Q #114: Did Germany have any aircraft carriers in World War II?

photo credit: cs.finescale.com

I was listening to the great Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, episode 2 of “Supernova in the East” about Japan’s militarization and road to World War II. In one segment , Dan mentions the IJN’s ingenuity and the amazing insight leaders had knowing that aircraft carriers were going to be THE ships that would most impact a future war.

And then there was something about Germany not being so on the ball regarding aircraft carriers, and even the great British navy didn’t have many. Ark Royal is probably the most famous (or at least most mentioned or traveled, dunno if I’ve even heard of any others in films or documents).

Beyond the submarine fleet, and the surface fleet of battleships and cruisers… did the Germans ever really develop aircraft carriers? I don’t think I’ve heard of a single one if they did before I started looking… maybe they didn’t do much or were never released for combat.

I remember after Bismarck sank the documents and interviews about the war inferred that Hitler was too damned nervous about having these big expensive ships out there just to sink commerce like the U-boats were doing (which is why the Tirpitz didn’t blow up much more than a weather station while hiding in fjords, though it had a heavy intimidation factor that hampered convoy routes to the S.U.).

Apparently, a quick search revealed that there WAS one aircraft carrier, eventually named the Graf Zeppelin. Not something converted and pressed into service that was supposed to be something else, but a true aircraft carrier. However, it never was finished, though they’d worked on it for over a decade.

It seems the changing of the guard stopped construction of it for good. When Admiral Donitz was tossed aside, the leader of the U-Boat fleet, Raeder, took over and spent the money on better U-Boat design. Considering the nature of the North Sea and Germany-proper’s access to it, I think that was a smart move. I can only wonder what could’ve happened had the Graf Zeppelin actually seen action in World War II.

And it also makes me wonder what the Italians were trying to do with their navy. Wonder if I can find a good podcast about the Italian navy at the time. Hmm…


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