• This topic has been discussed pre war and post war. Your thoughts?

  • 2021 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    This is a tough one to call.  Graf Spee had bigger main guns (hence longer firing range and greater hitting power per shell) but fewer of them than Chicago (6 x 11-inch versus 9 x 8-inch), so she could deliver few shells per salvo.  She could also fire fewer salvos per minute, since the speed at which a gun can be loaded is inversely proportional to its caliber.  Their main belt armour was almost identical in thickness, and Chicago’s deck armour was over an inch thicker than Graf Spee’s because it included a second layer.  Chicago was faster by almost 4 knots, so she could choose the range of the engagement; conversely, Graf Spee was designed for this type of engagement, being (in principle) more powerful than anything faster and faster than anything more powerful.  I don’t know how their fire-control systems compared, but in WWII, in very general terms, German heavy warships had superior optics (stereoscopic rangefinders) while American heavy warships had superior radar and superior electromechanical fire-control analog computers.  So it looks like a pretty even match-up.  If I were the American skipper, I’d use my superior speed to keep myself around the outer limit of the range of my 8-inch guns, in order to deliver plunging fire against Graf Spee’s very thin deck armour, and hope that my greater output of shells per minute would give me more chances of scoring hits in a given amount of time than the Graf Spee.  One consequence of this range choice would be that the Graf Spee’s 11-inch shells at that range would have a flatter trajectory than the Chicago’s 8-inch shells, hence would produce horizontal or oblique hits on the Chicago rather than plunging hits; it’s hard to say if this would make any notable difference, since Chicago’s monolithic belt armour and layered deck armour added up to about the same thickness.

  • Moderator 2022 2021 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 '13 '12

    Great answer Marc. Thank you for the detail.

    I would have hoped the Geaf Spee could have seen off one Heavy Cruiser, so is interesting to have the smaller ship’s advantages explianed in this set up.
    I know the Graf Spee was damaged in its encounter with 3 Cruisers and thought it was mostly on account of the close range. If the Chicago is a better ship than the Exeter, which it seems from your points, I can see it would give a good account of itself in this match up. The Graf Spee might also be disadvantaged by having such a humanitarian man as commander too.

    I do need to wiki the US Cruiser(as usual!). I presume it is a late war Cruiser.

  • 2021 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @wittmann:

    The Graf Spee might also be disadvantaged by having such a humanitarian man as commander too.  I do need to wiki the US Cruiser(as usual!). I presume it is a late war Cruiser.

    There was a 1931 USS Chicago and a 1945 one; I did my analysis based on the 1931 version, which was sunk in 1943, since it’s the one Graf Spee (sunk in 1939) would have fought.

    Langsdorff was indeed scrupulous about not causing any fatalities when he was operating against merchantmen during his cruise but – quite correctly for a naval officer – he had no reservations about putting up a strong fight when he encountered Harwood’s cruisers because engaging enemy warships wasn’t the same thing as raiding cargo vessels.  The (Australian!) actor who plays Langsdorff in the movie The Battle of the River Plate says early in the film that “I don’t like waging war on civilians”, which was a distinction that, to his credit, a by-the-book captain like him could still make at that point of the war.  Not all Kriegsmarine skippers were equally chivalrous, as the passengers of the Athenia found out as early in the war as September 3, 1939.

  • Moderator 2022 2021 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 '13 '12

    Thank you Marc.
    I still voted Graf Spee. I loved it as a child(Nazi propaganda 40 years on still worked on me) and my loyalties never change.


  • I had in mind the Baltimore Class Cruiser the USS Chicago.


  • I considered matching up Graf Spee against the Japanese cruiser Tone.

  • 2021 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @ABWorsham:

    I considered matching up Graf Spee against the Japanese cruiser Tone.

    Either Germany or Japan would have to switch sides for that to happen, though there are certainly precedents.  Britain turned on its former ally France after it surrendered, sinking or damaging several French navy ships at Mers-el-Kebir and Oran. Germany turned on its former ally Italy after it surrendered, sinking the battleship Roma with a radio-controlled glide bomb.  Things never got that bad between Germany and Japan, although Japan did get seriously torqued off when Germany signed the Molotov-Robbentop Pact with the USSR, against which Japan was fighting an undeclared war on the Mongolian/Manchurian border at that time.


  • if its the 1931 Chicago, then as marc described it, its really a coin toss. its so close. But if it is the Baltimore class Chicago, then she wins hands down. better fire control and armor/armament.


  • @poloplayer15:

    if its the 1931 Chicago, then as marc described it, its really a coin toss. its so close. But if it is the Baltimore class Chicago, then she wins hands down. better fire control and armor/armament.

    In creating this question, I wondered how would the Pocket Battleship fair against the best of the heavy cruisers?


  • i dont think it would fair well. most cruisers could push 32+ knots, which was 3.5 knots faster than the Graf Spee. also her armor wasnt all that thick and most likely could be devastated by the barrage of incoming 8" shells. or 12" if we count the Alaska Class as crusiers, not battlecruisers. BTW Worsham, what do you consider to be the “best of the heavy cruisers”?


  • @poloplayer15:

    Worsham, what do you consider to be the “best of the heavy cruisers”?

    Great question Polo. Here are my favorite cruiser classes.

    Baltimore class cruisers were great ships. Fourteen ships were built in this class, none were lost in battle. They had an awesome 335lb AP 8" shell, great AA defense and very good armor. However the design of these ships did not include torpedos in the ship! These ships missed out on the blood bath of Iron Bottom Sound, where the Allies and Japanese each have a prewar fleet lost in a series of ruthless night engagements.

    The Japanese Mogami Class was a great ship design, originally built as a super light cruiser, these ships do weight in as a heavy cruiser. Very fast ship, 24" long lance torpedos, however 6" guns!

    The Tone class cruiser was built to serve as a scout ship for the Japanese Fleet. It carried six to eight float planes and had all its 8" turrets mounted forward.

    Prinz Eugen was a handsome ship, built like a battleship. Great armor, good fire control, poor range.

    The Italian Zara class were great cruisers. They were blind without radar and lack of night training. However these ships would win as cruiser beauty contest.

    The allied cruisers had better shells. The Prince of Whales is destroyed in the Atlantic had the Prinz’s 8" dud detonated inside the battleship shell compartment. The axis ships had the torpedo advantage.

    My favorite cruisers are the old Pensacola Class Salt Lake City. She was escorting a carrier (Enterprise) I believe on December 7th. And served the rest of the war earning the name old swayed back. She wad mauled in a battle in the North Pacific, but repaired and then served as gun platform softing up Japanese held Islands.

    Second is Prinz Eugen. This ship to have survived the war only earns my respect.

    Third is the old British Exeter, a York class cruiser. She was made famous at River Plate and ended her career in carnage of Iron Bottom Sound.


  • i like the first three us cruisers designed and build as treaty cruisers, the Pensacola class, the Northampton class, and the Portland class. these to me are beautiful ships, and represent the “best of the heavy cruisers”. they were treaty cruisers and fulfilled their roles beautifully. They packed a punch with 9-10 8"guns, 8 duel purpose 5" guns, and by 1944/5 they had a deadly AA gun compliment. plus the 5"/38 is considered to be the best duel purpose naval gun of the entire war. Their main battery was superb and they helped hold the line in the months after pearl. they were present from coal sea to the Doolittle raid. from midway to Guadalcanal. they were always there, both of the Pensacola class survived the war, the Indianapolis suffered a tragic loss in the closing months and the Northampton class lost half of their numbers. But IMO, they were the best…

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