|Armament||Lots of 4.1 " DP|
Some light AA
|VTS Rating||1 4 5 (2)|
The North German Lloyd Line of large, high-speed passenger liners included the 44,000-ton Europa. With the outbreak of war few Germans were going to be travelling overseas, and Germany had no use for troopships to connect her largely continental conquests, so the passenger liners sat around idle. Large ships take a lot of skilled manpower and large quantities of strategic materials to build, so when Germany tried to rectify its critical shortage of warships and, specifically, aircraft carriers, she looked to these large liners as quick conversion possibilities. Europa was designated "Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier I". Plans in early 1942 called for a carrier resembling an oversized Graf Zeppelin (Pommern drawing in my series) but having a sway-backed look from the curved liner decks below flightdeck level. The more the conversion was studied, the harder the task seemed, and stability was deemed an overwhelming obstacle despite ideas to add on concrete bulges. They gave up before any actual conversion work was attempted.
In "Grand Fleet", however, the Kriegsmarine got a much earlier start and discovered ways to rectify the more difficult aspects of the conversion. The upper decks were leveled out for hangars and workshops, and large side vents as on American carriers were included. Internal bulges were created and filled with concrete, and large Sperry gyroscopes were rigged up in the lower holds. A familiar-type island superstructure was on the starboard side, and most AA guns were sited below flight deck level. A small aircraft complement for such a large ship was the price to pay for lack of shipbuilding effort earlier. After the war started, much of the skilled labor force went towards readying the giant battleships that appealed to Hitler's sense of seapower. When the news of Graf Zeppelin's successful raid on the Panama Canal was received in Berlin it electrified Germany, and Hitler personally asked that work on the Europa be speeded up so that she could join the other German carriers in a mass raid on the US East Coast. Reluctant to squelch any enthusiasm Hitler showed for the Kriegsmarine, the Naval High Command went along with the scheme, for a while.
Ready in late 1942, Europa gave the Allies the slip and broke out into the North Atlantic during the winter and headed South to divert Allied naval resources away from the important northern convoy routes while a new U-boat offensive was in the making. Long-range Allied maritime bombers kept finding and reporting Europa's location, despite a high attrition rate from the effects of Europa's He 113T interceptors. The USS Belvedere and two cruisers were trying to run down the Europa but German Ta-152T-2S torpedo bombers put Belvedere temporarily out of action and the cruisers declined to pursue. Europa had somehow outdistanced most of the US fleet and was now heading into the Caribbean to try to valiantly duplicate Graf Zeppelin's exploits, or at least disrupt Mardi Gras by bombing New Orleans.
Europa's fate was sealed by the attrition of her limited air resources. Several attacks by USS Ranger's aircraft had left Europa's engines damaged sufficiently to limit her speed to 12 knots. A damaged and out-of-control F5U fighter plane had pancaked on the Europa's flight deck and swept the remaining German aircraft off into the sea. The Ranger, her own air complement depleted from attacks on Europa at last had her in sight and began a gunnery engagement. Gunfire poured into Europa's concrete "armor" and began tearing the ship slowly apart. Despite Europa's considerable armament, the Ranger was clearly winning the gun duel, and approaching almost to within collision distance. It suddenly dawned on the Europa's captain that Ranger was intent on grappling and boarding! Vowing that no German capital ship would ever be captured, the Captain ordered scuttling charges set as the Ranger scrunched and ground its way to a halt up against the Europa's portside bow. Locked in hand-to-hand combat, the boarders felt a deep shudder and rumble as the charges in the stern blew out the bottom. The Europa disengaged from Ranger as the stern settled and, with all of her crew off, slowly slid into the Caribbean.