What is The Pocket Battleship? German Heavy Cruiser

What is The Pocket Battleship?

The Germans glassed them as small battleships. In most other navies they would be called heavy cruisers.

As the heavy cruiser was the third-largest type of warship they were big but not as big as battleships,

Ranks were.

1 aircraft carrier.

2 Battleship.

3 heavy cruiser. (Pocket battleship in German)

The German “pocket battleships” were the Deutschland (renamed Lützow), the Graf Spee, and the Scheer.

They were originally designated “armored ships” by the Germans—a rather vague term—and then classed as cruisers.

They were called pocket battleships by the British because although about the size of large cruisers—nominally around 10,000 tons—they mounted six 11”/28 cm guns in two triple turrets.

What is The Pocket Battleship? Light Cruiser

So, friends, They were intended as commerce raiders and were supposedly able to outrun any larger ships that might sink them and out gunships—real cruisers with 8” or 6” guns—that they couldn’t outrun.

They were not a very good design and referring to them as pocket battleships were nonsense.

They got that name because they managed to get heavy armament on ships that supposedly met the limitations of the Versailles Treaty, but they were armored like heavy cruisers.

In addition, their engines produced so much vibration that it compromised their fire-control optics and the range advantage their guns should have provided.

The did have search radar but no fire-fire control radar.

By way of comparison, the USS North Carolina and Washington, American battleships designed at the end of the Washington Treaty era, were 35,000 tons and were finished with main batteries of nine 16” guns in three turrets.

Their armor was designed to be effective against 14” guns.

Their British counterparts, the King George V class, carried ten 14” guns and somewhat heavier armor.

A “pocket battleship” would lose a fight with a ship from either class.

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The Graf Spee was scuttled after an engagement with three British cruisers off the River Platt in Argentina.

On paper, the Graf Spee should have won or been able to escape, but although she damaged the British ships.

One of them severely, they did enough damage, in turn, to force her into Montevideo Harbor, where she could remain for 72 hours under international law.

Although the British could not get additional ships there in time, they issued reports that indicated an overwhelming force was waiting outside the harbor.

The Graf Spee’s captain chose to scuttle the ship and save his crew rather than get them killed in a hopeless battle.

He committed suicide three days later.

Why is a pocket battleship named as a pocket when it was so large?

With the caveat that this is just my understanding from what I’ve read:

The Deutschland class was intended as armored ships that could fit into the Versailles treaty.

Germany was limited to ships of 10,000 tons. When Germany wanted to replace some older pre-dreadnoughts they build the Deutschland class.

This class was essentially a large, heavily armed armored cruiser.

Officially within treaty limits (though they skirted that a bit) they sported 11″ guns, but only a 3.1″ belt.

With Diesel engines, they had great range but kind of mediocre speed.

The design was kind of an odd duck, and one that, to me, looks like it was intended primarily for commerce raiding.

They weren’t fast at all for a cruiser, but they had largish guns.

They were almost like a battlecruiser, but with ‘fast battleship’ speed for the day.

I think that is why the British called them ‘pocket’ battleships.

The Germans themselves just called them armored ships.

As to their size, compare them to the Northampton class, a more traditional cruiser limited by the Washington naval treaty to 10,000 tons.

The Northampton came in at about 9000 tons, sported a slightly thicker armor belt, and 9 8″ guns vs 6 11″ on the Deutschlands.

The big difference was in speed. The German cruisers could hit 26kts. The Northampton could hit 32 KTS.

When you compare both to a South Dakota that was designed to 35K tons and could loadout to 44K tons, neither one looks really big.

German Heavy Cruiser in Light

pocket battleships
pocket battleships

This battleship / Admiral Graf Spee was a Deutschland-class “Panzerschiff”, nicknamed a “pocket battleship” by the British.

This ship served with the Kriegsmarine of Nazi Germany during World War II.

The two sister-ships of her class, Deutschland and Admiral Scheer, were reclassified as heavy cruisers in 1940.

Note that her sisters were reclassified as Heavy Cruisers, but why?

According to all international naval treaties, no cruiser could mount guns bigger than 8 inches.

While the 11-inch guns of the Graf Spee, officially designated it as a battleship, despite is 10,000-ton weight, compared to full battleships that weighed in at 30–42,000 tons in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and up to 62,000 tons in the Pacific.

More than a match for any cruiser, but pathetically unable to hold its own against any real battleship.

The British gave it this rather appropriate nickname with the term pocket denoting small in comparison to all other battleships.

It was actually considerably smaller than battleships.

They were the creation of the Germans to fit battleship sized guns onto a heavy cruiser hull to allegedly stay within the Versailles treaty limiting Germany’s navy, based on sizes defined in the Washington Treaty limits on Battleship and cruiser count and sizes, but actually violated those limits.

Cruisers were limited to 10,000 tons, the pocket battleships came in around 13,000 tons (while illegally declared at 10,000 to be counted as cruisers) and battleships were around 35,000 tons. Incidentally, The Bismarck also violated battleship limits, built to 45,000 tons.

The term was coined by the British press sort of mocking their size and ambitions.

In practical terms, they were suited as commerce raiders…

Can easily destroy merchant ships with a couple of shots, can fight off destroyers and cruisers by outgunning them and outrun a superior battleship.

What is The Pocket Battleship? Light Cruiser

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What is The Pocket Battleship? Light Cruiser

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