Z39 underway under American control, 1945
|Ordered:||26 June 1939|
|Laid down:||15 August 1940|
|Launched:||2 December 1941|
|Completed:||21 August 1943|
|Fate:||Transferred to the United States Navy in 1945|
|Commissioned:||14 September 1945|
|Fate:||Transferred to the French Navy.|
|Fate:||Broken up in 1964.|
|General characteristics (as built)|
|Class and type:||Type 1936A (Mob) destroyer|
|Beam:||12 m (39 ft 4 in)|
|Draught:||4 m (13 ft 1 in)|
|Speed:||38.5 knots (71.3 km/h; 44.3 mph)|
|Range:||2,239 nmi (4,147 km; 2,577 mi) at 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph)|
The Z39 was a Type 1936A (Mob) destroyer built for Germany's Kriegsmarine during World War II. She was laid down in August 1940 and completed three years later. Her anti-aircraft armament was increased extensively during the war. She served with the 6th Destroyer Flotilla her entire German career, which she spent escorting transports in the Baltic Sea, laying mines, and bombarding land forces. She served with a total of three different countries: from 1943 to 1945 with the Kriegsmarine as Z39, from 1945 to 1947 with the US Navy as DD-939, and from 1948 to 1964 with the French Navy as Q-128.
Over her German career she laid numerous barrages of mines in the Baltic Sea, and bombarded Soviet forces several times. In the last months of the war, Z39 helped escort steamships, which were evacuating German soldiers and civilians from Eastern Europe to Denmark. She was damaged twice, once from Soviet planes, while in Paldiski, and the other time from British planes, while in Kiel. At the end of the war, she was transferred to the United States Navy, where she was experimented upon to test her equipment, especially her high-pressure steam propulsion plant. After the US Navy deemed her obsolete, she was transferred to the French Navy, where she was cannibalized for parts, and made into a pontoon for minesweepers.
During World War Two, destroyers served three basic functions: first, to act as screening ships to defend their fleets from enemy fleets, second, to attack the screening ships of enemy fleets, and third, to defend their fleet from submarines. How the destroyers were actually used varied upon the country. Germany abandoned the third function almost entirely, which showed in German destroyers' lack of strong anti-submarine armament, preferring to rely upon a massive fleet of trawlers which had been requisitioned and re-fitted as minelayers. The role of the destroyer began to vary much more heavily as WW2 progressed; where the British destroyers were built for escorting fleets, defending them from enemy planes, and sinking submarines, the German destroyers were built to escort fleets, or act as torpedo boats.
After the end of World War One, Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles, which put heavy limits both upon the size and displacement of warships that Germany could possess. During the Interbellum, the period between the first and second world wars, almost all warship categories experienced a large growth in the average size of their ships, and the size of their armaments. As a result of the treaty, Germany felt that it could not compete with the ships of the Allied navies, and therefore began to ignore the treaties, at first covertly, but later openly after Hitler publicly denounced them. All German ships of the time had their displacements purposefully understated, so as to have their official sizes comply with the treaty. At first, these changes were made with the goal of being able to match or exceed the French and Polish destroyers, but later on, it was required that these destroyers be able to match British destroyers, a much harder goal.
Due to the comparatively small number of German shipyards, compared to the British or French, Germany adopted a policy of overarming their destroyers, so that they bore similar armament to French and Polish light cruisers, to compensate for their low numbers. Several negative effects came with this however, such as making them slower and overweight. Although the German heavy destroyers matched British light cruisers in armament, they were much less seaworthy, and had far worse facilities for control and use of their guns.
Plan Z was a German naval re-armament plan, started in 1939, involving building ten battleships, four aircraft carriers, twelve battlecruisers, three pocket battleships, five heavy cruisers, forty-four light cruisers, sixty-eight destroyers, and 249 submarines. These ships were to be split into two battle fleets: a "Home Fleet", to tie down the British war fleet in the North Sea, and a "Raiding Fleet", to wage war upon British convoys. Erich Raeder, the Grand Admiral of the Kriegsmarine, was assured by Hitler that war would not start until at least 1945. Raeder had wanted the deadline for Plan Z to be finished to be 1948, but Hitler lowered it to 1945. World War Two actually started in 1939, meaning that very few of Germany's heavy ships were finished in time for the start of the war. Germany's main naval opponents, France and England, had together (compared to the number Germany had upon entry, in parentheses): 22 battleships (2), 7 carriers (0), 22 heavy cruisers (4), 61 light cruisers (6), 255 destroyers (34), 135 submarines (57, of which less than half could actually serve in the Atlantic or North Sea). Due to the severe advantage their enemies had, Raeder remarked that the Kriegsmarine could not hope to win, and thus the only course for them was to "die valiantly".
Design and armament
Z39 was 121.9 metres (400 ft) long at the waterline and 127 metres (417 ft) long overall, had a beam of 12 metres (39 ft), and a draught of 4 metres (13 ft). She had a displacement of 2,519 tonnes (2,479 long tons; 2,777 short tons) at standard load, and 3,691 tonnes (3,633 long tons; 4,069 short tons) at full load. She had a complement of 332.
Before her Barbara Project modifications, she was armed with seven 2 cm (0.8 in) anti-aircraft guns,[a] two twin 3.7 cm (1.5 in) anti-aircraft guns, a twin 15-centimetre (5.9 in) L/48 gun on a turret forward,[b] two single 15-centimetre (5.9 in) L/48 guns in a gunhouse aft, two quadruple 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes, and carried 60 mines. She had the Greek coat of arms on either side of her 15-centimetre (6 in) twin turret. After the modifications, she carried eighteen 2 cm guns, fourteen 3.7 cm guns, and the rest of her armament remained unchanged.
Her propulsion system consisted of six Wagner boilers feeding high-pressure superheated steam (at 70 atm (1,029 psi; 7,093 kPa) and 450 °C (842 °F)) to two sets of Wagner geared steam turbines. These gave the ship a rated power of 70,000 shaft horsepower (52,000 kW), and a top speed of 38.5 knots (71.3 km/h; 44.3 mph). She had a range of 2,239 nautical miles (4,147 km; 2,577 mi), at her cruising speed of 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph).
Z39's sensor suite included a FuMO 21 radar, which was placed on the ship's bridge, and four FuMB4 Sumatra aerials on the foremast searchlights.[c] She also had several other radars and radar detectors, including a FuMB 3 Bali and FuMO 81 Berlin-S on her masthead, and a FuMO 63 Hohentweil K. She also had a degaussing cable which wrapped around the entire ship, but was covered by her spray deflector.
Z39 was ordered on 26 June 1939, laid down by Germaniawerft in Yard G629 in Kiel on 15 August 1940, launched on 2 December 1941, and was commissioned on 21 August 1943. Her commissioning had been delayed by lengthy construction times, and Z39 was not fully operational until 7 January 1944. These construction issues were due to multiple reasons, such as the small number of German shipyards, which forced the Kriegsmarine to choose priorities, the inexperienced naval engineers, and the lack of workers. At some point between her launching and commissioning, she was modified under Project Barbara, with the addition of three pairs of 3.7 cm (1.5 in) anti-aircraft (AA) guns added, one pair forward of her bridge, one pair abreast after her funnel, and one pair abreast forward of her funnel. She had one pair of single 3.7 cm (1.5 in) guns added on to her after funnel platform. She had a pair of twin 2 cm (0.8 in) guns added to her bridge wings. She had a pair of quadruple 2 cm (0.8 in) guns and a pair of single 2 cm (0.8 in) guns added to an extended deckhouse in her No. 3 gun position. After these changes, she began minelaying operations in the Skagerrak, and the Kattegat, until March, when she was transferred to Reval off the Gulf of Finland.
After this move, she served in the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, alongside German destroyers Z25, Z28, and Z35. Between 12 and 13 February Z39 laid mines in the "Dorothea A" barrage, alongside two other destroyers and three minelayers. On 10 March, she took part in minelaying operations along with two other destroyers. Between 11 and 12 March, she bombarded Soviet forces near Narva-Jõesuu. From 13 March to 22 April, she took part in six different minelaying operations. One such operation lasted from 13 to 14 April, in which Z39, two other destroyers, and six minelayers laid the "Seeigel 6b" mine barrage south of Suur Tyärsaari. From 16 to 17 April, Z39, two other destroyers, and six minelayers laid the "Seeigel 3b" barrage off of Vigrund Island in Narva Bay. A smokescreen was laid during the operation in order to prevent the ships from being shelled by Soviet coastal artillery. An operation from 21 to 22 April, involving Z39, two other destroyers, and six minelayers was cancelled midway due to one of the minelayers hitting a mine and then sinking. From 23 to 24 April, Z39, two other destroyers, and eight minelayers laid the "Seeigel 7b/3" barrage in Narva Bay. From 25 to 26 April Z39, two other destroyers, and nine minelayers laid the "Seeigel 8b" barrage southwest of Suur Tyärsaari. During the operations between 13 and 26 April, a total of 2,831 mines and 1,174 sweep detonators were laid.
On 23 June of the same year, she was damaged by Soviet bombers while moored off of Paldiski and was escorted to Libau by Z28. After reaching Libau on 29 June, Z39 made her way to Kiel for repairs by way of the Piast Canal near Swinemünde. While at port in Kiel on 24 July, she was hit by a bomb when the British air force bombed Kiel Harbour, causing damage to her quarterdeck and leading to her having to be towed back to Swinemünde. She was repaired using parts cannibalised from Z44 and Z45. Z44 had been damaged in an air raid on 29 July while in Bremen and sunk so that only her superstructure remained above water, and Z45 was being built. Z39 had been repaired enough to be seaworthy on 28 February 1945, and was ordered to sail to Copenhagen for more extensive repairs, but due to Nazi Germany's lack of fuel, she sailed to Sassnitz instead. During this time, the Kriegsmarine, which had always dealt with shortages in oil, reached critically low levels of oil supply. On 25 March, Z39 finished repairs while in Swinemünde and resumed operations on 1 April. From 5 April to 7 April, she escorted transports and parts of Task Force Thiele around the Bay of Danzig. From 8 April to 9 April, she provided naval gunfire support for the German army. On 10 April she and T33 escorted the German destroyer Z43, which had sustained damage from both mines and bombs, to Warnemünde and Swinemünde.
From 1944, German surface ships were called upon to provide support for the Army Group North along the Baltic Sea coast. This often involved shelling land targets, something in which the German ship crews had no training. This tactical use of cruisers, destroyers, and torpedo boats was difficult in the restrictive waterways of the Baltic, but despite these difficulties, it justified the continued existence of the surface fleet. The Soviet Union's continued advances along the east Baltic coast also spurred this change. From the spring of 1945 to near the end of the war, the surface forces of the Kriegsmarine became almost entirely focused upon resupplying and supporting garrisons along the Baltic Coast. Later, after March, the Kriegsmarine embarked upon the task of evacuating hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers from the east ahead of the Soviet forces, which were rapidly pushing westward. Z39 took part in a number of these evacuation operations. On 15 April Z39, two other destroyers, and four torpedo boats escorted German steamships Matthias Stinnes, Eberhart Essberger, Pretoria and Askari to Copenhagen, with a total of 20,000 refugees. On 2 May, she shelled Soviet Army forces from the Oder estuary. On 3 May, she, alongside the battleship Schlesien, moved to protect the bridge across the Peene river at Wolgast. After Schlesien hit a mine near Greifswalder Oie on the same day, Z39 towed her to Swinemünde, where Schlesien was deliberately grounded. The ship was placed so that her guns could fire on and defend roads leading into the city. One day later, Z39, three other destroyers, one torpedo boat, one ship tender, one auxiliary cruiser, one anti-aircraft ship, and five steamer ships, sailed for Copenhagen, taking 35,000 wounded soldiers and refugees with them. On 8 May, Z39, six other destroyers, and five torpedo boats set sail with 20,000 soldiers and civilians from Hela to Glücksburg, and arrived on May 9. Following the German surrender, she was decommissioned from the Kriegsmarine on 10 May 1945 at Kiel.
American and French service
At some point after the war ended, Z39 was sailed by a mixed German and British crew to Wilhelmshaven, and then, on 6 July 1945, to Plymouth. The US claimed her as a prize ship on 12 July. She left England on 30 July, and arrived in Boston on 7 August, where, on 14 September, after extensive trials, she was commissioned into the US Navy as DD-939. She was used by the US Navy in order to test her equipment, namely her high-pressure steam propulsion plant. In late 1947, the US Navy deemed her obsolete, and transferred her to the French Navy. After arriving in Casablanca in January 1948, she sailed to Toulon, redesignated Q-128, and was cannibalised for her parts, which were used to repair the French destroyers Kléber (ex-Z6 Theodor Riedel), Hoche (ex-Z25), and Marceau (ex-Z31). She served as a pontoon for minesweepers near Brest, until she was broken up in 1964.
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- Kriegsmarine destroyers