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German and Italian Aircraft Carriers of World War II

01 Sep 23


(Osprey Publishing – £11.99)

ISBN 978 1 4728 4676 1

48 pages

Although neither Germany nor Italy deployed an aircraft carrier in the Second World War, both countries pursued carrier programmes, which resulted in ships being constructed and carrier-capable aircraft being built. However, as German and Italian Aircraft Carriers of World War II explores, a variety of factors, including inconsistent political support, inter-service rivalries, and ultimately, the course of the War itself, resulted in the programmes being cancelled. The authors, Douglas Dildy and Ryan Noppen, a retired US Air Force colonel, and scholar of European military history respectively, together with the excellent illustrations of Paul Wright, provide in this book, a succinct and concise introduction to the German and Italian efforts to develop aircraft carriers before and during the Second World War.

Divided into two principal sections, the first covering Germany’s interest in carriers, the second Italy’s, followed by a brief conclusion and select bibliography, the book whilst short (48 pages), provides a good balance of breadth and depth. The authors detail, for example, Germany’s seaplane carriers of the First World War and the planned carrier Ausonia, which was intended to operate both conventional aircraft and floatplanes, Italy’s interest in carriers and experimentation from the First World War onwards, and occupying the majority of the book, Nazi Germany’s efforts to develop carriers as part of the wider Plan Z naval expansion programme.

As the authors explain, Plan Z envisaged the construction by 1947 of a force centred on six 56,000-ton H-class battleships, battlecruisers, light cruisers for commerce raiding, and two “12,0000-ton aircraft carriers”, which were to join the already approved 23,000-ton Graf Zeppelin and its unnamed sister ship. The design and development of the Graf Zeppelin and its planned air-group, comprising initially carrier-borne variants of the Messerschmitt BF-109 and Junkers Ju-87, and Fieseler Fi-167s, with plans for the Messerschmitt Me-155 to replace the 109 in 1946, was the focus of German efforts to deploy carrier airpower. It was intended that the Luftwaffe would provide the air-group for the Graf Zeppelin, as opposed to the Kriegsmarine itself.

With the outbreak of war in 1939, the German naval leadership had to plan for confronting the Royal Navy with its extant force rather than what was foreseen under Plan Z, and in terms of the role of carriers, it was hoped that “two task forces, each consisting of a pair of battleships and an aircraft carrier” would contribute to operations in the North Atlantic. The outbreak of war delayed work on the Graf Zeppelin and ended construction of its sister ship; work on the former continued in fits and starts until Hitler on 6 January 1943 ordered the ending of work on all major surface warships.

German and Italian Aircraft Carriers of World War II provides a highly engaging, informative read and will particularly appeal to those with an interest in the naval history of the Second World War. Pondering the impact on British strategy in 1942, for example, of the Graf Zeppelin deploying alongside the Tirpitz, or of an Italian carrier in the Mediterranean, are questions prompted when reading this book. All in all, this book offers good insights, including into the challenges of developing carrier airpower, and is well worth reading. Recommended.