Soviet Capital Ships
By 1939, Germany had recovered much of the industrial production capacity lost by the outcome of the First World War and the Great Depression. Even so, the Reich did not have the capacity to arm all of its forces and the ground forces depended heavily on captured stocks of French and Soviet horses, vehicles and weapons.
The Navy also put captured warships into service, though none larger than a destroyer actually saw action under the twisted cross. Plans to complete ships seized on the stocks or refurbish those scuttled by their owners never came to fruition; the Germans proved unable to keep up with repairs on the ships they already had.
That’s not the case in Plan Z: Stolen Fleets, an expansion for Second World War at Sea: Plan Z that adds the major warships Germany might have seized and incorporated into her fleet, given a great deal of luck and success. Let’s look at the formerly Soviet ships included in the set.
The Super Battleship
The biggest of the stolen ships is the former Soviet battleship Sovetsky Soyuz, re-christened Moonsund for the 1917 German victory over the Russian Baltic Fleet at the Battle of Moon Sound. Had she been completed Sovetsky Soyuz would have been an enormous ship, displacing 59,000 tons, even larger than the gigantic H-class battleships projected for the Kriegsmarine as part of Plan Z. She would have carried nine 16-inch guns, and made a speed of 28 knots.
The Soviets claimed to have laid down the big ship at Leningrad’s Ordzhonikidze Shipyard in July 1938, but real work may not have begun until January 1939. When the Germans made their sneak attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, she was about 21 percent complete. By that point a dozen 16-inch guns had been manufactured at Bolshevik Plant No. 232 (the former Obukhov Works, that made the heavy guns of the Tsar’s navy), one of which had been proof-fired. The four ships laid down would have required two dozen more barrels, plus spares.
The Soviets ordered a set of turbines for the ships from Brown-Boveri of Switzerland, plus a license to build more of them at the Khakov Locomotive Works. None of the machinery had been delivered at the time of the German attack.
In our Plan Z timeline, the German invasion of the Soviet Union begins over a year earlier, with Leningrad falling to the Axis in September 1941. Work would surely have stopped at the outset of war, as it did in our own history, leaving little to be captured beyond a few thousand tons of steel. To bring the battleship into our alternative history, she needs to be worth completing - with machinery installed and armament at least complete and available, if not already fitted.
Even in our own history, Sovetsky Soyuz was rushed to appease the desires of Great Stalin for gigantic battleships. For her to be already launched in the spring of 1940, she would have had to have been laid down in 1937 at the latest, more likely in 1936. The design requirements were only formalized in that year, and modified significantly afterwards.
Sovetzky Soyuz was approved under the Third Five Year Plan, one of the first military projects authorized. The Second Five-Year Plan, which began in 1933, concerned itself mostly with forced industrialization - including the construction of the shipyards that would build the massive battleships of the Third Plan. The Ordzhonikidze yard, then known as Baltic Works, had built dreadnoughts for the Tsar and would not have been starting from scratch like so many Soviet industrial enterprises. With some additional priority, the oversized slipway might have been made ready by 1936.
The incomplete ship likely would have been towed to a German yard to complete her fitting out, and in our story is made ready for action in the second year of the naval war with the British. With a top speed of 28 knots she’s just a hair slower than the fast battleships, but her thick armor and heavy guns make her a suitable addition to the battle fleet even if she is an “odd number.”
The Soviet Scharnhorst
Leningrad’s Marti yard, the former Admiralty Works, was to build the battle cruiser Kronshtadt, initially a “cruiser killer” design that like other Soviet projects grew steadily over time to become a 40,000 fast battleship armed with six German-made 15-inch guns. At the time she was laid down in late November 1939 the design still called for nine 12-inch guns in three triple turrets, and that’s what we’ve assumed has been built in our story line.
Kronshtadt would have been powered by the same Brown-Boveri turbines chosen for Sovietsky Soyuz, built under license in Kharkov. None of these had been completed at the time of the German invasion, nor had any of the 12-inch guns; apparently design work on the guns wasn’t even finished. The rest of the ship was about 10 percent complete when work halted in June 1941, and she remained far from launching.
Kronshtadt, like Sovetsky Soyuz, had been authorized under the Third Five Year Plan but her construction was delayed by Great Stalin’s meddling; the Helmsman of the Soviet Peoples declared the ships to be his favorites and he insisted on overseeing every aspect of their design and construction. Had they been laid down in December 1937 as initially intended they could have been afloat by the time our story has the Germans attacking the Soviet Union, in March 1940.
Like the battleships, that also posits a much faster result from the Bolshevik Plant manufacturing their heavy guns; Germany did not have a 12-inch gun in production. As with the Italian-designed 16-inch guns of Sovetsky Soyuz, ammunition would have to be manufactured in small lots for just one ship, which would have been terribly inefficient but then few things in Nazi Germany’s feudal military-industrial system could be called efficient.
Kronshtadt, now re-christened Tannenberg in German service, would also have been towed to a German yard for completion, and become available sometime in 1944. She’s a very fast ship, but not well-built and suffers from carrying about a gigantic, inefficient power plant and relatively light armament for her size. She’s also an odd number, requiring a totally different supply stream for her main armament ammunition though at least she shares engine components with Moonsund/Sovetsky Soyuz.
Despite those difficulties, adding formerly Soviet capital ships to the German Navy also carries propaganda value, to emphasize the extent of German victories. That also feeds the supreme leader’s ego, always a prime concern in the primitive struggle for resources between the Nazi barons.
Those reasons would not have been sufficient to justify the ships’ completion were they not already well-advanced when taken; had they been captured on the slipways they would have been more valuable for their scrap steel (as was the case with Sovetsky Soyuz’s sister ship Sovetskaya Ukraina, which actually was captured by the Germans at Nikolayev on the Black Sea).
And those are the formerly Soviet capital ships that serve evil in Stolen Fleets. Next time we’ll look at the cruisers and destroyers.
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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.