She was launched on 18 August 1935 at Deutsche Werke in Kiel and entered service on 27 February 1937. The ship displaced 3,156 tons, had a length of 119.3 m and a beam of 11.3 m, and could steam at 38.2 knots. The armament comprised five 12.7 cm guns in single turrets, four 3.7 cm AA guns, six 2 cm Anti-aircraft guns, and eight 53.3 cm torpedo tubes. The crew numbered about 325.
The ship was the second in a class of four, the others having been Z1 Leberecht Maass, Z3 Max Schulz and Z4 Richard Beitzen. Of those, only Z4 survived the war while Z1 and Z3 were sunk on 22 February 1940 in a friendly fire incident.
The destroyer Leberecht Maass was the first destroyer to be build in Germany since the First World War, with Georg Thiele laid down and launched on the same days as the former but commissioned a month and a half later. The ships of this type suffered from a number of problems. They took on large amount of water during high seas, making the forward artillery unusable, had structural weakness and severe vibrations caused by the engines. A new turbine system installed in the ships proved initially promising but soon disappointed and caused them to be limited to a short range, this being one of the two decisive factors against the ships during the battles of Narvik, the other being the ships limited ammunition storage capability.
Georg Thiele was the only one of the four Type 1934 destroyers not to be present on 22 February 1940, when its two sister ships, Leberecht Maass and Max Schultz were sunk in a friendly fire incident.
At the outbreak of the war in September 1939, the ship carried out operations in the Danzig Bay, along with the cruisers Köln, Leipzig, and Nürnberg.
The destroyer was one of ten ships, together with Z22 Anton Schmitt, Z21 Wilhlem Heidkamp, Z17 Diether von Roeder, Z12 Erich Giese, Z13 Erich Koellner, Z11 Bernd von Arnim, Z18 Hans Lüdemann, Z19 Hermann Künne and Z9 Wolfgang Zenker, to carry the 3rd Mountain Division, commanded by Eduard Dietl, to Narvik, as part of the Operation Weserübung. The ship took part in the Battles of Narvik from 10 to 13 April 1940, losing 27 of its crew in the process. On 13 April, after using up all its ammunition in the fight with the British destroyers HMS Eskimo, HMS Hero and HMS Kimberley, covering the disembarkation of the crews of the other German destroyers, Georg Thiele was scuttled at Rombaksbotten after running aground. The surviving crew of the ship took part in the land fighting at Narvik in the following weeks. Max-Eckart Wolff, the last commanding officer of the ship, served as a battalion commander in the Marine-Regiment Berger during the land battle. He was awarded the Iron Cross first class in May 1940 and the Knight's Cross the following August for his leadership of Z2 at Narvik.
Name and number
The destroyer, named after Korvettenkapitan Georg Thiele, carried the number Z2, the Z standing for Zerstörer (English: Destroyer). All German destroyers from Z1 to Z22 Anton Schmitt carried names and numbers. From Z23 onwards, destroyers only carried numbers, no names.
Korvettenkapitän Hans Hartmann: 27 February 1937-18 May 1938
Korvettenkapitän Rudolf von Pufendorf: 19 May 1938-27 October 1938
Korvettenkapitän Max-Eckart Wolff: 28 October 1938-13 April 1940
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