Friday, 28 August 2020

Spoils of War: What happened to the enemy fleets after the First and Second World Wars ended.

When the World Wars ended, the victors had to dispose of the weaponry they had captured. This included everything from small arms to battleships ... and it is what happened to the latter (and the smaller warships that had been surrendered) that has always been on interest to me.

A recently published book – SPOILS OF WAR: THE FATE OF ENEMY FLEETS AFTER THE TWO WORLD WARS – is a detailed study of the subject, and makes very interesting reading.

I have written about what happened to the German warships that survived the First World War in earlier blog posts, but I had not covered the disposal of the ships of the Austrian-Hungarian and Turkish fleets. Most of the former navy’s larger units were scrapped (one notable exception was the old ironclad battleship Kronprinz Erzherzog Rudolf, which ended up becoming the Yugoslav Kumbor from 1921 to 1922), but the more modern cruisers, destroyers, and torpedo boats went on to serve in the French, Italian, Yugoslav, and Romanian navies.

The SMS Kronprinz Erzherzog Rudolf as she looked in 1915.
Some of the redundant German warships were converted into merchant ships. The coastal defence ships Frithjof, Odin, and Aegir were converted into vehicle transporters. Their original steam engines were removed and replaced by ex-submarine diesel engines.

SMS Frifthjof when she was serving a coastal defence ship in 1902 ....
... and as she looked after she had been converted into a merchant ship in 1923.
The cruisers Gefion and Victoria Louise were converted into diesel-powered cargo ships, again using redundant engines from submarines. The most unusual conversions were the tankers Ostpreussen and Oberschlesien, which were each constructed from two incomplete submarine pressure hulls that were placed side by side. They were used by Hugo Stinnes-Rübeck Montan & Oelwerke A.G. until they were sold to Italian owners in 1927, who renamed them Caucaso and Nautilus. They both survived until the Second World War, during which they were sunk.

The tanker Ostpreussen. The pressure hull of one of the two submarines that were placed side by side to form the basis of the ship’s hull can be clearly seen.
After the Second World War, what remained of the German Navy was disposed of amongst the allies. The heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen was the largest surviving operational warship, and she ended up become a target during the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests. The light cruiser Nürnberg joined the Soviet Navy, where she became the Admiral Makarov. She was joined by the former Italian battleship Giulio Cesare (renamed Novorossiysk) and light cruiser Emanuele Filiberto Duca d'Aosta (renamed Kerch). Another Italian light cruiser – Eugenio di Savoia – became the Greek Helle, and the former Capitani Romani-class light cruisers Attilio Regolo and Scipione Africano became the French Chateaurenault and Guichen respectively.

Very little of the Japanese Navy remained seaworthy at the end of the Second World War, but those vessels that did survive were put into service by the victorious allies. A significant number of smaller vessels (escort destroyers etc.) went on to serve with the Soviet Navy and Nationalist Chinese Navy, and subsequently with the Communist Chinese Navy.

Of particular interest is the story of the USS Stewart, a veteran First World War four-stacker destroyer. She was captured by the Japanese, repaired, rearmed, and recommissioned by them as Patrol Boat (Shokaitei) No.102. She survived the war, and was recommissioned into the US Navy for a short time before being sunk as a target of the coast of California.

The USS Stewart.
The ex-USS Stewart after she had been surrendered. She had been repaired, rearmed, and seen service as the Japanese Patrol Boat (Shokaitei) No.102.
She was hit by eighteen rockets and thousands of rounds of .50-inch calibre ammunition fired by five US Navy F6F Hellcat fighters, but this was not enough to sink her. She was finally sunk by USS PC-799 after being hit by seventeen three-inch shells and twelve 40-mm rounds!

SPOILS OF WAR: THE FATE OF ENEMY FLEETS AFTER THE TWO WORLD WARS was written by Aidan Dodson and Serena Cant, and published in 2020 by Seaforth Publishing (ISBN 978 1 5267 4198 1).


  1. Hi Bob,
    A very interesting Post- we don't often think of Post-War History when it comes to the Navy. Some of our earlier ships (AUS) become Submarine Depot ships. Best Wishes. KEV.

    1. Kev Robertson (Kev),

      The careers of some ships were truly amazing, with some changing hands (and being rebuilt) multiple times.

      I’ve always thought that the cruiser HMS Adelaide ha an interesting career. She was built to a pre-World War I design, but was not completed until after the war had ended. She was modernised and served during World War II, and although she did not take part in any major battles, she sank a German blockade runner and helped secure the New Hebrides for the Free French.

      All the best,


  2. Hi Bob -
    I have always rather liked the idea that such vessels eventually found emplyment in other navies. Quite why it was thought a good idea to whomp 'Prinz Eugen' with a nuke is frankly beyond my comprehension. One suspects who arranged that, as a kid, destroyed his teddy bear before he was three and it was never replaced...
    Archduke Piccolo.

    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      I suspect that Prinz Eugen was expended as a target for both technical and political reasons. Technical, because she was relatively new and the test would show the effects of blast damage on a ship with up-to-date subdivision and protection, and political to make sure that the Russians did not get her. After all, they had her partially completed sister ship Lützow and the opportunity to raised the scuttled hull of another sister ship, Seydlitz, which was in Russian-occupied Königsberg. If they had Prinz Eugen as well, they could have the basis of a modern heavy cruiser force for very little effort.

      All the best,


  3. Interesting stuff .. The tanker Ostpreussen. The pressure hull of one of the two submarines that were placed side by side to form the basis of the ship’s hull can be clearly seen .. caught my eye in particular! Where there is a will there is a way!

    1. Geordie an Exile FoG,

      The two tankers passed into Italian service, and were sunk by the British during the Second World War.

      There were plans to convert some destroyer hulls into sailing ships, and at least one incomplete battleship into a liner. The world shortage of shipping made the German ship designers very inventive when it came to reusing existing hulls, even though few of their plans came to fruition.

      All the best,



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