After the construction of the first three Panzerschiffe (Panzerschiff A-C: Deutschland
, Admiral Scheer
and Admiral Graf Spee
) various plans for their successors were made. Projects ranged from only slightly modified designs, increased main artillery (like 30 cm guns), ships that later could refitted with a third turret or Panzerschiffe with steam engines.
The developers first weren't allowed to increase the size of the ships, so all projects sooner or later lead into a quite similar design as the older Panzerschiffe. Only after a significant grow in size was allowed, the final development of the Scharnhorst
class started. Although often called "battlecruisers", those ships were officially labeled as "battleships".
In difference to the Panzerschiffe a high-pressure steam engine was chosen for these ship to give them a much higher speed but since those engines never worked without any problems later operations were often negatively influenced by them. Their main artillery was increased by 50%, but unlike other foreign battleships, the Scharnhorst
class got only the small caliber guns of the Panzerschiffe. The decision for those guns was made because those guns were already in production and at this time no bigger gun was developed. To complete the ships in the planed time, the 28cm (11") guns had to be used. But the construction of the turret mountings allowed it to replace the 28cm triple turrets with 38 cm (15") twin turrets. It was planed to do this conversion after the construction of the next generation of battleships (Battleship F & G) in 1940, but the start of the war prevented this.
Battleship D, later called Scharnhorst
, was laid down in May 1935 at the Kriegsmarine Shipyard in Wilhelmshaven and commissioned in January 1939. The sister ship Gneisenau
(Battleship E) was laid down in March 1935 at the Deutsche Werke in Kiel and commissioned in May 1938. It soon got obvious that the straight bow of the ships had to be modified because of the amount of water taken over at high speed.
During the war, both ships operated together most time. They did a successful North Atlantic operation, and were the only battleships that sink a operational fleet carrier.