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T4, R1, Prng 174: Dunkerque Class (France) vs Scharnhorst Class (Germany)

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  • T4, R1, Prng 174: Dunkerque Class (France) vs Scharnhorst Class (Germany)

    In your opinion, which of these two warship types was most significant, influential and/or effective?
    Feel free to apply those criteria as you please, along with any others you think appropriate.
    Note: Suggestions for some additional criteria are at the foot of this post.

    According to the criteria as you see and apply them, please vote for your preferred candidate in the attached poll.
    If your chosen criteria are significantly different from those suggested, telling us what they are and why you used them would be helpful.

    180: Dunkerque Class

    The Dunkerque class consisted of a pair of battleships built for the French Navy (Marine Nationale Francaise) during the 1930's. They were named Dunkerque and Strasbourg. These were the first French battleships built since the Bretagne class, which had entered service in 1916. The Dunkerques were laid down between December 1932 and November 1934, being commissioned in May 1937 and September 1938, respectively. Their design was strongly influenced and limited by the Washington Naval Treaty.
    Dimensions of the two ships differed slightly. Overall length was 214.5m (703ft 9in) for Dunkerque, Strasbourg being very slightly longer. Both ships had the same beam; 31.1m (102ft). Dunkerque's draft was 8.57m (28ft 1.4in) (normal), up to 9.71m (31ft 10in) (full load); Strasbourg's being about 17cm (6.7in) more. Displacement for Dunkerque was up to 35,500t while Strasbourg's was 36,100t, almost entirely due to the latter's heavier armor in a few key areas.
    Crew strength was normally slightly greater on Dunkerque because she acted as flagship most often. This was 1,381 (81 officers and 1,300 men), compared to 1,302 (32 officers and 1,270 men) for Strasbourg.

    Power was provided by four sets of geared steam turbines, each driving one shaft and screw. There were six oil-fired water-tube boilers, ducted into a single funnel. The Dunkerques used the unit system of machinery, which - in this case - divided the turbines into two separate systems. The arrangement offered improved damage resistance, since one system could be disabled in battle and the other could remain in operation. The boilers were arranged in side-by-side pairs in three boiler rooms; the first positioned below the command tower and the other two below the funnel.
    Fuel oil storage was up to 5,000t in peacetime but in wartime, this was limited to 3,700t to prevent too much loss of armored freeboard. Under wartime conditions, the ships had a range of about 7,850nmi at 15 knots, falling to around 2,450nmi at 28 knots. There was only one rudder, which was electrically operated but could be manually controlled in the event of power failure. The ships were rated for a top speed of 29.5 knots, which both exceeded slightly during trials. Given this performance, the Dunkerkque class would qualify to be described as fast battleships.

    The Dunkerques' main armament was 8 x 330mm (13in) Modele 1931 50-caliber guns in two 4-gun turrets. Both turrets were positioned together, forward of the superstructure as a superfiring pair. This arrangement appears similar in principle to the British Nelson class. However, while compliance with the Washington Treaty was certainly a key factor for both nations, with the Dunkerques the French also wanted to focus on maximum forward firepower for pursuit. The entire main armament of the Dunkerque class could fire thru the forward arc; something that was not possible for the three triple-gun turrets on the Nelsons. Also, to reduce the risk of a single shell hit disabling all four guns in either turret, there was an internal armored bulkhead dividing the guns into two pairs.
    Secondary armament was 16 x 130mm (5.1in) 45-cal dual purpose guns, mounted in three quadruple and two twin turrets. The quad turrets were positioned to the stern and the twins amidships. These were the first dual-purpose guns of the French Navy; i.e. designed for use against both aircraft and ships.
    Supplementary armament was 8 or 10 x 37mm (1.5in) AA guns and 32 to 36 Hotchkiss 13.2mm (0.52in) machine guns in quadruple mounts.

    As mentioned above, armor thicknesses differed in some areas. Starting with the main belt, the upper central portion was 225mm (8.9in) on Dunkerque and 283mm (11.1in) tapering on Strasbourg and on both ships it thinned below the waterline, down to 125mm (4.9in) at the bottom. Main armored decks were 115mm (4.5in) maximum on Dunkerque but up to 130mm (5.1in) for Strasbourg. Maximum turret armor was 345mm (13.6in) & 360mm (14.2in), with Barbette thicknesses at 310mm (12.2in) & 340mm (13.4in) (max), respectively. The conning towers for both ships had 270mm (10.6in) (max) of armor. Protection below the waterline included spaced layers to absorb torpedo hits and mine damage, as well as a double bottom.

    Dunkerque during a visit to Britain, May 1939


    The Dunkerque class ships had quite short careers. Prior to the outbreak of WW2 in September 1939, they had formed the French Navy's 1st Division, serving in the Atlantic Squadron. Apart from the usual shakedowns and training exercises required by both ships, they made a number of goodwill visits to other countries, including Britain, Portugal and French West Africa. As it turned out, when war came the opportunities for action would be sparse.

    By August 1939, tensions with Germany had increased to the point where war appeared quite likely. The French and British navies discussed coordination and they agreed that the French would be responsible for covering the area south from the English Channel to the Gulf of Guinea in central Africa. To protect Allied shipping from German commerce raiders, the French created their Force de Raid (raiding force), centered on the two Dunkerques. One of their specific assigned tasks was to co-operate with the Royal Navy, to hunt down and destroy the Deutschland class heavy cruisers. Efforts to catch the Deutschlands did not bear fruit at this time; but Dunkerque did undertake convoy escort duties.

    On 2 April 1940, faced with increasingly hostile posturing from Italy, the Force de Raid was despatched to Mers-el-Kebir, an Algerian port on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. When the Germans invaded Norway on 9 April, the squadron was ordered to return to Brest for probable action; arriving on the 12th. However, the threat of Italian hostility intensified further, which weighed even more heavily on the French command. The transfer was therefore reversed on April 24, so the squadron was back to Algeria by the 27th.
    The ships conducted training exercises in the western Mediterranean from 9 to 10 May but saw little activity for the next month.
    Following the defeat of France on 15 June 1940, the Dunkerques - along with some other French warships - were inactive at Mers-el-Kebir. However, on 3 July and the following morning, the Royal Navy attacked them as part of Operation Catapult; their plan to move, capture or destroy French warships so they could never be used by the Germans. The British bombardment completely destroyed Bretagne, a WW1 dreadnought and sank one of her sister ships, Provence. Dunkerque sustained some significant hits and suffered further damage from air-launched torpedoes the next day. 1,297 French servicemen had been killed in the attack but Strasbourg and five French destroyers managed to avoid any significant damage. Nevertheless, later - at Toulon in November 1942 - Strasbourg was destroyed when the French scuttled her along with other warships present, just in time to foil Case Anton, a German-Italian operation intended to capture the remainder of the French fleet. After the war, the hulks of Dunkerque and Strasbourg were sold for scrap.

    Drawings of Dunkerque as she appeared in March 1940


    Strasbourg evading destruction at Mers el Kebir, July 1940


    The Dunkerque class battleships never got any real opportunity to demonstrate their worth in battle. However, based on their design characteristics and whatever we might gather regarding their performance, it seems that their potential as fast modern warships would have been quite considerable.

    General characteristics* (*Representative. Some variation between ships)

    Displacement – 26,500t (standard); 36,100t (max)
    Length – 214.5 - 215.14m (703ft 9in - 705ft 10in)
    Beam – 31.1m (102ft)
    Draft – 8.57 - 9.88 m (28ft 1.4in - 32ft 5in)
    Propulsion – 4 x geared steam turbines, 4 shafts, 6 boilers
    Maximum speed:
    29.5 knots
    Range at 10 knots:
    7,850nmi with 3,700t of oil
    Primary – 8 x 330mm (13in) Modele 1931 50-cal guns
    Secondary – 16 x 130mm (5.1in) 45-cal dual purpose guns
    Supplementary (a) – 8 or 10 x 37mm (1.5in) AA guns
    Supplementary (b) - 32 - 36 x Hotchkiss 13.2mm (0.52in) machine guns
    Belt – 225 - 283mm (8.9 - 11.1in) (max)
    Deck – 115 - 130mm (4.5 - 5.1in) (max)
    Turrets - 345 - 360mm (13.6 - 14.2in) (max)
    Barbettes - 310 - 340mm (12.2 - 13.4in) (max)
    Conning tower – 270mm (10.6in) (max)
    Complement – 1,302 - 1,381 officers and men

    186: Scharnhorst Class

    The Scharnhorst class comprised two ships; Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. However, Gneisenau was laid down in May 1935 and commissioned first, in May 1938; Scharnhorst's dates being June 1935 and January 1939, so some sources refer to them as the Gneisenau class. Their official classification was Schlachtschiff (battleship) and they were the first German capital ships built since the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. As such, they marked the beginning of a serious program of naval re-armament.
    Initial overall length was 229.8m (753ft 11in), with a beam of 30m (98ft 5in). Draft was 8.3m (27ft 3in) at standard displacement of 32,600t, increasing to 9.1m (29ft 10in) at full displacement of 35,540t and 9.9m (32ft 6in) at maximum combat load of 38,700t.
    Standard complement for both ships was 1,669, including 56 officers.

    Three geared steam turbines supplied power, each driving a 3-bladed screw 4.8m (15ft 9in) in diameter. They were fed steam by 12 oil-fired boilers. Designed maximum speed was 31 knots, with both ships slightly exceeding this in trials.
    Standard fuel capacity was 2,800t. Using additional spaces, this could be increased to a maximum 5,080t which was expected to provide a range of up to 8,100nmi at 19 knots. However, in practice at that speed, anything from 6,200 - 7,100nmi was found to be more realistic.

    Main armament for the Scharnhorst class was 9 x 28.3cm (11.1in) SK C/34 54.5 caliber guns* in three triple-gun turrets; two forward and one aft. (*They were an improvement on the earlier 28.3cm SK C/28 guns fitted to the Deutschland class cruisers, featured in another poll of this tournament.) While these were of smaller caliber than current main guns of other navies, they were still quite widely favored in the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) at that time, due to their relatively high rate of fire. This was about 3.5 rounds per minute (roughly 1 every 17 seconds), with a muzzle velocity of 890 m/s (2,920 fps). Barrel life was about 300 rounds. The turrets were named "Anton", "Bruno" and "Caesar" from fore to stern. At maximum elevation, targets out to 40,930m (44,760 yds) could be hit.
    The secondary battery was 12 x 15cm (5.9in) SK C/28 L/55 quick-firing guns; 8 of them in four twin-gun turrets, with the remaining 4 in pedestal mounts. Rate of fire was 6 - 8 rounds per minute.
    Supplementary armament consisted of 14 x 10.5cm (4.1in) C/33 L/65 guns (a naval version of the Luftwaffe Flak 38), 16 x 3.7cm (1.46in) L/83 guns, plus between 10 & 20 x 2cm (0.79in) guns.
    Initially, there were no torpedo tubes but in 1942, 6 x 533mm (21in) above-water tubes taken from a couple of light cruisers were fitted; 3 per ship.

    The main armored belt was 350mm (13.8in) thick over critical central areas. Forward of "A" turret and astern of "C" turret, it was 150mm (5.9in) and 200mm (7.9in) respectively, tapering to zero at bow and stern. The central portion was backed by 170mm (6.7in) shields. At ranges over 11,000m, this area was considered proof against a 406mm (16in) shell. On the other hand, a 30m beam meant that protection was weaker around the main battery turrets, as a significant amount of the hull space was taken up by the magazines and barbettes.
    Citadel protection below the waterline was in several spaced layers, with the outermost thickness varying between 12 and 66mm (0.47 and 2.6in). A large void behind the outermost plate helped to dissipate gases from a torpedo hit. This area was sub-divided into 21 main watertight compartments and there was a double bottom for 70% of the hull length.
    Deck armor was 50mm (2in) upper, with the deck below it varying from 20mm (0.79in) near bow and stern, thru 50mm in the central area, with 105mm (4.1in) thick sides sloping to the lower edges of the main belts.
    The main turrets had 360mm (14.2in) faces, 200mm (7.9in) sides and 150mm (5.9in) roofs. Barbette maximum was 350mm (13.8in), tapering to 200mm. The secondary turrets had 140mm (5.5in) faces with 60mm (2.4in) sides and 50mm (2in) roofs. Gun shields for the 10.5cm mounts were 20mm (0.79in).
    Forward conning tower armor was 350mm vertical with 200mm (7.9in) roofs. Rear tower armor was much thinner at 100mm (3.9in) and 50mm respectively.

    Photo of Gneisenau; probably about 1939-40


    Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had relatively short but intense and highly active lives. For much of the early portion of WW2 they operated together and raided British merchant shipping. Neither of them survived the war intact.

    After commissioning in May 1938, Gneisenau spent most of her first year in trials and training. One significant issue was excessive wetness over her bow in heavy seas, causing flooding as well as damage to "A" turret's electrical systems. Therefore, in January 1939 she was fitted with an "Atlantic bow", which meant re-building the forward part of the upper hull with an upswept curve towards the front.
    Scharnhorst began her trials that year and by mid 1939, she too was modified in this way, the work being completed by August. The modifications helped but did not entirely resolve the issue.
    Their first combat with a British warship occurred in November 1939. Accompanied by two light cruisers and several destroyers, the sisters were sweeping the area between Iceland and the Faroe Islands when they encountered the auxiliary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi. The British ship had absolutely no chance in a fight but could not escape either. She signaled the position of the German ships and when called upon to surrender, her captain refused. Scharnhorst fired first, followed by Gneisenau and Rawalpindi was quickly destroyed. Scharnhorst stopped to pick up survivors. However, after a time the light cruiser HMS Newcastle approached the scene. Knowing that heavier British ships would likely also be very close, the Germans left and made haste for home. This turned out to be the right call, as four Allied capital ships - Hood, Nelson, Rodney and the French Dunkerque - were following in pursuit. The Germans made it home but both had suffered some damage from heavy sea conditions. Gneisenau's damages were the worst and she was put into dry dock for repairs. While she was there, her bow was remodeled a second time to improve her seaworthiness.
    The sisters' next action was in Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Norway, from April to June 1940. Among their engagements, on 8 June they sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, along with her escorting destroyers Acasta and Ardent. Scharnhorst struck Glorious at a range of approximately 24,200m; one of the longest recorded hits in the history or naval gunfire. However, she had taken significant damage from a torpedo hit and her speed was reduced. After reaching Trondheim in Norway for basic repairs and surviving British air attacks, both ships made for Kiel in Germany and full repairs were completed by December.

    1941 began with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau breaking out into the Atlantic to raid British convoys. Their targets were chosen with care, avoiding strong escorts. By 22 February, a suitable convoy was found and they sank a tanker and four cargo ships. Another weakly escorted convoy was intercepted on 15 March, resulting in three sinkings and three ships captured!
    After this, they headed for Brest in France, for maintenance and repairs. However, this was within range of British air attack and on 6 April, Gneisenau was severely damaged. Repairs were aggravated by more raids, further damaging her. Scharnhorst received negligible damage and had completed her repairs. She was dispersed to another French port, La Pallice but on 24 July, she was hit by 5 bombs in another air attack. Casualties were light but damages to the ship were serious enough to require 4 months of repairs.
    In early 1942, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau - accompanied by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen - made a daring dash up the English Channel, for re-deployment in northern waters to disrupt Russian convoys. They left Brest late on 11 February and managed to remain undetected for most of the distance. Scharnhorst suffered some mine damage but with help from the Luftwaffe, British air attacks were successfully fought off. They reached Germany for repairs and maintenence.
    Gneisenau was scheduled to deploy to Norway on 6 March 1942 but a heavy British air attack damaged her so severely that she was almost wrecked. By 1 July 1943 she had been decommissioned.
    Meanwhile, on 8 March 1943, Scharnhorst and four destroyers had sailed for Norway, arriving near Narvik on the 14th. However, serious fuel shortages curtailed major operations for most of the year. On 26 December she participated in the Battle of North Cape, where she was engaged in a running battle with the Royal Navy. She was eventually overwhelmed and sunk. From a crew of 1,968, only 36 men were rescued.

    Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in the "channel dash", February 1942


    Drawings of Scharnhorst as she appeared in 1943


    In the mid-to-late 1930's, Germany started with what was essentially a "clean sheet", to design and build modern battleships. As such, the Scharnhorst class represented the state of the art for their time. In well trained and highly motivated hands, they proved to be very potent.

    General characteristics* (*As originally deployed)

    Displacement – 32,600t (standard); 38,700t (max combat load)
    Length – 229.8m (753ft 11in)
    Beam – 30m (98ft 5in)
    Draft – 8.3m (27ft 3in) (standard); 9.9m (32ft 6in) (max)
    Propulsion – 3 x steam turbines, 3 screws, 12 boilers
    Maximum speed:
    31 knots
    Range at 19 knots:
    6,200 - 7,100nmi with 5,080 tons of fuel oil
    Primary – 9 x 28.3cm (11.1in) SK C/34 54.5 caliber guns
    Secondary – 12 x 15cm (5.9in) SK C/28 L/55 quick-firing guns
    Supplementary (a) – 14 x 10.5cm (4.1in) C/33 L/65 guns
    Supplementary (b) - 16 x 3.7cm (1.46in) L/83 guns
    Supplementary (c) - 10 - 20 x 2cm (0.79in) guns
    Torpedo tubes (from 1942) - 3 x 533mm (21in) above-water
    Belt – 350mm (13.8in) (max)
    Deck – 50mm (2in) upper; 20 - 50mm (0.79 - 2in) (lower)
    Main turrets - 360mm (14.2in) (max)
    Barbettes - 350mm (13.8in) (max)
    Secondary turrets - 140mm (5.5in) (max)
    Conning tower (forward) – 350mm (13.8in) vertical; 200mm (7.9in) roofs
    Conning tower (rear) - 100mm (3.9in) vertical; 50mm (2in) roofs
    Complement – 1,669 officers and men (initial)

    Here's a pairing of two modern classes for their time.
    Nevertheless, only one candidate gets to be in the next round!
    Which do you think it should be?

    Suggested additional criteria you might wish to consider, along with any others you deem appropriate.
    (Note: Some of these could be considered already covered by Significant, Influential and Effective)

    Which warship type ...
    • was the best?
    • was the greatest?
    • was the most widely used?
    • had the greatest longevity in service?
    • was the most versatile?
    • represented the best value for the cost/effort invested ("bang for the buck" in today's language)?
    • was the easiest to operate?
    Any other criteria you have applied (please tell us what they were).
    180: Dunkerque class (France)
    186: Scharnhorst class (Germany)
    Last edited by panther3485; 28 Aug 20, 00:35.
    "Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"
    Vice Admiral Beatty to Flag Captain Chatfield; Battle of Jutland, 31 May - 1 June, 1916.

  • #2
    The Dunkerque class' main batteries out gunned the Scharnhorst's.
    ARRRR! International Talk Like A Pirate Day - September 19th


    • #3
      I think Dunkerque was more innovative.

      Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

      Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

      by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"


      • #4
        the French armour was weaker but they had bigger guns. It is a great shame that the French navy did not continue the fight Ships like this would have helped the war in the Med.
        "To be free is better than to be unfree - always."


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