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The Gorch Fock class

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Often overlooked is a German class of WW2 era navy ships, which is actually quite famous and well known. However, everybody kinda forgets about it all the time. The main reason for that may be this class’s ships are all training vessels. The Gorch Fock class.

All six of these ships were and are barques and it is the only ship class built for the German Navy to have been built prior, during and after the Second World War. It is also rather successful in the regard that 5 out of 6 ships are still around.

The idea of getting barks as training vessels for sailors came in the 1920’s Reichsmarine for several reasons. Prior to this the last sailing ship of the old Kaiserliche Marine was decommissioned in 1909 and it was succeeded by two vessels of the Victoria-Louise-class. Two heavy, pre-dreadnought cruiser. After the First World War, they remained with Germany but were struck nonetheless in the early 1920’s and the Reichsmarine, partly due to ideology, partly due to treaty of Versailles reasons, decided to get a sailing ship again.

The Niobe was commissioned in 1922, but sunk in a white squall in 1932.

Subsequently the Reichsmarine ordered a new sailing ship, another barque.


Gorch Fock

This new barque would become the “Gorch Fock”. She was ordered in 1932 (prior to Hitlers rise to power). Her namesake was the “North Sea Poet” Gorch Fock, who had served as a lookout on the small cruiser SMS Wiesbaden until he sank with it during the battle of the Skagerrak. His body later was given back by the sea and he was buried on the uninhabited Danish island of Stensholmen. He was so famous by the time he died, the kaiserliche Marine even named a ship after him in 1917. A small patrol boat.

The Gorch Fock was commissioned in June 1933 and consisted of 65 crew and up to 198 sea cadets. The Reichsmarine was very satisfied with her and she made several voyages to ports all around the world.

With the beginning of WW2 she was used as a housing ship in her homeport of Stralsund. Sometimes she was used again in her purpose as a training vessel. Near the end of the War she was scuttled by her crew in sight of Soviet troops. After the war she was given to the USSR and refloated. The USSR put her into service as a training vessel as well, but under the name of “Tovarish”. Her new home became Kherson at the black sea. She made a complete around the world journey in 1957 and took part in the “Operation Sail” 1976, a prestigious sailing event hosted by the US with the USCGC Eagle as hosting ship. She was the first to cross the starting line of the transatlantic regatta for OpSail. She also won tall ship races in 1974 and 1976.

After the dissolution of the USSR, the Ukraine inherited the ship in 1991 and used it in its merchant navy, but put her out of commission in 1993.

She was sailed to Newcastle-upon-Tyne for repairs in 1995, but since it was too expensive nothing really happened. Until 1999 a group of private sponsors picked her up and brought her to Wilhelmshaven as flagship of the EXPO 2000 in Germany. In 2003 the “Tall-Ship-Friends” club bought her from the Ukraine and brought her to her homeport of Stralsund and she was properly renamed “Gorch Fock” again. Sadly the transit was not on her own, but aboard a big transport ship. She was repaired and the aim is to get her out on the Baltic sea again. However that will cost a few million Euros, but she is reenlisted in the German seaship register and afloat in the Stralsund harbour. She can be visited, since a museum was made out of her and since 2016 she’s officially a heritage site of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. To better fund the restauration the city of Stralsund decided to buy the ship in November 2018, so taxpayer money can repair it. Or you dear reader, if you got money 8 million worth of Euros laying around somewhere.



A penny for the look on your faces. Yes, for anyone unaware: The training vessel of the United States Coast Guard is the second ship of the class.

During the rearmament process of the Reichsmarine under Hitler and Admiral Raeder, the Kriegsmarine* soon had the problem of capacity for its recruits. At the same time they were highly satisfied with the performance of the Gorch Fock, so they ordered a second vessel of the same type. Modifications were only to enlarge the ship a bit. Instead of 82m, it became 89m long and all the spars were made out of steel instead of wood. Apart from that the ships were identical. In comparison the USS Constitution is 62m.

The new ship was named “Horst Wessel” in the presence of Adolf Hitler by the mother of Horst Wessel. Horst Wessel was a SA memberr who was killed in Berlin as early as 1930 (three years before Hitler became chancellor). His death was hyped by the later propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, then leader of the Nazi party in Berlin, and Horst Wessel became the prime martyr of the Nazis. He was such a prominent figure, they even composed a song named the “Horst-Wessel-Song”, which is in fact illegal in Germany today. It was used as the national anthem by Nazi-Germany. (Contrary to popular belief the infamous “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” -Germany, Germany above everthing; 1st verse of the “Song of the Germans”- was not the anthem. And to sing it is also not illegal. The 3rd verse became the official anthem of the Federal Republic of Germany after WW2.)

I tell you these background facts, so you know what a powerful name this ship had from a Nazi perspective. The Horst Wessel was commissioned on the 17th of September 1936 and was the flagship of the training vessel fleet. Unlike the Gorch Fock, which was at home in Stralsund, the homeport of the Horst Wessel became Kiel. In 1938 Adolf Hitler personally sailed on her, but disembarked after only one hour. Later that year she cruised the Caribbean for four months. Prior to that cruise, she had only sailed the Baltic Sea and North Atlantic.

With the outbreak of the war, the Horst Wessel was decommissioned and used as a docked training ship in Stralsund for the Hitler Youth. But in 1942 the Horst Wessel was recommissioned as a training vessel in the Baltic Sea and equipped with several Anti-Aircraft cannons. The only trouble the Horst Wessel ran into was in 1944, when she sailed together with her sister-ship “Albert Leo Schlageter” (ALS) near the island of Rügen in rough weather. The ALS struck a mine and was towed by the Horst Wessel to prevent her from sinking.

In April 1945 she disembarked the last group of cadets and recruits. She took on refugees fleeing from the red army and sailed to Flensburg, where she surrendered to the British Forces. The Union Jack was hoisted. Her only voyage as a British ship was from Flensburg to Bremerhaven where she was tied to a pier and the United States won her by drawing her lot against the Soviet Union and Great Britain.

She was requested by the Coast Guard. On May 15th 1946 she was commissioned as “United States Coast Guard Cutter Eagle”. In June 1946 she undertook her voyage into the United States with her latest German crew and commander aboard. The Germans were disembarked at Camp Shanks, Orangetown, New York. Ironically called “Last Stop USA” by soldiers who went overseas. For the Germans it now became “First Stop USA”. She then continued her voyage under her first all American crew to New London, Conneticut, which became her home harbour. Since then she has served as a training vessel of the USCG and represents the United States of America and the USCG nationally and internationally. Her nickname is “Americas’s tall ship”. As mentioned above she hosts the “Operation Sail” every time it is conducted.

The Eagle returned to Germany for the first time in 1972 on invitation of the Federal Government of Germany and visited her old home port of Kiel. The visit also included a race against her younger sister, the 1958 built Gorch Fock, and her grand-aunt, the polish training vessel “Dar Pomoroza” (Gift of Pomerania) who started her life as the German training sailing ship “Prinzeß Eitel Friedrich” (after the address for the wife of Prince Eitel Friedrich of Prussia). The Poles got her from the Brits after WW1. Eagle lost the race. Her sails ripped in heavy weather and she came in last place. But seeing family was more important anyway, non?

Since then she has revisited Germany several times, but travels the whole world when she is allowed to do so, natürlich. The figurehead of the Eagle btw was renewed in 1970, but prior to that it was the same Eagle, the Germans had put on it: The Reichsadler. The new figurehead has only minor design changes. If you pay attention, you can see the eagle spreads its wings and holds a disc with the emblem of the Coast Guard in its claws. When the ship was German a swastika was on that disc, which made it a Nazireichsadler** in the first place.

Maybe @RockyArby can find the time and means to give us a bit more insight on her.

*The name changed from “Reichsmarine” to “Kriegsmarine” in 1935.

** There exist three general versions of the “Reichsadler”. With open wings it is imperial, with open wings and a swastika in its claws it is Nazi and with closed wings it is republican. All three attempts for a republic so far used the closed wings to signal the rest of Europe that the German eagle is not out to hunt and to signal peaceful intentions. Also we now call it "Bundesadler"... or fat chicken, but that's a story for another day.


NRP Sagres

This ship also started as a ship of the Kriegsmarine. She was commissioned on the 30th October 1937 to further enhance the training capabilities of the Kriegsmarine. Her original name was “Albert Leo Schlageter”. Mr. Schlageter was a member of several Freikorps and had become a member of a Nazi cover organization in 1922 directly after the Nazi party itself was prohibited throughout the whole Reich. What made him special was his fate in the Ruhrfight, when the French and Belgians occupied the Ruhr area to force Germany to pay reparations by confiscating the reparations directly. This led to paramilitary resitance even uniting nationalist militia with communist militia. (Well, at least they coordinated.) Schlageter was executed by the French in 1923 for sabotage and murder. The circumstances that led to the execution made him a martyr for German people regardless of party affiliation until the Nazis made him into the “first soldier of the Reich” in their propaganda after the rise to power.

The ship ALS served, just like her sisters, as a training vessel, but was moored in Kiel as an office ship with the outbreak of the war in 1939. So she should be proficient in paperwork. Like her sisters she was reactivated later, but only in 1944. The mine incident near Rügen, where she was subsequently towed by Horst Vessel led to her mooring in Flensburg, where she was captured by the United States and confiscated (no lottery for her). Unlike her (undamaged) elder sister the United States found no real use for her and finally sold her to Brazil in 1948 for the symbolic sum of $ 5.000. She was towed to Rio de Janeiro and served as the “Guanabara” (Rio de Janeiro resides at the Guanabara-Bay). Until 1960 she was used as a training vessel, but then it was decided she was insufficient in her role and became the floating HQ of the Brazilian patrol boats. Coincidentally the Marinha Portuguesa was looking for a tall ship as a replacement for their aging tall ship “Sagres”, which was also a former German ship, a trade sailing ship, seized by Portugal in WW1. That ship is also still around, but as a museum ship in Hamburg, but you can find out which one it is for yourselves.

Anyhow, the Marinha Portuguesa bought the Guanabara in 1961 and renamed her “Sagres”, after the town where the famous sailor academy of Henry the Navigator was located and which is close to the most western point of Europe. Despite this her homeport is Lisboa and she is the training ship of the Marinha Portuguesa to this day. She also has two round-the-world-trips under her belt. Just like her sisters she also participated in OpSail 1976 for the Bicentennial celebrations of the USA.

The Portuguese also were the first to switch the figurehead. They replaced the Reichsadler with a figure depicting Henry the Navigator. Her steering wheel still has the inscription “Segelschulschiff Leo Albert Schlageter” on it. Maybe @Gerrion can tell us a bit more about her role in the Marinha Portuguesa.



The fourth of the six sisters was originally named Mircea I. (cel Baran; the older) and was the only one who never served any German navy. She was ordered by the Romanian Navy and named after a legendary ruler of Wallachia, a predecessor state of Romania. He became famous for uniting Wallachia and defending it against the Ottoman Empire. The figurehead of the ship depicts him.

Mircea was commissioned on May 17th 1938 and put into Romanian service on September 22nd of the same year. After WW2 she was briefly confiscated by the USSR, but given back to Romania shortly after. In 1966 she saw her birth place in Hamburg again for an overhaul. She also participated in the Operation sail 1976 with her sisters and is still operated as training vessel by the Romanian Navy. She also represents the Romanian Navy overseas regularly. I couldn’t find her homeport, but since March 2017 she’s leased to the German Navy for reasons you can find in the last entry. She’s currently operated by a mixed crew of Romanians and Germans (mostly cadets), but under pure Romanian ownership.


Herbert Norkus

This ship, like her elder sister, was planned to increase the training capacities of the Kriegsmarine. Due to the outbreak of the war in 1939 she was never commissioned. She was christened on November 7th 1939 and received an emergency launch to free her building space for U-Boote. She was named after Herbert Norkus, a member of the Hitler Youth, killed in a fight with the Red Front Youth in 1932. He was for the Hilter Youth, what ALS was for the adult Nazis. In theory she could’ve been completed, but the war prevented it. Her official building stop came in January 1945, after a bomb attack had damaged her and after the war the ship was seized by the British. They tried to sell it to Brazil, but the Brazilians bought her finished sister from the USA instead. She was loaded with ammunition and scuttled by the Allies in the Skagerrak in 1947. She was never commissioned.


Gorch Fock

Déjà vu? No. After WW2 and the German rearmament in both Germanys, the Federal Navy decided it needed a new ship. Since everyone had good memories of the old Gorch-Fock-class ships, they decided to simply order another one in 1958. And to keep at least some tradition they named it again Gorch Fock, after the North-Sea poet. Keep in mind this name was formerly chosen by the Weimar Reichswehr, not the Nazis, who then only chose nazi-martyr names. She was christened by the niece of Gorch Fock and his brother held the speech for it completely in lower German. She was commissioned in 1958 and her homeport is Kiel.

She was the first German ship to enter a Polish port after WW2 and was declared the victor of the regatta for the 200 year celebrations of the United States of America, since she was in the lead when doldrums hit the entire race. Yes, she was also at Operation sail in 1976, making it a complete family reunion. In fact the first and only complete one I could find. Since 1980 she holds the record for a day’s run in her class for the North-Sea/Eastern North Atlantic with 323nm. She represented Germany in fleet parades and on journeys around the world. She has one complete around the world trip under her belt.

Her figurehead is an albatross. It was lost unintentionally 4 times already and was replaced one time on purpose, making her current figurehead the already sixth one. As hinted above she’s currently not at sea. In 2015 she was brought to Bremerhaven for an overhaul. Her hull had some damage. During her time in the shipyard many more problems were discovered prolonging her stay and exploding the estimated cost from 8-9million to currently 137million Euro. Nonetheless the Navy continued the repairs. After the spending of 67million Euro the Federal Audit Office put a stop to it and now it is uncertain if she will be repaired or replaced. And that’s why Mircea was asked to help out.

I’ll update if I know what will happen. Maybe a seventh sister?

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  • 7 months later...

I need to give a few corrections and updates regarding NRP Sagres' lore. Henry the Navigator was born in O'Porto (yes, my hometown - they've preserved their home and it remain a cultural exhibition space to this day) and learned his trade in the Sagres Nautical School (right at the "chin" of our country's face that gazes at the Atlantic). The name is indeed a traditional heritage passed on by the main school ship of the Portuguese Naval School, where the most important exams and rites of passage take place. While I heard a lot about it, I never had the chance to go aboard.

Besides the records already stated by Käpt'n Korky, the ship has also participated in two major Portuguese celebrations: in 1992, she participated in the Columbus boat race, part of the 450 years' celebration of the Portuguese's Arrival on Japan in 1993. Later on, she visited Brasil during the 500 years' celebration of the Discovery of Brasil in 2000.

As for major events, the ship departed for her third trip around the world in January 10th, 1910. The trip took her to 29 distant locations before completing her journey on December 23rd of the same year, It was her greatest trip to date, opening her kind arms to over 300.000 visitors along the journey.

In terms of honored awards, she was recieved as an honorary member of Portugal's Military Order of Our Knights of Lord Jesus Christ  (in short, "Ordem Militar de Cristo") on March 12th of 2012 for her 50 years of service in the Marinha Portuguesa. Later on in 2017, October 24th, she recieved the medal of the Military Order Of Avis, the most ancient honorific award in our country, given only to those in military ranks that excelled beyond human effort and dedication.to the country.


So, to put it short, she was well recieved within our community and given awards that only Portuguese men and women could recieve, so she's definately viewed as a Portuguese ship nowadays ^_^

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  • 1 year later...
  • 1 year later...

A tour through the Gorch Fock II:

Interesting detail: The old GF II had the masts of the Herbert Norkus, because B&V had them still after the war, so it was cheaper. The refit removed those, not because of evil Nazi masts, but because they were 11 tons heavier than the new gear, making the ship less top heavy now.

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