Why German Ships Did Not Carry Dual-Purpose Guns

why german ships did not carry dual-purpose guns

After our article on dual-purpose guns, a reader asked why warships of the German Navy did not use them. So today’s article will be short examination on why German ships did not carry dual-purpose guns.

why german ships did not carry dual-purpose guns
A 10.5cm flak mount onboard the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. These weapons provided the heavy anti-aircraft firepower for German warships.

Due to restrictions on the Navy following the First World War, Germany was allotted a very small tonnage with which it could build new ships. In an attempt to squeeze as much performance from every ton as possible, Germany got very creative in weight savings techniques. From welded hulls to more radical concepts like diesel propulsion, Germany went above and beyond to lighten up their ships. It would seem strange that they would completely ignore the immense weight saving benefits of utilizing a dual-purpose battery. Why would a Navy so keen on reducing weight, ignore something so obvious?

why german ships did not carry dual-purpose guns
One of the 15cm gun turrets on the German battleship Bismarck. Twelve of these guns were carried and they were intended to intercept light surface targets such as destroyers.

The answer is that Germany was fearful of torpedo attacks. Mindful that France was investing a lot of resources into construction of destroyers and torpedo boats, the German Navy needed to protect themselves. They considered the more powerful secondary anti-ship battery an absolute must in order to intercept smaller warships before they could close to torpedo range. It was also thought that in the North Atlantic, visibility would be poor and combat would take place at close range. Germany simply wanted to maximize their firepower against surface targets at these ranges.

Was it a mistake for Germany to forgo the use of dual-purpose guns? Probably not, at least at the start of the Second World War. The potency of aircraft against surface ships had yet to be established. Radar was still in its infancy on warships, so an ambush from torpedo carrying craft was a very real possibility. The German Navy chose the best option based on what they knew at the time. It certainly was not a mistake or lack of intelligence as some historians would have you believe.

It’s also important to point out that Germany wasn’t the only exception in the use of dual-purpose guns. The navies of both Italy and Russia also shared the same fears over torpedo attack and preferred heavier anti-surface firepower.  France went a step further and introduced a dual-purpose secondary battery and a heavy anti-air battery. This wasted a lot of deck space and completed negated the advantage that dual-purpose guns were designed for.

As the war went on, Germany did make an attempt to use dual-purpose guns on its warships. However, a lack of materials severely hampered construction. The first ships to mount them, the destroyers Z46 and Z47, were both damaged beyond repair while under construction in 1944. With their cancellation, the dual-purpose gun died with them.

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Hopefully that answers the question on why German ships did not carry dual-purpose guns. Thanks for reading the article. If you would like to keep up with all the latest articles, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. If you liked the article or have a questions, feel free to leave a comment below or on the forum.


Chris Knupp

A student of military history, I am working to make history more interesting and accessible for everyone.


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