Photo Gallery: Zerstörer Life

Destroyers of 2. Zerstörerflottille at the Gazelle-Brücke, Wilhelmshaven, towards the end of 1939. The quay was later renamed Bonte Kai in memory of the Führer der Zerstörer who fell at Narvik.

A view of the destroyers of 2. Zerstörerflottille taken at the same location but on a different occasion that same winter. The vessel with the searchlight on the foremast is Z 20 Karl Galster.

On 18 February 1940 the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, escorted by three destroyers, made an anti-shipping foray as far as the Shetlands in response to the Altmark affair two days earlier. This was known as Operation ‘Nordmark’. It achieved nothing, and all units were back in home waters by the 20th. Following Hipper in this photograph are Z 1 Leberecht Maass (flag), with Z 20 Karl Galster and Z 21 Wilhelm Heidkamp astern.

There were few occasions during the war when a large group of destroyers sailed in formation. This is 8. Z-Flottille as seen from Z 28, with Z 24, Z 27, Z 29 and Z 30 astern.

A destroyer’s bridge at sea. At top centre is the direction-finding equipment; other navigational elements are draped with canvas. Evidently no enemy contact is expected, although alertness is being maintained. The seamen are command-relay ratings or runners; in front of them, in conversation, are two warrant officers (with shoulder straps—the WO to the right is a senior coxswain) and a senior midshipman (facing camera).

In actual operational conditions it looked more like this: a view of the after command position, starboard side. The 3.7cm AA crew is closed up. This photograph was taken during Operation ‘Cerberus’ in February 1942.

In anything of a swell a destroyer rolled like this. As this vessel heels to port, the deck lookout (wearing lifejacket) has the task of staying aboard and also preventing the ready-use ammunition from going over the side.

This sort of photograph could be taken in a quieter period aboard ship. This is either an officers’ or senior NCOs’ wardroom—both grades are present—where etiquette is observed in the form of the white mess jacket.

‘Kriegswache Ruhe!’ (Watch stand down!). The guns remain manned, but an opportunity to take the sun cannot be missed. On some operations crews often had to spend very many hours at their battle stations—whatever the weather.

A destroyer at sea: a view from aft, starboard side, looking forward. The AA is manned; the command relay ratings are wearing headphones.

A view from astern, to starboard. An engagement with the enemy may be expected, for the crew on deck are wearing lifejackets and steel helmets.

One of the twin 3.7cm anti-aircraft guns.

Looking forward along the port side of a Zerstörer.

The second main weapon of the destroyer was the torpedo. Here an ‘eel’ is being manoeuvred manually into a torpedo tube.

A 2cm single. The net is a cartridge trap: raw materials were scarce and had to be conserved.

The calibre of main guns aboard the Kriegsmarine’s destroyers were either 12.7cm or 15cm. Here the two forward single gunhouses have been trained to starboard during loading drill.

Gunnery exercises and actual firing practice were carried out in all types of weather. In this photograph, the ship’s guardrail has been removed. The forecastle deck, generously coated with ice, demands great care from the gun crew.

A view of a destroyer’s fantail, showing two lines of mines mounted on wheeled trolleys before a laying operation.

Torpedo firing. In the torpedo control stand are the fire control NCO and a command-relay rating. The tubes have been trained athwartships for firing.

The characteristic ‘spoon’ shape of German torpedo tubes. Notice that the inner two tubes were set back a little to avoid any interference with the outer tubes when a fan of four was fired.

‘Sperr-waffe’ is a term meaning any shipboard equipment to do with mines. Here, antimine paravanes—known as Otter (otters)—are about to be streamed. This minesweeping activity was for the destroyer’s own protection only, although the technique involved was similar to that employed by minesweepers. The drums are depth charges in their containers.

A destroyer’s wheelhouse; the white rig suggests that this is peacetime, in summertime or in a warm clime. To the left of the watch officer are command-relay ratings. To his right, the helmsman has a voicetube at mouth height; in the cupola before him is a gyro compass and at hip height, right and left, other voicetubes, the rudder position indicator, etc.

Another view of a, wheelhouse. The helmsman, a rating highly experienced in steering by electrical button and lever, was expected in rough seas or other emergencies to act on his own initiative without waiting for the commander’s or watch officer’s order. He came into his own in critical situations. The instruments are arranged differently from those in the photograph above: the man’s hands rest on the ‘tiller’; in front of him is the rudder position indicator and nearby the gyro compass equipment; and at left is the machine telegraph, etc. At breast height is a voicetube.

A glimpse into the radio room aboard a German destroyer.

A destroyer’s switching room. Notice the numerous monitoring instruments and the relatively cramped conditions. As all machinery was steam driven, leather wear was compulsory in order to protect the men against scalds.

The turbine control aboard a destroyer. The narrowness was oppressive: there were too many people—engineer of the watch, command-relay ratings etc—and too little room. In the foreground is an NCO at the main valve wheel. He had to keep a watchful eye at all times on every gauge in front of him—a job demanding the highest concentration.

The very narrow boiler room, in which comprehensive knowledge, technical understanding and expertise went hand in hand with a feeling for the machinery. There was an art to watching all the gauges amongst the maze of pipes.

Close in to a destroyer’s forefunnel with six steam/ventilation pipes attached aft.

The stern of a destroyer in dock at Wilhelmshaven in the summer of 1945. Notice the redesigned form in comparison to the Types 1934 and 1936 Types. The bottom photograph gives a good view of the mine rails on the upper deck and the two small hand cranes for the paravanes. The after 15cm gun has no splinter shield (it has probably been removed for overhaul), and the superfiring gun has been landed for repair.

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