The Cruel Sea:
German Destroyers, Part Three

In creating a fleet that never existed for Second Great War at Sea: The Cruel Sea, to wage a war that never happened, I tried to follow trends and practices in warship design of the period. One long-standing tradition is the “reply” – when a rival builds a warship, it’s seen as politically important to answer with one of your own. It’s also much easier to pry loose funding in such a situation, citing the new weapons of a potential enemy to justify acquiring more of your own.

The Imperial Japanese Navy commissioned its first “Special Type” destroyers with the Fubuki class in 1928. As completed the boats carried a main armament of six 127mm (5-inch) guns and nine tubes for the 24-inch Type 8 torpedo (later upgraded to carry the Type 93 oxygen-powered torpedo, labelled “Long Lance” after the war by Samuel Eliot Morrison). This was a far more powerful destroyer than any nation had yet constructed, maximized for surface combat. The Japanese intended these boats to help balance American numerical superiority in the expected future naval war against the United States.

Britain’s Royal Navy expected to fight the Japanese in a future war, and the Special Type destroyer made a deep impression. In the mid-1930’s, the British developed the Tribal class destroyer from a design originally intended as a small cruiser. The Tribals carried eight 4.7-inch guns in four twin mountings, four torpedo tubs, high speed and good size (1,800 tons) for a British destroyer.

A Tribal-class destroyer.

In the world of the Second Great War, that British development in turn demanded a reply from Imperial Germany. The Stürmvogel class, its layout based on Nazi Germany’s Type 1945 destroyer, is a large boat (2,200 tons, compared to 2,700 tons for the Type 1945) with eight 127mm guns in four twin gunhouses, two of them forward and two aft, and six torpedo tubes (compared to eight for the Nazi boat). In common with other Imperial German destroyers the Storm Bird carries no reloads for her torpedoes (neither did Nazi German boats, though late-war never-completed designs like the Type 1945 did include them).

Like the other Imperial German destroyers, she has a conventional oil-fired steam power plant driving geared turbines to produce about 34 knots. She shares the clipper bow and long forecastle of the Type 1945, for good sea-keeping and stability (important qualities for good gunnery). Though lighter than the Type 1945 she’s somewhat longer; the Nazi German boat would likely have been top-heavy.

The Storm Bird is a formidable opponent in surface warfare, a suitable counter to the Tribal class or the big new French destroyers. The High Seas Fleet has 27 of the boats on hand in August 1940 (and appearing in The Cruel Sea), with six of them stationed overseas and seven more under construction. They are considered a crucial complement to the High Seas Fleet’s battle line, and usually appear alongside the battleships. Under the War Emergency Program enacted immediately after the declaration of war another 20 boats have been ordered, with a further order considered likely.

Despite the emphasis on gunnery combat in her design, the Storm Bird is fitted for minelaying like all German destroyers and has depth-charge racks and throwers as well as a suite of listening gear for anti-submarine duty. Like other Imperial German (and most Nazi German) destroyers she lacks a dual-purpose main gun and has only an array of lighter weapons to protect her from air attack. They are the first Imperial German destroyers to be fitted with surface-search radar while still under construction.

During the Second World War in our reality, similar destroyers lost one or more of their gunhouses to allow more anti-aircraft weapons to be fitted. In the world of the Second Great War aircraft are far less capable; enemy surface ships and submarines are far greater dangers. That makes the Storm Bird a well-balanced design for her world, though she would not be considered one in ours. She lacks the ability to elevate and track targets with her main battery, the fire control to help aim and coordinate high-angle fire, and air-search radar to warn of approaching aircraft.

In another foreign development, the French Marine Nationale laid down a class of very large destroyers in 1934, displacing 3,000 tons with an armament of eight 130mm (5.4-inch) guns and ten torpedo tubes, and a top speed of 39 knots. The Italians in turn laid down the slightly larger but even faster Capitani Romani class cruisers.

Imperial Germany’s response is the Blitz class, officially classed as a destroyer but often referred to as a “scout cruiser.” The design is loosely based on the Nazi German 1938 Spähkreuzer design, a 4,500-ton large destroyer with a mixed turbine-Diesel power plant (each plant driving two of her four screws) and carrying six 150mm guns in three twin gunhouses. She appears in our Plan Z expansion set as Sp1, having received many senseless additions to her original design (armor, a seaplane, enlarged torpedo and anti-aircraft batteries) demanded by the German naval command.

Blitz has a modified layout derived from the proposed Nazi German Type 1938 large destroyer, with one 150mm gunhouse forward, one aft and the third mounted amidships rather than aft. That reduces her torpedo battery to a more reasonable four tubes, and clears the after deck for a helicopter pad in keeping with her role escorting heavier ships deep into the Atlantic. Like the initial enlarged-destroyer Nazi proposal she has no armor. Unlike the Nazi cruiser, she has steam-powered geared turbines similar to the Storm Bird, and can make 36 knots (about the same as the original Nazi design, though less than the monstrously enlarged version).

In the fleet actions of The Cruel Sea (and also the eventual sequel, The King’s Ships), Blitz is a hybrid, too valuable to risk on traditional destroyer missions like anti-submarine work or convoy escort, yet lacking the staying power of a true light cruiser to undertake a cruiser’s tasks. She’s an expensive ship, and the High Seas Fleet has declined to order any additional units in the War Emergency Program, preferring more of the very successful Storm Birds.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold fears ocean waves.