Gneisenau, sister-ship to Scharnhorst, occupies tier 7 in the hopefully-not-delayed German battleship line. As many people are complaining, however, she doesn’t actually get her historical armament of nine 283mm guns in three triple turrets! That honour stays with her sister, Scharnhorst, and her alone: Gneisenau, always the unlucky one of the two, has to settle for a sad six-gun broadside exactly one inch and two guns smaller than her new friends Colorado and Nagato. However – and I’ll get to this in a bit – the Germans were actually kind enough to lay out what she sh0uld look like post-upgrade.
Now for a bit of history, explaining why we’re talking about Gneisenau in this situation, rather than her more popular and attractive sister, Scharnhorst.
In February of 1942, not long after the legendary Channel Dash, Gneisenau was back to her home of Deutsche Werke Kiel for some repairs. She was to head to Norway starting in early March, just ahead of her sister; the British were tracking her, however, and the same night that her repairs were completed the British bombed her while she was in drydock. A single bomb smashed through her forecastle and the heat ignited propellant charges in her foremost turret. exploding and essentially blasting the whole front of the poor ship off.
112 men were killed, and more damage could have occurred if not for the timely actions of the crew in flooding the shell rooms and magazines.
At this point, it was decided that just repairing the ship was a waste of effort, though she was hardy enough to still manage to be able to steam under her own power to Gotenhafen; the Germans had planned from the outset to mount 380mm guns on this ship and her sister, so they might as well get that remodel over and done with. What did this involve, exactly?
Well, the goal was to install the 380mm gun turrets, and that involved a good deal more work: her original 283mm guns were removed, and her bow was removed and replaced with a longer one which would be necessary in order to mount the bigger guns and stay afloat. The entire refit was to be quite extensive, and as had become typical of the Germans, they tried to resolve the issues of the ship’s poor design after its construction.
A noble goal, but ultimately a futile one in the case of Gneisenau; after the battle of the Barents Sea, with the ship ready for the new turrets to be installed, Hitler (typical battleship player) got salty that the destroyers and cruisers on his team weren’t fighting the enemy destroyers and taking the caps/convoys/etc. properly, so he ordered the Gneisenau conversion be ceased at once.
And so it was! And as a result the possibilities of her as a big-gun fighting ship (as originally intended) faded into the realm of dreams and 2016 video games.
What was she originally going to look like after her reconstruction? Sadly, there I have to point out that what Wargaming has envisioned for her is quite far from the truth: what Germany wanted most was to get her conversion over and done with as soon as possible, and so the only major change besides structural alterations would be to add the 380mm guns. Currently in WoWs, she’s meant to have these weird 12.8cm dual-purpose flak guns. These are real, by the way – just navalized versions of existing land-based flak cannons, and it’s not unlikely they would’ve been mounted on ships to an unknown level of effectiveness.
Gneisenau in-game has has an 11×2 setup of these unbuilt cannons, something she never received and in any case most likely would never have had. While her small-calibre AA was to be improved – the 37mm and 20mm mounts she has are perfectly fine and accurate – these 12.8cm guns are just weird.
Why does she have them, when Bismarck doesn’t get an upgrade to mount them, a tier higher? Balance, most likely. Lesta knows that her 3×2 380mm guns are pretty light for her tier compared to her major opponents. In order to give her a solid buff – and the best large AA suite in the entire German battleship line – they gave her 12.8cm dual-purpose guns.
This is probably also why she has torpedoes still; the devs have mentioned that they don’t like having tech tree battleships with torpedoes, even in the case of deck-mounted torpedo tubes like Gneisenau, but they’ve kept them, again most likely for balance. You could consider giving her 380mm guns a historical 3rpm firing rate, but then that would raise an awkward question: doesn’t Scharnhorst also have 3rpm? And why don’t Bismarck and Tirpitz fire as fast, too?
Personally, I’d prefer to have soft buffs to her real characteristics rather than give her weird 12.8cm guns she never would have mounted, but balance is balance, and I can see why the devs have chosen the path they have.
Of course, this is all liable to change; Gneisenau could look drastically different by the time the German battleships are actually out! Just wait for testing to start soon.
In real life, she was supposed to just get a new bow, maybe a few extra trimmings here and there, a new set of big main guns, along with a slightly buffed anti-air complement, with a final weight about two tons heavier (40,720 displacement total) than Scharnhorst. You could argue that these inaccuracies mean the in-game Gneisenau isn’t really Gneisenau, with secondary guns she never had and no option of mounting her 283mm main guns.
I still don’t like the situation Gneisenau has found herself in with regards to her place in World of Warships, but perhaps this is just historical propriety: she always was the unluckier of the two sisters.
Source: Battleships of the Scharnhorst Class, by Gerhard Koop and Klaus-Peter Schmolke