Gordon Williamson has written several volumes for Osprey's New Vanguard series that covers each of the main classes of warships in Germany's Second World War fleet. In German Pocket Battleships 1939-1945, Williamson outlines the technical details and careers of the three German warships of the "Deutschland" class: Deutschland (later Lutzow), Scheer and Graf Spee. William's summary is succinct, sometimes too succinct, such as omitting any attempt at discussing the relative contribution of these ships to the German war effort. Williamson also fails to notice that the Graf Spee is currently being raised and that parts of the ship were already salvaged in early 2004 - his readers might like to know that parts of the Graf Spee are already on display in Uruguay.
Williamson begins with a short background on the Germany Navy's reduced state after the First World War and the genesis of the "pocket battleship" concept. The author then provides a summary of the main features and wartime career of each of the three ships in this class. The summaries are sometimes overly brief, such as failing to detail how many merchant ships the Graf Spee sank or captured on her 1939 cruise, and the Battle of the River Platte or Barents Sea might have rated a small map of the action. The color plates are excellent - the best selling point of the volume - and they consist of side and plan views of the Deutschland; the Graf Spee at gunnery drill in the Atlantic; side and plan views of the Scheer; a cutaway diagram of the Graf Spee; side and plan views of the Graf Spee; the Scheer engaging Russian troops; and a variety of camouflage schemes. The photographs throughout the volume are also decent, although most of the shots were taken in port. The technical details provided by Williamson cover the basic essentials, but don't even cover all the information provided in a much shorter Jane's Fighting Ships edition from the era - such as armor layout or much detail on the torpedo armament.
Germany built the "pocket battleships" for sea denial purposes, to act as commerce raiders against British convoys and thereby spread out the Royal Navy chasing down will-o-the-wisp raiders. Unfortunately for readers of this volume, Williamson makes no effort to discuss the doctrinal rationale behind these rather unique warships or to evaluate their performance in the Second World War. This summary does reveal that the pocket battleships only conducted five anti-shipping sorties (Deutschland and Graf Spee in 1939, Scheer in 1940-1, Lutzow in the 1942 Battle of the Barents Sea, and Scheer against PQ-17 in 1942) during the entire war and only one of the sorties resulted in a successful patrol where the raider returned intact to port. All told, the pocket battleships sank 28 British merchantmen of about 170,000 tons plus a single armed merchant cruiser. Why did the three highly rated pocket battleships fail to score more successes? First, Graf Spee was lost in the first four months of the war and the other two vessels spent most of the early years of the war in dockyard; Deutschland for example, was out of commission 75% of the first three years of the war and Scheer didn't make its first war cruise until October 1940. A second reason why the ships weren't more successful is that they were designed to operate in areas where the British lacked air power, but by the time the two survivors were fully operational - in late 1942 - the window of opportunity had shut. Significantly, Lutzow and Scheer sank no enemy ships after 1941 and spent the rest of the war in secondary roles for which they were poorly suited. Thus, the pocket battleship concept was obsolete early in the war.
Williamson leaves out some vital information, like the cost of the ships. Each ship in the class cost $32-36 million, which means that they were about four times the cost of a contemporary British heavy cruiser but less than half the cost of a battleship. However, the investment of $100 million and 3,300 crewmen to eliminate a couple dozen cheap British merchantmen would make it seem that Hitler did not get his money's worth with these ships. The power plant of the Deutschland class also makes one wonder about the technical quality of the pocket battleships too, since their typical speed of 25 knots was not very fast compared to other heavy cruisers. Given that an early model U-Boat that cost about $1-1.5 million and needed only a 50-man crew could go out into the Atlantic and sink as many as 10-20 merchantmen in a successful career, it seems that Hitler would have been wiser to start the war with 50 more U-Boats than a handful of "hangar queens." Apparently, Hitler realized the same thing by November 1942, when he ordered drastic reduction in the surface fleet in favor of U-Boat production. It is fortunate for the Allied cause that Hitler did not realize the poor cost effectiveness of the pocket battleship sooner.