sitting abandoned. Scrapping resumed in 1967 and that was the end of the cruiser Nürnberg.

Overall Admiral Makarov is remembered fondly within the post-WWII Soviet navy, being a reliable, trouble-free, sturdy, and popular light cruiser of the early Cold War era and yielding the best result of any of the “big” WWII trophy ships. In 1972 the ship’s name was passed on to a Soviet “Kresta-II” guided missile cruiser and then in 2017 to a Russian Federation frigate.


other large German surface units

Nürnberg was the only major German surface warship commissioned as an active Soviet unit after WWII. None the less, several other of the Kriegsmarine’s big ships intersected with the Soviet navy after the war.

Graf Zeppelin

Launched on 8 December 1938, Graf Zeppelin never entered service for a variety of reasons.

Graf Zeppelin was 90% complete when work halted on 30 January 1943. As WWII ended the aircraft carrier was on the Parnitz river two miles from Stettin. When Soviet troops entered the city on 25 April 1945, the flattop’s caretaker crew opened hull valves flooding Graf Zeppelin until it rested in the river mud, and then dynamited the engine room.

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(The incomplete Graf Zeppelin after WWII. The “fencing” on the flight deck held camouflage netting.)

Graf Zeppelin was obviously a category C ship during the Tripartite Naval Commission’s negotiations in 1945. During WWII, the Soviet navy had no aircraft carriers and now the Royal Navy was keen to keep things that way. The British representative Sir Geoffrey Miles pressed Adm. Levchenko to formally guarantee that the carrier would in no way be made operational or put into any sort of Soviet service, and that it would be scrapped or scuttled no later than the summer of 1946.

The USSR was (like both the USA and Great Britain as well) willing to bend or break the Commission’s agreements if certain ships or u-boats justified it. At first, the opportunity to add an aircraft carrier into the Soviet navy was viewed enthusiastically. Graf Zeppelin was secretly given the temporary name PB-101 and designated as a “floating base” as a security cover. In March 1946, PB-101 was successfully dewatered and refloated at Stettin. At the same time, engineers began studying the carrier’s layout.

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(A Soviet sailor stands on the aft part of PB-101’s never-used flight deck. The propellers were being stored on the port side.) (photo via navsource.narod.ru website)

As technical studies and basic clean-up continued during the spring and summer of 1946, the excitement wore off. The Soviets determined what they had was a dinged-up metal husk in the shape of an aircraft carrier. Everything aboard – engines, machinery, elevators, the bridge, weapons, electronics – was destroyed or missing, and if PB-101 were to be made into an operational aircraft carrier, would have to be done from scratch with the added difficulty of using a foreign hull

The last solid intelligence on Graf Zeppelin came during early 1947, when German workers at the Neptunwerft shipyard in the USSR’s occupation zone were sent to Stettin to work on the carrier. An American intelligence report dated April 1947 (declassified in 2001) stated that the carrier had been refloated and towed to the former Kriegsmarine base at Swinemünde (today Swinoujscie, Poland) and was moored alongside the pocket battleship Lützow, with the Soviets intending the German workers make both ships seaworthy for a tow to the USSR. After that, the aircraft carrier’s fate “went dark”.

In the interim between 1947 and the start of the Korean War in 1950, American intelligence periodically chased spurious reports of Graf Zeppelin being finished in a Soviet port along the Baltic Sea.

Later, during the 1970s and 1980s, naval historians put forth theories on the carrier’s fate, the most common being that the USSR had attempted to tow it to Leningrad in 1947 but the hulk had either foundered in a storm off Finland or hit a leftover WWII sea mine.

What happened to Graf Zeppelin was revealed after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. On 19 March 1947, the USSR Council Of Ministers ordered Admiral Yuri Rall to abandon future plans for PB-101 and to obtain any intelligence possible before scuttling the ship. On 14 August 1947, PB-101 was towed to Swinemünde where preparations were made to see how explosions of various sizes affected an aircraft carrier, with an unspoken eye towards US Navy flattops. Leftover WWII 180mm artillery shells were put inside the hulk to simulate air wing ordnance. Various Soviet air force bombs, ranging in size from FAB-100 (220 lbs) bombs up to two FAB-1000 one-ton monsters, were placed aboard. One of the FAB-1000s was detonated on the flight deck, the other near the incomplete island. The smaller bombs simulated dive-bombing hits. PB-101 was then torpedoed by TK-503 (an unreturned WWII lend-lease American PT boat) but still did not sink, and was finally sent to the bottom by the WWII destroyer Slavny on 17 August 1947.

In 2006 a civilian Polish ship located the Graf Zeppelin wreck 34 NM north of Wladyslawowo, confirming the Russian account.

Lützow

Originally named Deutschland, Lützow was the first of Germany’s three pocket battleships. Despite their nickname, these were more of an up-gunned cruiser than a small battleship like the WWII French Dunkerque class. None the less, they were quite startling when they appeared in 1933. They were armed with two triple 11″ gun turrets and intended for long-endurance raiding.

Lützow was one of the unluckiest warships of WWII. After a mediocre late-1939 merchant hunting cruise, Lützow was repeatedly damaged and spent as much of WWII under repair as doing anything else.

In mid-April 1945 Lützow was moored in the Kaiserfahrt, a small channel connecting the Oder river to the Baltic Sea. Lancaster bombers of the RAF’s famous “Dambusters” Squadron were sent to sink the pocket battleship as part of Great Britain’s goal of eliminating remaining big German warships before the end of WWII, and scored one hit with a 12,000 lbs Tallboy plus several near misses.

Lützow sank in the shallow Kaiserfahrt but about 6′ of the hull was still above the waterline. Lützow acted as a stationary artillery battery against Soviet troops advancing on Stettin until all 11″ ammunition was expended. By luck the Kaiserfahrt was bypassed by Soviet forces now concentrating on Berlin and Lützow was abandoned on 4 May 1945, four days before the general surrender.

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(The Lützow wreck after WWII. The final 1945 form of Lützow was quite different than Deutschland in 1939. The armored conning tower had been reduced, radar added, the funnel (smokestack) heightened, additional AA guns added, and the seaplane deleted.)

Lützow was decreed a category C ship in 1945. None the less, the Soviets were open to the idea of using the big ship somehow anyways. On 26 September 1946 it was decided to secretly enroll the ex-Lützow onto the Soviet navy’s rolls, under the cover designation of “mothership barge for small units”.

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(Soviet sailors aboard Lützow after WWII.) (photo via etoretro.ru website)

Besides the diplomatic fallout which would have come from violating the Tripartite Naval Commission’s agreements, Lützow was in an atrocious physical state and full repairs would have been an extensive undertaking. 

Other ideas were toyed with, including extracting the main guns for use elsewhere and repairing the ship enough for use as an inport tender. These were all rejected.

In March 1947, the USSR Council Of Ministers ordered the ex-Lützow to be scuttled. A total of 3½ tons of leftover WWII ordnance was placed aboard, and the ship was towed into the Baltic Sea and sunk on 22 July 1947.

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(One of the largest blasts, 1½ tons of explosives, caused this damage. The forward half of the ship blew up, exposing the internal armored barbette of the “A” turret. A chunk of debris flipped forward onto the bow and another portion came down on the turret’s roof.)

The ship was essentially blown to smithereens and little remains of the wreck in the Baltic.

In 2020, a Polish dredging of the former Kaiserfahrt recovered some pieces of Lützow either blown off by the Tallboy bomb hit or thrown overboard by the Soviets after WWII.

Schleswig-Holstein

This woefully obsolete pre-dreadnought battleship of the first world war is most famous for firing the first shot of the second, when it bombarded Polish defenses at the Westerplatte at 04:47 on 1 September 1939.

The old coal-fired Schleswig-Holstein was unsuitable for contemporary WWII naval combat. After running aground during the 1940 invasion of Denmark, Schleswig-Holstein was made a pierside training unit until February 1944, when Germany’s worsening oil situation again made a coal burning ship attractive.

On 18 Decermber 1944 Schleswig-Holstein was crippled by a RAF bombing raid at Gdynia in occupied Poland and most of the crew was reassigned as ground infantry to help in the defense of East Prussia. As Soviet troops approached the old battleship on 21 March 1945, it was scuttled.

schweisligholstein

(Schleswig-Holstein raised by the Soviets after WWII.)

A category C ship, Schleswig-Holstein was raised by the USSR in late 1945 and towed to Tallinn in 1946. Obviously of no use, the hulk was briefly used as a storage barge then towed to a naval exercise area northeast of Pōōsaspea for use as a permanently anchored gunnery target. Slowly shot away over the years, what remained finally sank around 1970 near the island of Osmussaar which today is in the nation of Estonia. 

Seydlitz

Seydlitz was supposed to be the fourth Admiral Hipper class heavy cruiser. By mid-1940 Seydlitz was 95% complete when work halted. The cruiser was selected for conversion into an aircraft carrier. After much of the progress of the cruiser configuration had been undone, the carrier conversion was halted in June 1943.

Nothing more was done with the ship, now neither a surface combatant nor carrier. On 29 January 1945, the incomplete Seydlitz was scuttled at Königsberg (today Kaliningrad, Russia) where it was found by Soviet troops in April 1945.

During the spring of 1946 the ex-Seydlitz hull was raised by the Emergency Rescue Service unit of the Baltic Fleet. The hull was patched up and towed from Kaliningrad to Leningrad later that year. On 10 March 1947, the hull was taken into inventory by the Soviet navy. There were no plans to complete the cruiser but rather, a desire to see if anything aboard might be transferred to the “original Lützow” (described below) to finally finish that ship.

By mid-April 1947 it was clear that little aboard was salvageable and the hulk was scrapped.

May1947

Above is a May 1947 American intelligence report on ex-Kriegsmarine units under Soviet control. It correctly noted that Seydlitz had been towed to Leningrad, but curiously lists “Weser I” as a separate ship; Weser-G being the WWII German name associated with the aircraft carrier conversion project for Seydlitz.

As a side note, it was not easy to gather intelligence like this in the late 1940s and some of the report is erroneous. The battleship Gneisenau had actually been totally inoperable since February 1942 and had been scuttled as a blockship at Gdynia, Poland in March 1945. It was raised and scrapped by Poland in 1951.

As described earlier Schleswig-Holstein had been at Königsberg not Gdynia, and certainly was not “fully equipped” by the Soviets. Schlesien, another obsolete old First World War pre-dreadnought, had actually been scuttled during the closing days of WWII and was scrapped by East Germany during the 1950s. The misspelled Lützow was already earmarked for destruction by the time this report was written.

the “original” Lützow

This ship was not a war prize and perhaps doesn’t belong here strictly speaking. The “first” Lützow was hull #5 of the Admiral Hipper class. In February 1940 Adolf Hitler sold the 70% complete ship to the Soviet Union, where it was renamed Petropavlovsk. It was planned to complete Petropavlovsk and commission it in late 1941.

When Germany invaded the USSR in June 1941, Petropavlovsk was behind schedule with only the forward lower and aft lower 8″ turrets functional and the engines non-operational. During the siege of Leningrad, the stationary ship provided fire support to the ground fighting. In return it was hit by Wehrmacht artillery and eventually wrecked by a Ju-87 Stuka air raid.

In September 1944 the ship was repaired enough that it was bouyant again and three of the eight 8″ guns could fire. Renamed Tallinn, it provided fire support until the last German ground units were driven out of the gun’s range.

After WWII the Soviet navy wanted to complete the cruiser. Studies were done to adapt the hull to Soviet engines, and (as mentioned earlier) the ideas of using the “new” Lützow‘s main guns and/or components from Seydlitz were explored. None of these concepts was ever done and only incremental repairs were done to Tallinn after WWII.

On 11 March 1953 Tallinn was renamed Dnepr and reclassified as a floating barracks and administrative barge. The WWII German weaponry aboard was removed. The unmistakable German lines of Dnepr were viewed by British sailors during HMS Triumph‘s October 1955 friendship visit to Leningrad, and led to a very brief flurry of NATO interest as to what other ex-German ships might still be hidden behind the Iron Curtain now a decade past WWII.

oldlutzow

(The barracks barge Dnepr, the ex-Lützow, on the Neva river during 1956.) (photo by Jacques Dupàquier)

In December 1956 Dnepr was renamed PKZ-112 to free up the name for a Soviet-made warship. PKZ-112 continued in use as a floating barracks until April 1958 when it decommissioned for scrapping.

 

 

 

7 thoughts on “cruiser Nürnberg: post-WWII service

  1. “On 29 October 1955, the Black Sea Fleet’s training battleship Novorossiysk – itself a trophy ship, formerly the WWII Italian battleship Giulio Cesare – had sank at anchor in Sevastopol due to an unexplained explosion.” Isn’t it mostly accepted that it was a WW2 German mine?

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    • I believe the Soviets came to that conclusion not on the basis of evidence but rather through the supposition that any other theory lacked evidence.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was under the impression that the two Raumboote that became the first ships of the Cypriot Navy and were sunk by the Turkish air force in 1964 originated from those captured by the USSR. This is because the 5 torpedo boats that replaced them, and were sunk in turn in the Turkish invasion of 1974 were acquired from there. After an internet search though today, I am not no sure where Mr Leventis bought the two ships that he donated to his country from. Something like 120 of this type were left after the war and given to various allies.

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    • if I recall, the two Cypriot Raumboote had been allocated to Greece after WWII, then disarmed and had the sweep gear removed; later purchased nu Leventis and rearmed with surplus WWII light guns

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  3. Thank you for actually creating this blog in the first place, ww2 equipment in service years after the war is one of the most fascinating things about the war to me. So thank you for continuing to do these

    Liked by 1 person

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