Warship Wednesday October 19, 2016: Der Zerstörer von Uncle Sam
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday October 19, 2016: Der Zerstörer von Uncle Sam
Here we see the Type1936A (Mod)-class destroyer USS Z-39 (DD-939), formerly KMS Z-39 of the German Kriegsmarine, underway off Boston, Massachusetts, 22 August 1945, just 106 days after the end of the war in Europe.
As part of the general naval buildup of the Third Reich, the Germans needed destroyers (Zerstörers) and needed them bad since the Allies left them with zero (0) after 1919. This led to a rush build of some 22 ships of the Type 1934/1934A and 1936 classes commissioned by 24 September 1939.
The thing is, almost all of these were destroyed in the first few months of the war, with 10 of these new ships slaughtered by the British at Narvik alone.
Never fear though, as the Germans already had a new and improved 15-ship class of vessels, the Type 1936As, on the drawing board, which would be almost 1,000-tons heavier than the Type 1934s (3,700-tons vs. 2,800-tons) and carry larger 150 mm (5.9 inch) guns rather than the legacy 127mm mounts of the preceding design.
With the earlier destroyers carrying names, the Kriegsmarine reverted to the traditional Teutonic practice of giving them numbers only and class leader Z23 was laid down at DeSchiMAG Bremen, 15 November 1938. Eight were laid down pre-Narvik and then after the battle improvements to the design were worked into new construction with Z31 onward being referred to as the 1936A (Mob) variant.
The hero of our story, the plucky Z39, was just such a 1936A (Mob) ship. Capable of a blistering 37.5-knots on her geared turbines, she could float in 15 feet of water. With lessons learned in Norway, they were the most heavily armed German-built destroyers of the war that made it to fleet service, carrying five rapid-fire 5.9-inch guns and 32 20mm/37mm AAA barrels– most with a very high elevation. For close in work, they had eight torpedo tubes and could leave behind 60 mines or a brace of depth charges in their wake.
Z39 was laid down by Germaniawerft Kiel, 1940 and commissioned 21 August 1943, as Germany was quickly losing the war after Stalingrad, El-Alamein, Kursk and Sicily. And to further complicate things, all of the destroyers of her class had turbines that were cranky and their large guns often too wet to be of use (in the end several, including Z39, only had four guns left, losing their forward most single mount.)
Her skipper, KK Loerke, was the only German one she would know and she spent her war in the Baltic.
Z39 operated at Jutland for a short time until it was send to the Baltic Sea at the beginning of 1944. On 23.06.1944 it was damaged by Soviet bombers and send to Kiel for repairs where it got another bomb hit. It took until 16.02.1945 until the ship went operational again and it was not used very much after that anymore. Decommissioned on 10.05.1945.
Meh, unexciting, but she did survive the war and was still afloat at the end of it and able to make steam– a feat very few German warships pulled off.
After the war, she was captured by the British, who made it to Kiel first, with a LCDR Forsberg (RN) placed in command of her on 6 July 1945.
Just 11 days later, the Brits handed Z39 over to the Americans along with her sisters Z34, and Z29. After evaluating the trio, the USN found Z39 to be the best of the lot and, selecting a few souvenirs from Z34 and Z29, sank them off the Jutland coast.
As for Z39, she sailed for the Boston Navy Yard, arriving there in August under the helm of CDR. R. A. Dawes, Jr., USN. There, she proved a splash just over two months after VE Day and with VJ Day right around the corner.
She was extensively documented, after all, it was the first chance to get that close to a functional German destroyer stateside since 1941 without taking cover.
She got underway several times in the next few weeks for performance inspection trials.
With the U.S. Navy done with their German tin can (and hundreds of their own domestic models already in mothballs) Washington decided to give Z29 away as continued military support to ally France– who had several of her sisterships and could use the destroyer for spare parts if nothing else.
As such, she was stricken from the Naval List 10 November 1947 after slightly over two years of service and transferred to France as FNS Leopard (Q-128) in 1948.
She did not see much time at sea and eventually was utilized as a tender and floating pier. She was ultimately scrapped in L’Orient, February 1964, the last of her class afloat.
The Navy, however, did not forget Z39 (DD-939) when it came to issuing hull numbers in the 1950s. They made sure to skip her between USS Jonas Ingram (DD-938) and USS Manley (DD-940) when they christened the Forrest Sherman-class destroyers after Korea.
What became of the rest of her sisters? As we already mentioned two other war survivors that were given to Uncle Sam were quickly deep sixed. Five others were war losses. Those that were left were split between France, Norway, the Soviet Union, and the Brits and had largely disappeared before 1960.
Among the longest living was ex-Z38, which became HMS Nonsuch (R40) in typically dry British humor. She was scrapped after she broke apart in testing. Did we mention these craft were in poor condition?
Anyway, there is always the extensive collection of images in the U.S. Navy archives to remember Z39– which has helped scale model designers over the years keep the design in steady production (and provided a income for maritime artists for box cover images):
2,600 tonnes (standard)
Length: 127 m (416 ft. 8 in)
Beam: 12 m (39 ft. 4 in)
Draught: 4.65 m (15 ft. 3 in)
Propulsion: 2 × Wagner geared turbines, 70,000 shp, 2 shafts, 6 boilers
Speed: 37.5 knots (69 km/h)
2,240 nautical miles (4,150 kilometers) at 19 knots (35 km/h)
Complement: 330 officers and men, less than 200 in USN
4 15 cm guns (1×2 & 2×1)
14 37 mm guns
18 20 mm guns
8 533 mm torpedo tubes
4 depth charge launchers
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