With the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 the victorious allies sought to make defeated Germany a permanent 2nd class military power. All aspects of a new German military were limited. This was true in regards to any new German navy as well. All dreadnought type battleships were stripped from the German Navy and she was left with some old predreadnought battleships as her heaviest ships. Replacement of these ships could occur upon reaching 20 years service but any new construction could not exceed 10,000-tons displacement and 11-inch guns maximum. The allies sought to shackle Germany into construction of basically weak coast defense ships, as it was inconceivable to them that any significant warship could be constructed within those limitations. They were wrong.
By utilizing diesel engines, welded construction, limiting armor to basically a cruiser scheme and also by exceeding the displacement limitation, the new German navy came out with a remarkable warship, the Panzerschiffe or Armored Ship type. The ships were not named until their formal launch. Until then they were assigned a letter. The initial Panzerschiffe, the Deutschland, started this with the designation "A" armored ship with Scheer and Graf Spee designated ships "B" and "C". The Kriegsmarine had plans for two improved panzerschiffes designated "D" and "E". With the British-German naval agreement, Germany was free to construct battleships up to the limits of the London Treaty. In stead of two more panzerschiffes, armored ships "D" and "E" were redesigned to be battleships armed with nine 11-inch guns, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. As with the panzerschiffe, the real displacement of these two was kept secret and they were credited with a significantly lighter displacement than was true.
For the next design, the Kriegsmarine went for a full-fledged battleship. Conceptual studies for a 35,000-ton battleship actually began in 1932 and a contract was awarded for initial design work in 1934, one year before the Anglo-German Naval Treaty. Also in 1934 the Kriegsmarine contracted for the design, construction and testing of guns of 15-inch (380mm) and 16-inch (406mm) size. They were determined to get a jump on new designs as development of a battleship’s main guns was always the most time consuming step in battleship construction. The Kriegsmarine looked at a number of different designs starting with 12-inch guns but when Italy and France announced that they would build battleships mounting 15-inch guns, Hitler insisted that the new battleships have 15-inch guns. The ships built to this design were battleship "F" and battleship "G", which of course became Bismarck and Tirpitz. As it turned out they were the largest battleships to ever be built in Germany as well as the heaviest battleships to be completed by any navy in Europe. However, a number of compromises were made in the "F" & "G" design that the admirals of the Kriegsmarine were determined to correct in their next design, battleship "H".
By April 1, 1937 Japan had still not ratified the proposed London Treaty of 1936 and the USN had ordered the two ships of the North Carolina Class mounting nine 16-inch guns. In Germany Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine OKM, the naval high command ordered a study for the battleship class to succeed the Bismarck design. From the beginning 16-inch guns (406mm) were selected to be the main armament of the design. Hitler insisted on guns of a larger size. The naval staff had difficulties in persuading him that a design mounting guns larger than 16-inch were not feasible at that time. Hitler did not comprehend how all of the design factors that went into a balanced warship design were interdependent. Admiral Fuchs carefully explained that a battleship that mounted guns significantly larger than 16-inch would require a displacement of from 80,000 to 120,000 tons and that unless significant sums were expanding deepening and widening German ports, such a ship would have a very difficult time operating from any of the German ports. Additionally a German 16-inch gun design had already been developed in conjunction with the 15-inch design. Any new design for a much larger gun would dramatically lengthen the design and construction process. Finally Hitler agreed that the H Class design would mount 406mm (16-inch) guns.
In keeping with the decision to have heavy German warships resemble each other, the H Class design resembled an enlarged Bismarck at first glance. However, the design of the H Class varied in many important points from the earlier battleship. The design was started and laid down under the H-39 design. The most noticeable difference between the two was the two-stack arrangement of the H Class. If you look at the funnel caps to the new design you’ll find a series of circular exhaust vents in each cap instead of the open grates at the caps of the stacks of Bismarck and Tirpitz. The earlier design employed a conventional steam plant for propulsion but the ships of the H Class were designed for diesel plants. The large volume required for intakes and uptakes for twelve propulsion diesels providing a top speed of 30-knots and twelve diesel generators necessitated two stacks. These space requirements also prevented a hangar/catapult arrangement amidships as in Bismarck. The hangars for four Ar-196 floatplanes were placed in the aft superstructure with rails running on either side of the aft turrets to a centerline catapult aft of turret D. Long range was desired for these battleships and the diesel powered design had significantly greater range than designs based on steam plants. The H-39 design gave the ship a range of 16,000 nm at 19-knots compared to the range of Bismarck of 9,500 nm at 19 knots. At first glance the turrets of the H Class ships appeared the same as those on Bismarck but of course they were larger in order to mount the 16-inch guns.
As the political situation in Europe deteriorated during 1938 OKM developed the Z Plan under which the Kriegsmarine could expand its surface combat capability as quickly as possible. This plan called for six of the H Class battleships to be laid down as design work on the class was already well in hand. On August 23 Hitler ordered that Bismarck and Tirpitz be completed by late 1940 and that six slips be readied for construction of H Class battleships. In January 1939 the Z Plan was adopted and Hitler ordered that the six H Class battleships be completed by 1944. The Kriegsmarine was given in effect a blank check to make this happen on that timeline. Contracts for "H" and "M" were given to Blohm and Voss at Hamburg; "J" and "N" to Deshimag at Bremen; "L" to the Kriegsmarine yard at Wilhelmshaven; and "K" to Deutsche Werke at Kiel. "H" was the first to be laid down on 15 July 1939 and "J" on September 1, 1939. "K" was scheduled to be laid down on 15 September but this was postponed because of the outbreak of World War Two. A hold was also placed on construction of the two ships already started. At the time that construction was frozen "H" had 14,055-tons of material ordered, 5,800-tons delivered but only 766-tons worked into the keel. There had been less work on the "J". 3,531-tons of material had been ordered but only 40-tons put into the keel.
When France fell Hitler directed OKM to study new battleship designs in light of the greatly improved strategic situation and war experience. The H-39 design was modified and two different H-40 designs were proposed. On design added freeboard, internal changes and horizontal armor to improve protection against plunging fire and air attack. This variant kept the design displacement of the H-39 design of 57,500-tons and speed of 30.4 knots but to accomplish this one turret was eliminated and four shafts were employed instead of three. This in turn required more engine space and an all diesel plant was not possible within the ship’s dimensions. Therefore a mixed propulsion system of diesels for two shafts and two for steam turbines was designed. The second design kept all four turrets, added the improvements of the 1st design, changed to a mixed plant four-shaft propulsion and added extra layers of internal torpedo defenses. This design increased the length to 941.6 feet from the 872.7 feet of H-39, beam to 128.6 feet from 121.4 feet but the draught stayed the same at 32.87 feet. With this design the displacement climbed to 64,969-tons.
In 1941 the H-40 designs were set aside and a H-41 design was prepared that added extra emphasis to deck protection due to the damage suffered by Scharnhorst due to aerial attacks. This modification added 2,000-tons of deck armor, increasing the main deck by 50 to 60mm and increasing the armored deck with an additional 120mm. Gun size was increased to 420mm (16.54-inches). The plan was to reline the existing 16-inch barrels to the new size. Displacement climbed to 67,712-tons. Further design work in 1941 added even more armor. Speed dropped to 28-knots as displacement increased again. Up to this time the keels of "H" and "J" remained on the slips. Hitler had ordered that construction commence as soon as the war ended. Finally after two years of the keels taking up space in the yards, on November 25, 1941 OKM ordered the material worked into "H" and "J" be scrapped for other war utilization. Contracts on these two ships were finally cancelled in August 1942. However, parts ordered for the H Class survived for almost another 30 years. Seven of the forty-eight 16-inch guns ordered for the ships of the class were built. Instead of being mounted in the turrets of battleships, four were shipped to Norway. One was lost in transit but the other three were made into coastal batteries. After the war they were taken over by the Norwegian Army and remained in place until 1968, when they were sold to be scrapped. The other three were used for railroad guns.
As long as "H" and "J" had keels laid in the two yards, design studies served a purpose. They involved improving a battleship already started. After their material was scrapped this changed. There continued to be design studies undertaken every year but now the studies were in the realm of fantasy. With each year the design leaped upwards in size until you reach the last design. The H-44 design study could be termed science fiction. The Russian Army was starting their steam-roller towards Berlin in the East and in June the allies landed in the west. The handwriting was on the wall but OKM and Hitler could still fantasize about the gigantic H-44 design. This design would have resulted in a ship 1,133-feet (345m) long, 169-feet (51.5m) wide and with a draught of 41.5-feet (12.65m). Displacement would be 128,930-tons design and 139,264-tons full load. Main armament would have been eight 20.06-inches (508mm). (History from Battleships, Axis and Neutral Battleships in world War II, 1985, by William Garzke Jr., and Robert Dulin Jr.)
The NNT H Class
The hull came with no warp and was substantially clean in casting. There is virtually no clean up necessary for the hull, other than perhaps a light sanding along the waterline. The heavy armor belt on the side limits possible detail but there is a surprising amount of detail on the hull sides none the less. From the crisp Atlantic bow to the graceful curving stern, the hull displays amazing beauty for such a large ship. The most noticeable aspect of the hull sides is the armor belt. The heavy armor belts are very slightly raised from the sides of the hull. There is enough relief to add detail to the hull and yet the relief is not overdone. The belt is quite high from well aft of the stern catapult to just in front of A barbette. As it passes A barbette going forward there is a stair step down with the belt continuing near the waterline until it reaches a point below the anchor hawse, where it slants back up, to continue to the bow. The hawse is actually a notch from the forecastle, through which the anchor chain descended to reach the anchor. There are not many portholes. Both the model and the plan show nine portholes just below the forward line of the forecastle deck. At the stern there is another line of portholes just under the deck edge of the quarterdeck. With this line of portholes there is a divergence between the model and plan in the book. The model has 16 portholes at the stern but the profile in the reference shows 10. Another variance is the presence of a noticeable belt forward of the breakwater. As mentioned it is present on the model but the reference profile doesn’t show it. Three other areas of detail are shown both on the model and on the profile. Two of these are stowed boat booms resting on top of the armor belt abreast of B turret and just forward of C turret. The booms are stored flat against the hull with four sets of ladders leading down from the deck edge to each boom. At the stern there are propeller guards on each side. These are stowed flat against the hull side as well.
The detail on the decks and superstructure on the hull piece are abundant and outstanding. The wooden plank deck is very finely done and is especially notable in showing the butt ends of the planking. It represents some of the best plank representation you’re likely to see. There is a short steel deck at the tip of the bow, steel plate anchor chain beds, two very small metal wash areas at the ends of the breakwater and a steel deck area just forward of C turret. Everywhere else there is wooden planking. In addition to the anchor chain plates, other fine detail on the forecastle includes bases for the anchor windlasses; four sets of bollards two on centerline and two at deck edge; and two sets of open chocks. All of this detail, as well as all of the detail throughout the hull casting is excellent. The breakwater runs from deck edge to deck edge and slants forward. The rear face is lined with very small and delicate support gussets. Just at the ending points of the breakwater the deck flares out slightly. On each side at this flare there are small steel deck areas, which apparently was used to channel seawater from the breakwater.
Aft of the breakwater is a cluster of small deckhouses along with an access coaming. The design apparently minimizes openings in the deck because there are only a total of nine access coamings on the main deck, seven forward and two flanking the base of C barbette. Eight hose reels are also cast on the main deck, six forward and two flanking the base of C barbette just aft of the coamings. Amidships on main deck, 01 deck and 02 deck there are 24 boat chocks for 12 of the ship’s boats. The chocks are very fine but none were broken or damaged in any manner, which is no mean accomplishment. At deck edge amidships are four more sets of bollards and four more open chocks.
On either side of C and D barbettes are clearly defined, raised rails leading from the hangars to the catapult aft of D turret. The most prominent item on the quarterdeck is the circular catapult base. One detail that makes this feature stand out is a circular runner guide for the wheel/caster that supported the catapult in conjunction with the catapult pivot. There are three short deckhouses or skylights on the quarterdeck. Found at the extreme stern is apparatus for a small stern anchor. This consists of a fitting above the chain locker and steel plate fitting leading to the hawse under the deck edge on the port side of the stern. These fittings are not on centerline so they add some interesting asymmetrical interest after photo-etch chain is added to connect them. Other deck detail at the stern includes three more sets of bollards and two open chocks.
The first two levels of the ship’s superstructure are cast as part of the hull. In many ways this superstructure resembles that of the Bismarck except that at the aft end forward of C barbette. There the superstructure rises two levels from the main deck because this was the location for the hangars. This provides a very built up look at this point. At the base of both B barbette and C barbette are a total of four odd structures. These odd structures have a slanted tapering base capped with a windowed structure. These structures are also found on the reference profile and I don’t know their purpose, however, they look like kiosks. Very odd. There is quite a bit of detail on the superstructure sides. Some areas have portholes, entrance doors, vertical ladder, while other areas have square and rectangular ventilation louvers. The detail on all of the deck levels conforms almost exactly with the details found in reference plan view.
Even though the first two levels of superstructure are part of the hull casting, there are many additional superstructure parts. These are found on two resin sheets. The parts are actually on resin film and can be separated from the film with your fingers. However, you’ll still need to gently sand the bottom edges to clean any minimal residue from the resin film. One the first sheet are found the larger structural portions of the upper superstructure. The lower bridge is a rather substantial, three level affair with plenty of portholes and a well defined line of square bridge windows. Wooden planking can also be found on this piece. The upper bridge part has more square bridge windows, more wooden planking, and some wonderful, minute detail on conning tower roof. The forward face, as well as four lookout positions have very thin solid bulkheads. All four positions, which surround high-powered binoculars mounted on pedestals, have access points on their inside faces. This is another indication of the care and skill that went into producing this kit. Other parts found on this sheet are the first two levels of the forward tower base, an upper tower level and the aft upper superstructure base. The second resin sheet has some of the smaller superstructure parts but is mostly various platforms. There is a tower mid-level and top to the forward tower, as well as the top level as the aft superstructure. The other various tower platforms are found on this sheet, as well as a number of stack platforms, an aft superstructure platform and four medium AA positions. All of these parts display uniformly nice detail, with thin crisp splinter shields, wooden planking on some platforms, deck detail and roof detail.
There is a third resin sheet, which contains some of the smaller parts. Here are found the two stack caps. These caps are on a sloping apron and each has six exhaust holes for the diesel exhaust. There is even detail within the exhaust holes, as well as what would normally be steam pipes. Since the design was not propelled by a steam plant, they must be for a different purpose. Each of the two stacks has its own unique design. One is oval and the other looks like a horseshoe from above. Each stack features excellent detail such as segment bands, vertical ladder and flat faced positions for search light cupolas. These cupolas are found on the third resin sheet. There are six of them with the searchlight cast as part of the cupola. You can clearly see the searchlight face shutter design on each of these small parts. Also included on this third sheet are three main directors and director bases, two spherical light AA positions placed at the edges of the boat deck, windlass caps, director hoods for four of the 5.9-inch secondary mounts, small walkway for the first stack, aircraft crane bases and boat crane bases.
The armament for the H Class looks the same as that found on the Bismarck, with good reason, as it was the same except for the 16-inch guns of the main guns. Larger guns mean larger turrets but even so, the H Class turrets are not that much larger than the 15-inch gun turrets of Bismarck. Each of the four main gun turrets has an apron, which fits over the circumference of the barbette. Turret sides have vertical ladder, range finder hoods and other fittings. On the rear face of each turret are two rectangular fittings that resemble access doors but appear too thick for that purpose. The eight 16-inch gun barrels are on their own runner and display clear banding. They are absolutely straight with no warp but the muzzles are not hollowed out. The six 5.9-inch secondary turrets and eight 3.9-inch heavy AA mounts are on a fourth resin sheet. The 5.9-inch turrets come in two designs. Four will each receive two range finder hoods so their crowns at the rear of the turret extend beyond the downward slope at the edge. The slope is present at the rear of the two turrets that do not receive range finder hoods. The 3.9-inch mounts reflect the multi-faceted appearance of that ordnance and have depressions for the gun barrels. The 5.9-inch barrels come on a separate fret. As with the main gun barrels, the secondary barrels have clearly depicted reinforcing bands at the barrel base. The 3.9-inch guns come on two separate runners. There were no curves or warp with any of the secondary and tertiary gun barrels. There are two other resin runners with four twin barreled light AA guns on each runner.
Various other resin runners contain the rest of the smaller parts. The Arado AR-196 comes on one fret and is composed of five parts. These are the main fuselage/wings part, two pontoons, and two piece tail, with separate vertical and horizontal surfaces. The four secondary/tertiary directors are on their own fret but the protruding ends of each rangefinder are on a different runner. Four runners contain 16 ship’s boats in four different styles. Fifteen of these boats are used, leaving one of the type "b" small boats left over. Boat detail is good with planked boat bottoms and other fittings. The small rowboats on the main deck rest within launching frames, which are on another small resin sheet. Another runner contains large supports for the two boats stored on either side of the forward tower. Two runners contain a total of 18 sighting binoculars. Other runners have masts and platform supports.