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Kreigsmarine Destroyers Part 1
Z Class Destroyers Z-1 - Z-16

By: Daniel H. Jones

In the Allied intelligence manuals these ships were known as the Leberecht Maass class, after the first named ship. In German records they were always referred to as the Type 34 (Z1- to Z-4) and type 34A (Z-5 through Z-16). They were large, very powerful looking ships and were fast and heavily armed. They were in fact examples of the penalties of trying to do too much on a limited displacement. Their magnificent appearance concealed some serious design weaknesses and they were modified continuously in an effort to correct these shortcomings.

The class was constructed by several yards, first units laid down in 1934 and the last completed by 1939. The class comprised the bulk of destroyer forces available in the early days of the war and over half were lost in action.

The Kriegsmarine was greatly outnumbered in all classes of warships, thus the destroyer design philosophy was to produce small numbers of superior ships to try to offset the imbalance in numbers. Various machinery arrangements were tried, the common feature being very high force pressure turbines. Pressure levels were much higher than equivalent ships, even Japanese units, resulting in poor operational reliability.

The heavy armament was also an attempt to make up for shortages in numbers of ships. They carried five 12.7cm/45 main guns (equivalent to the British 4.7 gun) and four 37mm AA and six 20mm AA. Eight 53.3cm torpedo tubes in two quadruple launchers were carried. Four depth charge throwers were fitted. Up to 60 mines could be carried.

All ships suffered from lack of stability due to the excessive top weight of this armament. They tended to ride low in the water at the bow and suffered from excessive spray at high speeds. The original straight bow stem fitted on Z-1 - Z-4 made this problem worse and all were fitted with a re-designed angled and flared bow. Strakes were fitted at various times to most units trying to reduce the spray, so excessive that it reached the bridge and made working the forward guns dangerous. The problem was reduced but never entirely solved. All German destroyers including later construction tended to be very wet ships in any sort of sea conditions.

As the war progressed, surviving units were up-gunned with additional 37mm or 20mm AA. After 1944, Z-5, Z-10 and Z-15 had only four 12.7 guns and increased 37mm guns to 10 (Z-5), 12 (Z-10) and 14 (Z-15). When building a model of any German destroyer it pays to check photos and drawings carefully for the specific ship and time period. Due to their slow building times and small numbers German destroyers were very individual ships with considerable variation in equipment.

There is no kit of the type 34 or 34A destroyers. In 1/700 there are two kits, both of the later Narvik (Type 39A) class. The Matchbox kit is, in my opinion, not worth bothering with. Skywave's Z-37/Z-39 kit is not perfect, but is far superior and better designed and molded. For conversion work it is much easier to work with. Getting to a Maass from a Narvik is a major conversion but it CAN be done. The hull must be shortened. Two cuts are recommended, one just forward of the aft deck house and one at the stern, as shown in the sketches. Gun platforms are replaced with new ones cut from .020 plastic or can be re-shaped from the kit parts. The deck house lengths and shapes must be adjusted slightly. The funnels must be heightened as shown. The bridge wings are basically the same but are shorter in length and must be either cut down or replaced. The forecastle deck must be extended aft by .060. The bow is reshaped by filling in the notched anchor positions and re-shaping with a file. The early German destroyers had conventional hawse holes rather than the notched, open anchor stowage as in later ships. The guns are adapted from Skywave Weapons set 38 (E-2). These are parts number 2 and 24. The shield is for early Japanese destroyers but is over scale and has been superseded by better parts in set E-7. It is modified as per the drawings. The advantage of doing the guns this way is consistency of appearance and the using up of otherwise useless parts. The result looks quite convincing for the German guns.

The 37mm and 20mm twin mounts are adaptions of the Japanese 25mm mounts. In the various weapons sets you will notice some variation in size on these parts. I modified the larger ones for 37mm's and the smaller ones for 20's. Gun shields were simulated with small pieces of plastic card. The single 20mm were Japanese single 13.7 mounts from the weapons sets. A Japanese open director also served well for the small open director on top of the bridge.

The searchlight position aft of number two funnel is a USN director tub. Masts, platform supports, derricks for the ships boats are made from wire or sprue. Rails and ladders and the radar set came from Tom's Model Works brass sets. German ships used the three-bar style rails so you need the USN sets for these.

I have not been more specific in building instruction because I am sure that anyone attempting this will have developed their own favorite methods of construction. I finished my model in about three weeks of intermittent work. I finished it in pre-war scheme to show off the shapes, light grey hull and lighter grey upper works. I am not at all sure what these colors should be. I ended up using Floquil Confederate gray for the hull and Floquil IJN Navy (aircraft under surface) light grey for the superstructure. I welcome your comments as to a correct color match for WWII German warship colors. Any ideas?

1/700 Scale Drawings

Z-1 / Z-4 1937
As built with straight stem
Z-1 / Z-4 1939
Modified with new bow
Z-4 1942
Increased AA Fit, tripod mast and radar added

This article originally appeared in Plastic Ship Modeler 1994/1 and is reprinted here with the permission of the author and editor.

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