Germany’s Last ‘Cruiser’

A series of at least 84 cruisers of all sorts served first the Kaiserliche Marine, then the interbellum Reichsmarine, and finally, the WWII-era Kaiserliche Marine, starting with the protected cruiser SMS Irene’s circa 1886 keel laying to the handover of the famed but worn-out heavy cruiser KMS Prinz Eugen in May 1945.

And you would think that the book of Teutonic cruisers closed with the sinking of Prinz Eugen in December 1946 off Kwajalein Atoll, and the scrapping of the Soviet light cruiser Admiral Makarov (ex-KMS Nurnberg) in 1960.

Soviet light cruiser Admiral Makarov, formerly Nurnberg of Germany’s Kriegsmarine, in Tallinn for Navy Day, 1946 – Rahvusarhiiv

But then again, there was one more.

The schulschiff, or schoolship, Deutschland (A59) was commonly referred to by West Germany’s Bundesmarine as a “training cruiser” throughout her 24-year career.

15th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery returns a 21-gun salute from FGS Deutschland, then the West German Navy’s largest ship, as she enters Vancouver. This is the closest thing the ship came to receiving fire in her career. 

Just 5,700-tons at the max, she wasn’t much of a “cruiser” when compared to contemporary Atomic-era designs (she was ordered in 1958). The 453-foot vessel had no armor, was capable of just 22 knots at maximum speed, and her main battery consisted of four 4″/55cal guns, making her more of a very slow gun-armed destroyer.

To be fair, the French at the same time fielded a lightly armed “training cruiser,” Jeanne d’Arc, above She served from 1964 to 2010

Nonetheless, FGS Deutschland was the fifth “Deutschland” in 80 years of German naval history, following in the footsteps of an ironclad, a pre-dreadnought-era battlewagon, and a well-known “pocket battleship.”

Unlike her forerunners, FGS Deutschland was a happy ship, carrying out three-month training cruises each summer for up to 250 naval cadets and chief petty officers, never seeing combat.

Check out this great 10-minute Cold War German film, covering the 2.5-month “School at Sea” during her 1984 cruise.

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