Bremen class Cruisers (1903)

Bremen class Cruisers (1903)

Germany (1902-04)
SMS Bremen, Hamburg, Berlin, Lübeck, München, Leipzig, Dantzig

The Bremen class: More than just improved Gazelles

After the satisfactory deign of the Gazelle class (IV class, 11 ships 1898-1902) it was decided to repeat the type with many improvements: Larger to house a better powerplant, faster, better armed, and better armored. They were also the first cruiser named after cities, which became standard from this point, rather than mythological figures.

The Bremen class comprised seven light cruisers, all built in the early 1900s as SMS Bremen, Hamburg, Berlin, Lübeck, München, Leipzig, and Danzig. Like the previous Gazelles, their main battery comprised ten 10.5 cm SK L/40 guns plus two torpedo tubes. These ships served in a variety of roles from colonial cruiser to fleet scout and training ship in peacetime. Bremen and Leipzig served in the American and Asian stationsthe others alternating betwe the Baltic and North sea, training with the High Seas Fleet. In August 1914, Leipzig was in the Pacific (East Asia Squadron), fought at the Battle of Coronel and sink later at the Battle of the Falkland Islands. SMS Bremen hit a Russian mine in the baltic, December 1915, the other five surviving, seized by Britain as war prizes, sold for scrapping except Hamburg and Berlin, which ended as training cruisers of the new Reichsmarine, then barracks ships until 1944, Hamburg sunk by British bombers, Berlin scuttled after the war with Chemical weapons onboard.

SMS Medusa
SMS Medusa passing the Kiel canal, from the previous Gazelle class.

Design development 1898-1900

The German parliament’s 1898 Naval Law authorized construction of no less than thirty new light cruisers, to be fufilled by 1904 (do in six years). This implied two cruisers per fiscal year. An amendment passed in 1900 increased it to three to keep up the pace as new programs came in. That year, Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the new head of the Reichsmarineamt or Imperial Naval Office, favoring home waters to foreign stations.

Since the Gazelle-class already filled the requirements for the first ten 1898 Naval Law ships, most affected to foreign stations, the remainder were to be redesigned as the Bremen class mostly to serve in home waters, but still with a dual role of peacetime station cruisers and training vessels, but in wartime, fleet scouts.

Many improvements were to be ported over the Gazelle class, in size and speed. The requirement for “fleet scout” meant a greater speed, in turn traduced into more internal space for a more powerful propulsion system. With more boilers, a third funnel appeared, while to stand in combat against Royal Navy light cruisers, the armor deck was massively thickened. While in 1900 design work progressed, Tirpiz, informed of development on new German turbines to be ready by 1901 instructed the construction department to fitting one in the newly built cruisers.

He also wanted to compare performances this way between the Gazelle’s triple-expansion steam engines and the Bremen class, and to have on the longer term, an all-turbine powered home water fleet, as well as comparing between turbine manufacturers with same-class vessels. The Kaiser approved his decision in the end, but as design work was finished and construction was already underwat, limited on the fourth ship of the class, SMS Lübeck. t was approved on 20 January 1903.

The Bremen class marked a change not only in naming conventions, greeting old Hanseatic League cities but also ex-German states with major cities in Bavaria and Saxony, and of course the new German capital. The Bremen were the direct predecessors of the Königsberg class, very similar, with the same armament but improved incrementally in many ways, but one equipped with turbines, the others with triple-expansion steam engines.

Design of the Bremen class

A Bremen class cruiser underway
A Bremen class cruiser underway, note her two-tone livery, dark grey hull and light grey superstructures

The Bremen-class hull was longer than the previous Gazelle, with 110.6 meters (362 ft 10 in) long at the waterline, 111.1 m (364 ft 6 in) overall, versus 105 m. They also had a superior beam at 13.3 m (43 ft 8 in) versus 12.20m for the previous cruisers, and a draft of 5.28 to 5.68 m when fully loaded (17 ft 4 in or 18 ft 8 in) versus 4.11 up to 5.38 for the former.

These larger dimensions traduced into a displacement of 3,278 metric tons (3,226 long tons) as designed, an increase of 700 tons or about 1/6, which was quite an increment. The Bremen class displaced also and between 3,652 to 3,816 t fully loaded (versus 3,500 on the last Gazelle class). They had flush decks and a pronounced ram bow while the previous Gazelle had a stepped hull with forecastles. For construction, they used the same basic scheme of transverse and longitudinal steel frames.

These ships were generally reputed good sea boats, rolling up to 20° but at least with a gentle motion and predictable speed. They appeared very wet at high speeds, “plowing” heavily and having slight weather helm. Their rudder allowed them still to turn tightly and stay agile. In a hard turn, their speed fell up to 35 percent. Transverse metacentric height was 0.58, up to 0.61 m (23 to 24 inches). In standard they carried a complement of fourteen officers and from 274 to 287 ratings, later increased to 19 and 330 in WWI. Their small service boats fleet included a steam picket boat, a pinnace, two cutters, two yawls, and one dinghy.

Armour protection

Bremen-class plan and profile drawing Brasseys

The major difference for protection compared to the previous Gazelle, was their deck armour, which went up to 80 mm (3.1 in), sloped down to join the unarmoured belt, with 100 mm faces (4 in) against plunging fire and sloped armor 50 mm (2 in). For ASW protection, the Bremen class incorporated twelve watertight compartments. Most were filled, used as coal bunkers. In addition there was a double bottom running for 56% of the total length of the hull.

This was significatly better than the Gazelle, which only protection was limited to an armoured deck ranging from 20 mm (0.79 in) to 25 mm (0.98 in) for the waterline slopes. At last, there was a conning tower, with walls 100 mm (3.9 in) thick, topped by a 20 mm (0.79 in) roof. The main guns received at some point shields 50 mm thick.


SMS Berlin diagram – Brasseys

The six cruisers propulsion system had two triple-expansion steam engines. A classic formula inherited from previous Gazelle class, each driving two screw propellers. SMS Lübeck, the fourth cruiser on seven differed completely in having two Parsons steam turbines, manufactured in UK, by Brown, Boveri & Company. They were mated on four screw propellers shafts. At the time, German manufacturing was still trying to produce reliable steam turbines.

However all seven ships had the very same boilers, ten coal-fired Marine-type water-tube models. This was two more than on the Gazelle, and they were truncated for this reasons into three funnels instead of two, the major giveaway for identification. These three funnels amidships were raked and heavenly spaced. SMS Bremen and Hamburg, the first two, differed from the pack in having three generators producing a total output of 111 kilowatts/110 volts. The rest were given two new smaller generators rated at 90 kilowatts for 110 volts.

The Bremen class triple-expansion engines were rated for 10,000 metric horsepower (9,900 ihp), to compare to just 6000 ihp (4500 Kw) on SMS Gazelle, and 8000 ihp (6000 Kw) for the other Gazelle class. This however did not traduced, contrary to what was expected, from previous cruisers: The Bremen class were expected to reach a top speed of 22 knots (41 km/h; 25 mph), Lübeck with her turbines (producing 11,343 metric horsepower or 11,188 shaft horsepower) reached 22.5 knots (41.7 km/h; 25.9 mph). The previous Gazelle class reached all 21.5 kts. Nevertheless the Bremen class ships exceeded these speeds on trials, beyond 22 knots.

For endurance, the Bremen class carried 860 tonnes of coal; This gave them an overall range of 4,270 nautical miles (7,910 km; 4,910 mi) at 12 knots. This was not better than the Gazelle class, reaching from 3,560 to 4,400 nmi (6,590 to 8,150 km) at the same speed. SMS Lübeck however had turbines, notoriously less efficient and her max radius of action was 3,800 nmi (7,000 km; 4,400 mi). With some improvements in internal accomodations allopwing to carry more coal, the last three, München, Leipzig and Dantzig reached however 4,690 nmi (8,690 km; 5,400 mi).

SMS Lübeck nevertheless was a breakthrough as being the first cruiser to test a steam turbine in the whole German navy and fastest of all warships in Germany on trials; Due to vibration issues and standardization, her four shafts were replaced by two during a modernization.

Mess on Bremen (Lib. of Congress)

The crew posing in Hampton Roads (Lib. of Congress)

Bremen in Hampton roads (Lib. of Congress)



An engraving of SMS Berlin

Armament of the Bremen class

Amidship main deck gun being operated
Amidship main deck gun being operated (Library of Congress coll.)

Forward view of the shielded deck guns, SMS Bremen off Hampton Roads
Forward view of the shielded deck guns, SMS Bremen off Hampton Roads. Notice the large wave breaker acting as secondary protection. The conning tower is visible behind and the bridge above.

The small size of the cruisers meant armament was kept to a standard. Like the previous Gazelle class, the same ten 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK L/40 guns. These trusted ordnance were placed by pairs all along the ships, one of each forward and stern deck, four in barbettes under hull recesses and two alongside the hull and behind, amidship. This was a 1,555 kgs (3,428 lb), 4.475 m (14 ft 8.2 in) long overall gun using a horizontal sliding-block breech design. It fired an AP or HE shell with a fixed Brass Casing, 105 millimetres (4.1 in) x 656 millimetres (25.8 in), the shell weighting 16–17.4 kilograms (35–38 lb) depending on the type, HE or AP respectively. Elevation was -10° to +30° and the Rate of fire 15 RPM. Muzzle velocity was 690 m/s (2,300 ft/s) and max range 12,200 metres (13,300 yd) at max elevation.

This armament, contrary to the earlier Gazelle class, was completed by ten 3.7 cm (1.5 in) Maxim guns. These were basically among the first “rapid-fire” or QF guns ever designed, meant to pummel approaching torpedo boats. They were basically scaled-up Vickers heavy machine guns (cal. 0.5 inches), already scaled-up version of the famous liquid-cooled 1890s machine guns created by Harold Maxim.

This ordnance was known in the Royal Navy as the QF 1 pdr Mark I (“pom-pom”), well exported. In Germany it was produced for both the Navy and Army and derived as an anti-aircraft gun, the Maxim Flak M14. It had a ~300 rpm (cyclic) rate of fire, a muzzle velocity of 1,800 ft/s (550 m/s) and a maximum firing range of 4,500 yards (4,110 m). On the Bremen class they were located all along the deck in single pintle mounts. In total, the Bremen class carried 150 rounds per guns, 1,500 total.

Late part of this armament, the Bremen class carried two 45 cm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes, with five torpedoes in reserve. They were submerged, on each broadside.


SMS Bremen, old author’s illustration in 1914.

⚙ Bremen class specifications

Dimensions 111,1 x 13,3 x 5,61 m
Displacement 3,757t – 4,600t FL
Crew 288
Propulsion 2 shaft TE engines, ? boilers, 11.750 hp
Speed 23 knots top speed
Range 450 nmi@ 12 knots
Armament 10x 105mm, 10x 37 mm HMGs, 2x 500 mm TT Sub, 80 mines

General assessment of the class

Agadir crisis (L’illustration newspaper), with Berlin in the background.

The Bremen class at large were seen at the time, like today, as quite an improvement over the Gazelle, being larger, roomier, faster, better armed and protected, they proved they could be something else that just glorified station gunboats for far away stations. The only disappointment came from SMS Lübeck, the first German steam turbine-drive cruiser in Germany. At the time, she was equipped by British Parsons turbines replicated in Germany, with many components provided by Krupp. The problem was it was a new tech to master and these equioments did not passed quality control, delaying much her entry into service. Worst still, SMS Lübeck lackluster sea trials (she ended as the slowest of the class, quite the opposite of what was expected) almost doomed the arguments of some young officers in the fleet to push towards this new technology. Also, SMS München pioneered another, vital system, wireless communication, helping to to its adoption in the German Navy. Indeed long range communication was found inadequate in several occasions, including as the July crisis ended with a state of war with ships caught in distant outposts. SMS München also served as target practice for U-1 and helped considerably the development and trust into the future U-Boat arm in the German Navy, far from being accepted back in 1905-1906.

For “colonial duties”, if its was the case for two, which indeed served all their peacetime years in the America and Asia stations, the rest served with various Scouting squadrons, basically screening units for the Hochseeflotte and played an active part in all the sorties of the fleet until Jutland. Some saw action in the latter, but due to adverse conditions, heavy weather or night, accuracy was poor and nothing definitive can be said on their battle performances, but for SMS Leipzig, which served in Asia most of her active years. Part of Von Spee’s famous squadron, she fought at Coronel, engaging HMS Glasgow twice, here and at the Falklands, where the latter chased her. Each time, despite her slower speed and weaker armament, she almost repelled the British cruiser, but was batterred and finished off by the larger armoured cruisers HMS Cornwall and Kent, still succeeding in hitting Cornwall eighteen times, firing her torpedoes. Its only when all her guns were silenced she was abandoned, and not striking the colors had terrible consequences, not lowering in any way the gallantry showed by her crew.

For those which stayed in home waters, post-Jutland years were pretty inactive: The front ate manpower, and the fleet failed to attract recruits enough, so as to be confronted to a sever shortage after the summer of 1916. So much so, that in several cases, the “old” Bremen-class were simply placed in reserve, left with a skeleton crew, much needed on more modern vessels. Only Hamburg and Berlin survived the treaty of Versailles, “granted” to the new interim navy, and then Reichsmarine of the interwar. Due to their age, they received limited upgrades and mostly served as training ships, bringing cadets, future officers of the Kriegsmarine, around the world.

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10.5 cm/40 (4.1″) SK L/40 archives

About the 10.5 cm/40 (4.1″) SK L/40


Gardiner, Robert. Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860–1905

Campbell, N. J. M. & Sieche, Erwin (1986). “Germany”. Gardiner, Conway’s

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Halpern, Paul G. (1995). A Naval History of World War I. Annapolis

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Massie, Robert K. (2003). Castles of Steel. New York City: Ballantine Books.

Nottelmann, Dirk (2020). “The Development of the Small Cruiser in the Imperial German Navy”. Jordan, John Warship 2020 Osprey

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Staff, Gary (2008). Battle for the Baltic Islands. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime.

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Dodson, Aidan; Cant, Serena (2020). Spoils of War: The Fate of Enemy Fleets after the Two World Wars. Barnsley

Koop, Gerhard & Schmolke, Klaus-Peter (2004). Kleine Kreuzer 1903–1918: Bremen bis Cöln-Klasse

Tarrant, V. E. (1995). Jutland: The German Perspective. London: Cassell Military Paperbacks.

Model kits

Large metal model of the class

Bremen – Appearance in 1915

Dantzig – Appearance in 1911

SMS Emden Blue Ridge Models | No. BRM-70046 | 1:700

Book: Kleine Kreuzer 1903 – 1918 Bremen- bis Cöln-Klasse, Gerhard Koop, Klaus-Peter Schmolke

Wartime service

SMS Bremen (1903)

SMS Bremen, Stettin and Moltke in Hampton Roads, 1912 (Lib. Congress)

SMS Bremen was ordered under contract name “L” at the AG Weser shipyard on 1 August 1902. Launched on 9 July 1903, christened by the city mayor, Dr. Pauli. She was towed afterwards to the Kaiserliche Werft for completion in Wilhelmshaven and commissioned for sea trials on 19 May 1904. Her first commanding officer was Korvettenkapitän Paul Schlieper. She reached 23.29 knots at this occasion, way better than specified, to the delight of the both the admiralty and yard, as she was the lead ship of her class. This made her one of the fastest cruiser at the time worldwide, and it was achieved using VTE engines. Trials ended successfully on 15 July and due to the policy of the time she was to be decommissioned. Instead she was sent to replace SMS Gazelle, the lead ship of the previous class, on the American Station. KK Richard Koch became her new captain from then on.

American Station service

After preparations for her deployment in Kiel, she left on 27 August, crossing the Atlantic while coaling en route to Funchal, Madeira, before reaching Rio de Janeiro on 25 September. She was soon placed under the authority of the American station’s flagship Cruiser Division SMS Vineta. The Venezuelan crisis in 1902–1903 opposed the latter to Britain, Germany, and Italy over economic issues, but was settled, so Bremen was detached instead on a cruise, showing the flag and protect German economic interests overseas, and bringing diplomatic muscle. The German division at the Danish port of Charlotte Amalie (Saint Thomas in the Carribean or Danish West Indies) became her main base.

She cruised with the gunboat SMS Panther until mid-April 1905, both anchored in Kingston, Jamaica, until the division was dissolved. SMS Bremen became the new local station ship and spent the rest of the year in training exercises with Panther. She later visited Newport News in Virginia until 23 May, making a short overhaul. She cruised in Central American waters, stopping at Veracruz, hosting members of the Mexican government.

In 1906, she made another short overhaul at Newport News until 14 May, then toured the east coast of South America, stopping at Bahía Blanca (Argentina), and on return, Port of Spain in Trinidad, then Kingston, where she received a distress call from the Hamburg America Line (HAPAG) as the SS Prinzessin Victoria Louise ran aground on a coral reef. She took off the passengers but failed to pull her free and the steamer was abandoned. In December 1906 Fregattenkapitän Hermann Alberts took command as she made another short overhaul in Newport News until April 1907.

Next, she joined the armored cruiser Roon to be present at the Jamestown Exposition commemorating (300th anniversary of the arrival of colonists in Chesapeake Bay), which took place on 26 April. Bremen toured harbors along the East Coast until back to her American station. In June 1907 she cruised north, into the Saint Lawrence River and stopped in Montreal, Canada, then along the Labrador. The crew’s conduit during the visits had Kaiser Wilhelm II sending a congratulation telegram.

SMS Bremen arrived in Port-au-Prince (Haiti) on 16 March 1908 to evacuate and protect threatened German nationals, whereas soon the Haitian government suppressed the revolt. She left with 57 Germans, heading to Kingston. She visited Philadelphia until 9 June, first ever German warship there, then New York, and back to South American waters. She assisted the Hamburg Süd (HSDG) steamer SS Cap Frio after running aground in Bahía Blanca, taking off passengers and crew. Next she was in Punta Arenas in Chile on 10 November, crossed the Strait of Magellan for the east coast. In November FK Albert Hopman was her new commander. After La Guaira, (Venezuela) by early 1909, her captain made a state visit to President Juan Vicente Gómez.

She was back in the Atlantic, making it Havana, Cuba, until mid-1909, helping supressing an harbor fire, then made a refit at Newport News until 15 May. After Haiti, Veracruz, she escorted SMS Victoria Louise, Hertha with the new Dresden at the Hudson–Fulton Celebration in New York.

300 German sailors took part in the international parade while FK Ernst Goette took command. They separated and depared on 14 October, Bremen sailing to Buenos Aires in December, meeting there the French armored cruisers Gueydon and Dupetit-Thouars.

SMS Bremen in NyC, 1909

By January 1910, Bremen was in Punta Arenas, and sailed to Tocopilla on 16 March, instructed to return to Argentina for the independence centennial, weathering a hurricane during the night of 29 April underway. There, she suffered an accidental explosion in her starboard side auxiliary engine room, but there was no fatality. She was in Buenos Aires on 10 May with Emden, staying until 15 June for repairs and a new cruiser along the coast of South America, ending in Callao (Peru), before being ordered back to Chile and be present at its own centennial Independence, held in Valparaiso until 3 October.

After a stop at Guayaquil (Ecuador), she wasn sent in Amapala (Honduras) to embark threatened foreigners, alongside British and US ships, also protecting civilians. They joined forces and sent an international landing party to defend their respective consulates, and the international quarter. Bremen departed on 13 November for Puerto San José (Guatemala), then Puntarenas (Costa Rica) conducting a survey of the harbor until 14 December, while the crew was on leave, some to visist German nationals. Captain Goette took part in the funeral of President Pedro Montt on 3 February 1911 and the cruiser was back in the Alantic on 28 February.

SMS Bremen off Hampton Roads, 1912

After a stop in Rio de Janeiro (19 March) she met SMS Von der Tann, for her shakedown cruise, before making an overhaul in Newport News, until 22 May. From Canadian waters in July, she was recalled to Haiti as a revolution just has broken out, sending landing parties in Port-au-Prince in August, leaving with nationals on board on 15 August. She made another overhaul in Newport News until 24 November, while Captain Hans Seebohm took command. In early 1912 she toured the Gulf of Mexico, and returned to the United States, later in April joining Moltke and Stettin off Cape Henry in Virginia, making the Detached Cruiser Division for an official visit, answering an USN visit in Kiel the previous summer. On 3 June they were in Hampton Roads for ceremonies and departed by mid-June.

SMS Bremen went through the Strait of Magellan, then back to Pernambuco in Brazil (20 December 1912), ordered this time to West Africa, supporting the gunboats Eber and Panther off Liberia. She left on 12 January 1913 via Freetown (Sierra Leone) and ordered to proceed back to Germany in late June (which was cancelled later). Back in Rio de Janeiro, she help putting down a fire onboard HSDG SS Etruska. She sailed newt to Saint Helena, Duala (German Cameroon), Freetown, Las Palmas (Canary) and by late September Funchal. She waitd for her replacement, SMS Karlsruhe, made ready to be replaced by Dresden.

This left her time to assist to the Mexican Revolution, protecting her nationals, with US Navy warships, on all cities along the east coast of Mexico. This ended in January 1914. She protected not only German, but also Austro-Hungarian, Dutch, French, and Spanish civilians, escorting SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie and SS Bolivia during the evacuation.

On 21 January, she was replaced as planned by SMS Dresden, but before returning home she steamed to Port-au-Prince for another protection missions of Germans there, relieving SMS Vineta. When the instability ceased the departed for Germany, after 9.5 years in the American station. She arrived in Bremen for a celebration held on 15 March 1914, then was moved to Wilhelmshaven to be decommissioned.

SMS Bremen in World War I

Contrary to her long American career, her wartime participation was short and brutal. She was sent in Kaiserliche Werft (Wilhelmshaven) for a full modernization, including four 10.5 cm for and aft replaced with two new 15 cm (5.9 in) SK L/45 guns in the axis. Her electrical system was modernized and improved, a new forward mast installed with a better spotting top. By July 1914 she was still in drydock, and this went on until 27 May 1915. Recommissioned, she completed her sea trials, being assigned to the Baltic Sea fleet.

From Kiel, she was in Libau in July, as part of the Reconnaissance Baltic Sea Command Sqn. (Konteradmiral Hopman). She was prepared for eastern Baltic operations, joining a sweep with the IV Battle Squadron north of Gotland. On 14 July, submarines both ambushed but missed her. Soon after, Kommodore Johannes von Karpf, visited Bremen on 30 July, and by early August 1915, she joined the push into the Gulf of Riga.

She was present at the Battle of the Gulf of Riga (8 August 1915), sailing from Libau to rescue the crew of the T52 after hitting a naval mine off Zerel, Ösel. She picked up survivors, transferred to SMS Braunschweig, then join the squadron entering the Gulf of Riga and on this 8 August, engaged in battle for the first time in her carreer, duelling with the Russian armored gunboat Khrabryi. On 16 August she was part in another push with Graudenz, Augsburg and Pillau, with Nassau and Posen in backup. They were shelled on arrival by the Russian pre-dreadnought Slava, but the latter withdrawn and by chasing her, penetrating minefields on 19 August in the Gulf. Bremen shelled Arensbur but had to withdraw due to the presence of British subs.

SMS Bremen was eventually ordered back to the North Sea, taking part in a sweep north of Gotland (September). On 30 September, Kommodore Hugo Langemak took command, as Bremen headed for the coast of Gotland (5-6 October) and conducted other sweeps into the northern Baltic. While on patrol with V191 and V186 (17 December) she met her fate, by entering a uncharted Russian minefield. V191 hit and sunk at 17:10, and while Bremen moved to rescue her, she struck two mines as well and sank quickly, her hull broken, carrying 250 men and leaving only 53 survivors, onboard a crowded V186, already with V191 survivors.

Hamburg (1903)

SMS Hamburg on Brassey’s naval annual 1905

SMS Hamburg was as “K” to AG Vulcan shipyard, Stettin, laid down in August 1902, launched 25 July 1903 and Christened by the First Mayor of Hamburg, Johann Heinrich Burchard. Then she was moved Kiel for fitting-out, and although not the first launched, she was the first of her class to enter service, commissioned on 8 March 1904. As defined in the naval law she was assignated from the start as the escort for the Imperial Yacht Hohenzollern. Delays in sea trials had her joining the Kaiser in June. She stayed with the Yacht for three months, from Kiel to Hamburg, where Wilhelm II embarked for a regatta in Norway from 7 July to 9 August and seeing the fleet maneuvers of late August-September.

Interwar service

HMS Hamburg and the Imperial Yacht Hohenzollern in Aandalsnaes, Norway, 1904.

From 28 September, Hamburg joined the Reconnaissance squadron, replacing the oldier SMS Niobe. This was followed by a winter training cruise in the Baltic Sea. A yearly cycle of peacetime routine commenced with summer fleet exercises and winter cruise, but in 1905 she was sent for another escort mission of the Hohenzollern, to Helgoland, Pillau and Glücksburg. She also cruised with with SMS Lübeck to compare their performances. In September 1906, Fregattenkapitän Oskar von Platen-Hallermund took command for a year, before being replaced by Korvettenkapitän Ernst Ritter von Mann und Edler von Tiechler.

In February 1908, SMS Hamburg started her training cruise into the Atlantic with the whole Reconnaissance squadron, going south in Vigo, Spain, but she was soon detached to escort Hohenzollern in March-May for a mediterranean cruise. They stopped in Venice, Corfu and back in mid-May to Germany. She later trained in the North Sea and with the High Seas Fleet in a large coordinated exercize. In 1908–1909, she was to be replaced by SMS Dresden, but the latter experienced turbines problems. By February 1909 she retunrned in Spain, Vigo, followed by another escort mission of the Kaiser’s yacht in another Mediterranean cruise with SMS Sleipner, to Venice and Corfu.

While in Corfu on 16 April, the Kaiser was reported Christian persecutions in the Ottoman Empire, which prompted reaction throughout Europe and ships were sent to the southern Anatolian peninsula, Hamburg detached as well on 21 April, first to Mersina, joined by HMS Swiftsure and Victor Hugo, Lübeck, before sending landing parties ashore together to protect civilians, distribute food and care. On 17 May, Hamburg was detached back home, stopping in Port Said and Málaga on her way back to Kiel.

Back to Germany, Hamburg was soon sent to escort Hohenzollern in company of SMS Gneisenau. They departed Kiel on 13 June for Neufahrwasser as Wilhelm II embarked aboard Hohenzollern, for a cruise in the northern Baltic to Finnish waters, for an official meeting of Tsar Nicholas II aboard his own yacht. She was back to Kiel on 20 June but returned with Hohenzollern for a sailing regatta in June-July, and celebrate a new German-Swedish passenger ferry line with Trelleborg, then another cruise on 18 July-3 August. She took place in annual fleet maneuvers for the first time in her career before being decommissioned in Wilhelmshaven, on 15 September, replaced in the scout squadron by Dresden.

SMS Hamburg spent 1910 and 1911 in reserve, while overhauled. Recommissioned on 2 July 1912 she became the second command flagship for I U-boat Flotilla (Torpedo-craft Inspectorate) from 6 August, and took part in training exercises in the North Sea, fleet maneuvers, and the routine went on until 1913, with KK Hermann Bauer appinted her new captain from November 1913, until March 1914, before the cruiser was versed to the U-boat Inspectorate.

SMS Hamburg in the great war

From July 1914, the Ist U-boat Flotilla was stationed at Helgoland, with Hamburg as command ship. On 6 August she teamed with SMS Stettin to escorted a U-boats into the North Sea, a sweep tp draw out the British fleet, as the cruisers acted as a bait for the U-boats arrayed behind in ambush. They failed and retuned home on 11 August, ad another on the 7th, until I and II U-boat Flotilla were dissolved and fusioned into a unew unit under the Führer der Unterseeboote, Hamburg as flagship.

She also sailed with IV Scouting Group during the raids on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby on 15–16 December and at at 06:59 on the 16th Hamburg, Roon, and Stuttgart stumbled upon British destroyers (Loftus William Jones) which did not engaged but shadowed them until 07:40, when Hamburg and Stuttgart were detached at attack them. Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl based n this decided to withdraw.

In 1915 she alternated between soties with the IV SG and her static U-boat flagship duties. On 21 April she collided with S21, sinking her while Hamburg experienced serious hull and bow damage, repairs before she sailed for another sortie on 17–18 May and 29–30 May, and a final one on 11–12 September, hosting II. Führer der Torpedoboote Kommodore Karl von Restorff and eventually on 23–24 October. None made contact with the enemy. In 1916 her unit sorties on 5–7, 25–26 March 21–22 and 24–25 April, and the raid on Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

SMS Hamburg was attached to the IV Scouting Group during the Battle of Jutland under command of Commodore Ludwig von Reuter. She departed on 31 May, and screened for the fleet with V73, assigned to the port side of the battle fleet, II Battle Squadron. They only made contact around 21:30, with the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron but between long range and poor visibility, München and Stettin were the only one to engage them. Hamburg fired only one symbolic salvo in the haze. During the night engagements between cruisers and destroyers her unit reached Horns Reef by 04:00, on 1 June, but in hot pursuit with British cruisers and destroyers. Hamburg was hit several times as a result. While in the safety of Wilhelmshaven, battle damage was assessed. She had 14 killed and 25 wounded and repaired until 26 July.

SMS Hamburg Underway, 1915

The post-battle reports showed pre-dreadnoughts and older light cruisers like Hamburg were no longer for frontline operations. SMS Hamburg also never received modernization and both her fire control and limited wireless equipment were not fit to coordinate U-boats at sea. After he last sortie on 18–20 August she served as a headquarters ship in port, then barracks ship for U-boat crews, in Wilhelmshaven, with herself a sekeleton crew due to manpower shortage. From 15 March 1917 she was under command of Captain Friedrich Lützow and spent 1917 and 1918 in the same place, in total inaction. Hamburg was not interned in Scapa Flow, due to her age, and just remained in Wilhelmshaven during peace negotiations. The Führer der Torpedoboote and staff inspected her on February 1919 and it was decided later after the conclusion of the Versailles treaty she would be assigned to the Reichsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven, decommissioned on 16 August 1919.

SMS Hamburg interwar service (1920-1936)

Hamburg was left basically to rot during the very troubles years of 1919-21 in Germany. It appeared later she was authorized as part of the 12 cruisers allowed under the Versailles Treaty. She was recommissioned on 7 September (FK Bernhard Bobsien), assigned to Marinestation der Nordsee, flagship, Konteradmiral Friedrich Richter and then Kapitän zur See Walter Hildebrand in charge of the II, IV, and VI Flotillas tasked with clearing the minefields of the North Sea. KAdm Konrad Mommsen took command on 2 April 1921 and the cruiser went for her first interwar cruise, in the Shetland Islands (13-17 June).

In July 1921, SMS Hamburg took part in the first postwar fleet training exercises, with Hannover and Medusa, I and II Flotillas. She escorted minesweepers later as they cleared a minfield from Meteor. In Kola Bay however, they came under fire from a Soviet coastal battery and the Germans returned fire before withdrawing. This was one of the many hostile encounter and “quasi-war” with the Soviets in the Baltic at that time. After their mine-clearing operation, Hamburg toured Norwegian ports (Vardø, Hammerfest, Tromsø, Ålesund, Bergen) and back in Wilhelmshaven in August. In February 1922 she was used an auxiliary icebreaker to assist merchant vessels, but her hull was damaged and she was drydocked later for repairs. Braunschweig replacing her as the flagship Marinestation on 1 March 1922. She visited Odda in Norway and took part in the annual fleet maneuvers after which FK Erich Heyden became her new captain.

In July 1923, Hamburg visited Hanko in Finland, Rønne (Bornholm in Danish waters) but with unrest in Hamburg she was deployed there with two torpedo boats. She sent a landing party ashore to bolster the police efforts to restore order. From 15 October she was reassigned to one of the two Marinestation created while the fleet was reorganized. Hamburg became flagship (KzS Adolf Pfeiffer) light naval forces command, for the North Sea. 1924 was spent in peacetime routine between exercises and a cruise to Riga in July. Later, Hamburg had a new (famous future) captain: KAdm Erich Raeder -albeit briefly- then Kommodore Franz Wieting in January 1925.

She was based by then in Marinestation der Ostsee, Kiel. By May 1925 KzS Ernst Junkermann took command, followed by KzS Paul Wülfing von Ditten and KK Hermann Densch within months. She was transferred to the Training Inspectorate as training ship (FK Otto Groos) and prepared with special accomodation for a major training cruise circumnavigating the Earth, hosting the Mayor of her nameaske city, Carl Wilhelm Petersen which presented the city’s flag in 14 February 1926 ceremonies. From Cuxhaven, and downstream on the Elbe the cruiser reached the English Channel, the Atlantic, stopping at Pontevedra (Spain), Funchal (Portugal), and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. From the central Atlantic, she crossed to the West Indies and passed through the Panama Canal and visited the west coast of North and Central America, cruising as far north as San Francisco, then the Pacific (Honolulu and Japan, the Philippines, and Manila, Iloilo City), then the Dutch East Indies, the Indian Ocean’s Colombo and British Ceylon, the Red Sea and crossing the Suez Canal, stopping in Vigo en route to Wilhelmshaven, her historic trip ending on 20 February 1927.

This was pretty much a way to end graciously as she was decommissioned on 30 June 1927, reduced to reserve, then stricken on 31 March 1931. In 1936 she was converted by the Kriegsmarine as a barracks ship for submarine crews (her old job) based in Kiel, remaining there until… 1944, when it was decided she was more useful as scrap metal and towed to Hamburg on 7 July 1944 but sunk by British bombers on 27 July and her remained scrapped after the war. Like Berlin, Hamburg bore a famous Germany city name and stayed in service for quite long. Rendition of the cruiser in 1926

Berlin (1903)

SMS Berlin in colonial livery (postcard) – white hull, canvas sand superstructure.

Prewar career

SMS Berlin was ordered as “Ersatz Zieten”, laid down at the Kaiserliche Werft, Danzig in 1902, launched 22 September 1903 (Chistened by the Mayor of Berlin, Martin Kirschner), completed in Kiel and commissioned for sea trials on 4 April 1905, lasting until 15 June, along with basic training. She was assigned as escort to the Imperial Yacht Hohenzollern for a cruiser starting on 18 June, from the Elbe river, Kiel Week, and Travemünde Week, followed by the annual summer cruise, visiting Gefle in Norway 12-16 July, and an official meeting with King Oscar II representing the Sweden–Norway alliance. Next, a Baltic Se cruise to Björkö, off the coast of Finland to meet Tsar Nicholas II on 23-24 July, then Copenhagen, to meet on 3 August King Christian IX and back to Kiel.

Assigned to the fleet, Berlin started exercizes and drills but no the annual manoeuvers, while Korvettenkapitän Hugo Kraft took command before she joined the Reconnaissance suqadron on 29 September 1905 replacing SMS Amazone, which crew was transferred to Berlin as she was decommisioned, replacing her initial trials crew. No doubt the latter, already experienced, saw the new criser as quite an upgrade. Berlin took part in intensive squadron training in the Baltic by November and fleet maneuvers in the North Sea. 1906-1907 with the same, with pushed to the Skagerrak, May-June fleet manoeuvers and summer cruises plus the annual large-scale fleet maneuvers in September. By October 1907, Fregattenkapitän Arthur Tapken took command.

The then commander of the High Seas Fleet, Admiral Prince Heinrich of Prussia asked to conduct four major training cruises into the Atlantic between 1908 and 1909 so twice yearly. This went down south to Vigo, Spain in February and July, but also Coruña and Horta in the Azores as well as Vilagarcía. SMS Berlin was also detached and assigned to the Imperial escort again, but this time Wilhelm II was aboard the fleet flagship pre-dreadnought SMS Deutschland, on a cruise to Helgoland and Bremerhaven 8-11 March 1908. Afterwards she was recalled to her unit and the training routine resumed, until in 1910, Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff replaced Heinrich as fleet commander, focusing on training exercises in the North and Baltic Seas instead of the not very useful and costly Atlantic cruises. In case of conflict indeed, the German Navy would likely clash with Britain (which announced the entente) as well as France. Until then, for a conflict with the French Navy only, Atlantic operations made sense to enforce a blockade, but the latter would have been difficult so close to British shores and in the channel. Berlin made a Norwegian waters summr cruise and had a new captain in September, KK Heinrich Löhlein.

1911 started like all previous years, with a cruise to Norway but in May, Berlin was in maintenance, joining the fleet for Baltic maneuvers and North Sea, but on 27 June, her captain received orders to redeploy to the coast of west Africa: This was the Agadir Crisis, and she was to replace the gunboat SMS Panther. She went through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal and steamed through the Strait of Dover on 30 June–1 July, reaching Agadir in Morocco on the 4th of july. Panther stayed there too and on 20 July, Eber relieve her. Berlin and Eber made alternating trips to Las Palmas (Canary Islands) to recoal.

As a refresher, the Agadir crisis (also Second Moroccan Crisis or Panthersprung) was sparked by the deployment of French troops in the interior of Morocco in April 1911, which trigerred the deployment of a German gunboat there. Germany did not object to France’s expansion but wanted territorial compensation, that France refused, and to have more weight, dispatched SMS Berlin in reinforcement. despite the objections of German nationalists negotiations were larter held between Berlin and Paris, which resolved the crisis on 4 November 1911 as Morocco became a French protectorate and Germany obtained French Congo (now Rep. of congo, Gabon and centrafrica).

This was not a sound political move however for Germany as in Britain David Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer) made a dramatic “Mansion House” speech on 21 July 1911 denounced the German move and relations between Berlin and London worsened while Britain moved even closer to France. The deployment showed it was exceedingly difficult to communicate with Berlin, through the long-range Nauen Transmitter Station: French stations in the region indeed of course did not relay German signals and that was to be done by German merchant ships fitted with transmitters in the area instead.

By October 1911, SMS Berlin was recalled, and 3 November, FK Wilhelm Tägert took command while with SMS Eber she sailed back for Germany on 28 November, visiting underway Mogador, Casablanca, and Tangiers but crossed the path of a storm in the Bay of Biscay, damaging her, dlowing her down for repairs at sea during five days and a stop in Portsmouth to coal and complete repairs. She arrived in Kiel on 14 December. In 1912, she resumed her usual Reconnaissance Unit drills, fleet maneuvers of the North Sea and Baltic in summer plus annual fleet maneuvers. On 27 September 1912 she was reaffected to Wilhelmshaven to be decommissioned and replaced from 29 October. She stayed there until mid-1914 with a skeleton reserve crew.

Wartime Career

Berlin 1914
SMS Berlin in 1914, showing her two-tones wartime grey livery and painted funnels for unit identification.

In July 1914, SMS Berlin was reactivated, a crew was mustered and she was recommissioned on 17 August, under command of FK Friedrich von Bülow. After short sea trials in July-August and training on 3-17 September, she was assigned as flotilla leader for the torpedo boat flotilla in Jade Bay, Bülow commanding both. On 17 September however she was reassigned to IV Scouting Group, replaced by the coastal defense ship Siegfried. IV Scouting Group was assembled for western Baltic training exercises in the idea she would be deployed later as a screening force for north sea operations. They were at the time affected to the Coastal Defense Division of the Baltic Sea, patrolling Langeland (Danish straits) in case of a possible attempt of a British raid, which never happened. On 3 October, IV SG was transferred to the German Bight, guarding the German North Sea coast until 24 October 1915.

While IV Scouting Group operated with the High Seas Fleet, Berlin was detached to the II Scouting Group, covering a minelaying operation off Swarte Bank on 17-18 April and off the Dogger Bank on 18 May 1914 when her sister ship SMS Danzig struck a mine, so Berlin took her under tow until a tugboat took over. SMS Berlin had an overhaul on 30 July-28 August, retrofitted with rails to carry 80 mines. She was afterwards detached from IV Scouting Group on 24 October, assigned to the Baltic Sea Naval Forces; First she headed for Kiel and sailed with Stuttgart and V Torpedo-boat Flotilla for Libau. She steamed to Windau area, replacing her sister ship SMS Bremen and towing Danzig struck by a mine to Neufahrwassar (25-26 November 1915).

By early 1916, the Germans started to disengage from the Baltic due to the pace and successes on land, and Berlin was transferred back to IV Scouting Group, leaving on 6 January 1916 with SMS Braunschweig and Mecklenburg escorted by X Torpedo-boat Flotilla to Kiel. She went through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal and anchored in Wilhelmshaven, afterwhich she had a short overhaul before joining her unit on 3 February, resuming patrol duties in the German Bight. Her fleet sorties were on 3–4 and 25–26 March, as far as Amrun Bank, but for naught. On 18 May she was overhauled in dry-dock during the Battle of Jutland. She was out of the shipyard on 8 June and resumed patrols.

On 19 October while on patrol, SMS Berlin was ambushed by British submarine HMS E38, which launched, but missed, one torpedo however went further to hit SMS München, so SMS Berlon took her in tow back to port, relieved by a tugboat. In December 1916, SMS Berlin was transferred to II Scouting Group but on 14 January 1917 she was reassigned to coastal patrol duty, North Sea and by February sent to Kiel and Danzig for a decommission on 11 February due to her age and the need of her crew for more modern vessels. Disarmed, she was converted into a tender, commander of coastal defense forces (Baltic), a duty held from 26 April 1918 to the November.

Interwar career

Reichsmarine cruiser Berlin in 1929 after her last great cruise.

SMS Berlin was one of the six light cruisers Germany was allowed to retain by virtue of Versailles treaty. She started as a training hulk for boiler room crews, then was sent to Kiel on 16 December 1919 for this, taking accomodations onboard, and having a new captain, Oberleutnant zur See Clamor von Trotha, until April 1921, then KL Hans Walther. Now into the Reichsmarine, the government decided to reactivate her as a cadet training ship.

She sailed to Wilhelmshaven, decommissioned on 10 June for a drydock overhaul and modernization, the most complete and well-planned of any other German cruiser of that time. She received a new clipper bow, new stern, a modified bridge, lighter aft mast, new radio and communication systems, eight modern 105mm/42 SK C/06 guns and two 500mm TT (New length 110.6m wl and 113.8m oa) – But still apparently the same old coal-burning powerplant. She was recommissioned on 2 July 1922, under command of KzS Wilfried von Loewenfeld (Naval Training Inspectorate). She sailed for her training cruise, with port calls in Scandinavia and the Netherlands. In 1923, she made a longer cruise to Norway, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands while in October 1923, KzS Paul Wülfing von Ditten too, command.

On 15 January 1924, Berlin made her first overseas cruise, the first by any German warship since the end of WW1. She went into the central Atlantic to Ponta Delgada in the Azores and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Las Palmas (the Canary Islands), Funchal (Madeira) Cartagena (Spain) and back back in Kiel (18 March), followed by annual fleet maneuvers, hosting Otto Gessler, the Reichswehr’s minister. On 1st November she made another Atlantic cruise to as Central and South America, stopping en route to coal at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Saint Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands) and visited Cartagena (Colombia), Veracruz (Mexico) Havana, La Guaira (Venezuela), San Juan (Puerto Rico), and Ponta Delgada but she had back luck whent steamiong back through the Bay of Biscay, hit again by a severe storm. While in Kiel from 16 March 1925 she was repaired and KzS Ernst Junkermann took command that year in July.

She made another long range cruise on 9 September, reaching the western coast of South America, Ponta Delgada, Hamilton (Bermuda) Port au Prince (Haiti), Colón (Venezuela), Puerto Madryn (Argentina) Guayaquil (Ecuador), Callao (Peru) and in Chile, Valparaiso, Corral, Talcahuano, and Punta Arenas. While en route back north, she stopped in Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Rio de Janeiro. Back east, she coaled in Vigo and made back to Kiel on 22 March 1926.

From 25 September, it was intended to replace her by the newly commissioned light cruiser KMS Emden, and her crew ws reduced; Under FK Hans Kolbe in command, she was transferred to Marinestation der Ostsee (Baltic Sea Naval Station), conducting a long-range cruise to the central Atlantic (April to June 1927) visiting the Azores, Portuguese and Spanish ports. In Horta (Spain) on 19 May, she assisted a stranded Portuguese sailing ship.

After fleet maneuvers she hosted President Paul von Hindenburg (14 September 1927) coming from KMS Schleswig-Holstein, and carried to Königsberg (East Prussia). KMS Hamburg was decommissioned so Berlin replaced her in the Naval Training Inspectorate, reassigned from 1 October. On 1st December she made her longest cruise ever: Fifteen months in all where she went in East Asia, visiting along the way Fremantle (Australia) and back to Cuxhaven on 7 March 1929, then moved to Kiel to be decommissioned on 27 March. She was in reserve until 1 October 1935 but the Kriegsmarine, under a new leadership had plans to rapidly expand the Navy and needed her for barrack ship purposes (and free her name for more modern vessels), so she was stricken and anchored in Kiel for the subsequent years and World War II. After 1945 she was loaded with nazi chemical weapons, scuttled in the Skaggerak on 31 May 1947. Her remains are still there today.

Lübeck (1904)

Potscard- SMS Lübeck

SMS Lübeck was ordered as Ersatz Mercur, laid down at AG Vulcan (Stettin) on 12 May 1903, launched on 26 March 1904, christened by the Bürgermeister of her namesake city. Fitting out dragged on, as she waited for the delivery of her turbines. It prevented to close the inner section of the hull, assembled and enclose the armored deck and complete alla above compartments. In all, eight months passed until 1 August 1904, the initial deadline set to Krupp, the components manufacturer of the turbin. The company had indeed significant problems casting the parts, all rejected due to quality issues.

Lübeck’s prewar service

SMS Lübeck finally started builder’s sea trials on 18 March 1905, commissioned for sea trials on 26 April. Fregattenkapitän Alexander Meurer was first in command. Sea trials immediately revealed turbines fell short of expecation and the ship never went close to the intended top speed. In fact, the turbines seemed to give no advantage over triple-expansion. These fed heated discussions over the utility of using turbines in cruisers. The Navy however still experimented with propeller arrangements, going as far as tryin eight screws on four shafts as it was seen on early topedo boats and destroyers. Different propeller sizes, blade pitches and shapes were also tried. In the end, Lübeck became the slowest of the whole class… but with a highest consumption.

On 30 October she was still under testings when the 1905 Russian Revolution prompted the Kaiser to send her, escorted by seven torpedo boats to Russia. He wated to evacuate his cousin, Tsar Nicholas II and his family if the situation degraded. So Lübeck patrolled in the Gulf of Finland before the crisis diffuse, so she returned to her sea trials. Only by March-April 1906 under Korvettenkapitän Hermann Nordmannand then KK Otto Philipp, she started operating as a flotilla leader, for the torpedo boat training flotilla. It went on until 25 April 1906, then with the School and Experimental Ships Unit until 17 May. Then Lübeck started a serie of competitive testing with VTE-equipped SMS Hamburg. On 27 August, her trials were at last concluded. Temporarily placed in reserve in Wilhelmshaven she awaited an assignation.

Reactivated on 22 September 1906 she joined the Reconnaissance Unit of the High Seas Fleet and for two years routinely trained and cruised in between fleet exercises. In October 1906, FK Felix Funke took command. Her 1907 fleet maneuvers were followed by a cruise to Skagen in Denmark and a mock attack on Kiel. After summer esercises in the North Sea, she cruised in Norway and took part in the annual autumn fleet maneuvers, delayed for a large fleet review in the Schillig roadstead for the Kaiser. She also trained with the IX Army Corp off Apenrade and her new captain became FK Ferdinand Thyen. By February 1908, she trained in the Baltic Sea and in summer around Helgoland, before a sweep into the Atlantic and major training cruise by decision of Prince Heinrich.

The latter were made difficult due to tensions with Britain over the Anglo-German naval arms race, starting on 17 July, from the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal to the North Sea, Atlantic and back to Germany on 13 August, followed by the autumn maneuvers until 12 September. In October she had a new captain, FK Robert Kühne and in 1908 toured coastal German cities. She acted as to increase public support for naval expenditures, wildly contested outside Prussia, notably in landlocked landers such as Bavaria and others. Never in its history Gezrmany had ever embarked on such a massive naval expansion, which was never traditional nor natural. The unpopularity of the fleet was notably predicted by naval thinkers such as Alfred Thayer Mahan. Even France, with its large naval exposition, tradition and extensive colonial Empire had a smaller fleet that Germany intended to built.

SMS Lübeck soon redeployed to the Mediterranean Sea on 19 April 1909. She reinforce the gunboat Loreley in Constantinople as serious unrest threatened Europeans residents and assets. Loreley was too small to effectively protect German interests by herself, notably her landing party was way too small. Lübeck patrolled the southern coast of Anatolia in June until recalled home reassigned to the Reconnaissance Unit. She participated in another cruise in the Atlantic this summer, and the Hochseeflotte, as a way to diffuse tensions and spy on the Germans, was invited Spithead, UK.

In May 1910 training maneuvers in the Kattegat were followed by a summer cruise in Norway, and fleet training then naval review off Danzig on 29 August, with Captain Hans Zenker taking command the newt year, in April 1911. This summer, the German fleet hosted a return goodwill visit of considerable magnitude: Both the British Grand Fleet and the American “great white fleet” were hosted at Kiel, for the now famous Kield week, punctuated with festivities and regattas. The autumn maneuvers took place in the Baltic and Kattegat, followed by a fleet review held for the Austro-Hungarian delegation, notably Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Admiral Rudolf Montecuccoli. Eventually, SMS Lübeck was decommissioned on 10 October 1911 with a skeleton crew.

Lübeck in the great war

SMS Lübeck underway, date unknown. From Journal of the United States Artillery, Volume 25 (1905)

By July 1914, SMS Lübeck was recommissioned and reactivated fully from 12 August, assigned to the Baltic Sea Coastal Defense Division, patrolling the Skagerrak area, the Little Belt and the Sassnitz-Trelleborg route off Sweden. By October 1914 she was sent to the eastern Baltic, taking part in a series of sweeps into the northern Baltic, the first on 8-13 October (off Bogskär), and on 24-31 October, then a raid on the Russian port of Libau (16–17 November) followed by two other sweeps in December, off Bogskär, Utö, Öland and Gotland.

March-April 1915 saw her engaged in support operations off Memel during the Russian counter-attack, shelling them from the shore. She even became flagship of Kommodore Johannes von Karpf to coordinate the Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive of May at the extreme left flank of the German Army. She spearheaded a diversionary attack on 27 April as stayed for the naval support with SMS Thetis shelling Libau during a landing demonstration, divert Russian attention as expected. Karpf left her for the cruiser Augsburg and in early May, the German still tried to seize Libau, and needed naval support Lübeck and several other cruisers provided on 6 May. She also patrolled the area in search of a possible Russian naval sweep.

Konteradmiral Albert Hopman took the head of the reconnaissance forces in the Baltic and ordered another assault on Libau covered by Lübeck, Augsburg and Thetis, but also Prinz Heinrich, Roon, and Prinz Adalbert, even the old Beowulf flanked by a massive escort of destroyers, torpedo boats, and minesweepers. The IV Scouting Group also joined in to provide additional cover and the bombardment proceeded. The destroyer V107 struck a mine close to the harbor and was lost but the Germans were overall successful and the the city fell. On 14 May, SMS Lübeck was detached to lay a minefield off the Gulf of Finland, with SMS Augsburg but as Russian submarines were spotted in the area, this sortie was cancelled.

During a patrol off Libau, on 28 June 1915, SMS Lübeck spotted and fired on a Russian destroyers squadron. Both sides soon folded up and withdrawn. On 1st July, the minelayer SMS Albatross sortied with Lübeck as an escort as well as Roon and Augsburg, to operate north of Bogskär and while back, Augsburg stayed with Albatross, heading for Rixhöft while the rest went to Libau. However Augsburg and Albatross fell on a powerful Russian squadron (Rear Admiral Mikhail Bakhirev), leading to the Battle of Åland Islands. Karpf ordered Albatross reach neutral Swedish waters, ordering Roon and Lübeck to her rescue. However Albatross was grounded en route off Gotland while Augsburg escaped. The Russian squadron evetually spotted Lübeck and Roon, few shots were exhanged but boths sides broke contact. Lübeck reported scoring eight hits on Rurik, but not hit in return. Hopman sortied with Prinz Heinrich and Prinz Adalbert in between, but too late, while the latter was torpedoed on route by British submarine E9.

Lübeck took also part later in the Battle of the Gulf of Riga from 8 August and on 9-10 August, she was ambushed and torpedoed by the Russian submarine Gepard off the Irben Strait (Gulf of Riga). Five torpedoes came from only 1,200 m (3,900 ft), but Lübeck’s spotters seen them and the captain ordered a hard rudder turn, evading them. Later she was attacked by a Russian aircraft off Windau on 10 September, not damaged. On 6 November 1915 she was also ambushed by British submarine E8, and again, dodged her torpedoes. She was back in Libau in January 1916.

The cruiser’s luck was about to run out. On 13 January, she struck a Russian mine. Her stern was lifted out of the water by the force of the blas, which also knocked down her mast, falling behind on the bridge, torn off and buckled as a result. Two killed, five wounded, 250 t of seawater flooding were the immediate result; She was however under escort and the torpedo boat V189 started towing her to safety, until the tugboat Weichsel took charge. She was carried to Neufahrwasser (close to Danzig) on 15 January, decommissioned on the 28th for provisional repairs, until she could be towed to AG Vulcan, Stettin, her constructor, for complete repairs. At this occasion she was modernized: She was fitted two of the new 15 cm (5.9 in) SK L/45 guns in place of her twin 105 mm foe and aft, and six 10.5 cm SK L/45 guns while the Maxim mounts were removed. This was completed by two 50 cm (19.7 in) torpedo tubes on deck and a new bow was provided, more modern, funnels were replaced by new models. She emerged in early 1917 as the most modern Bremen class cruiser.

however despite of this, crew shortages hit hard and many of her sister ships already has been decommissioned. As soon as she was out of drydock, she was placed in reserve until 15 March 1917, reactivated for use as a target ship, for the U-boat School, with a small service crew. Her new role only started on 11 February 1918. She notably trained the crews of the new massive U-cruisers just completed. Her sister ship ship SMS Stuttgart meanwhile just had been converted into a seaplane carrier, and Lübeck’s crew was chosen to man her. So she was formally decommissioned on 8 March. The Treaty of Versailles had her surrendered to the British as a war prize. She stricken in September 1919, formally ceded as “P”, but the British sold her for BU in 1922, dismantled in Germany in 1923.

München (1904)

sms Munchen date unknown
SMS Munchen underway, circa 1910

SMS München was ordered as “M”, laid down in AG Weser in Bremen, on 18 August 1903. Launched on 30 April 1904, she was christened by W.G. von Borscht, mayor of Munich, in a ceremony witnessed by Prince Ludwig III of Bavaria. Fitting-out was quick she she completed and started her initial sea trials by early November. After that she was installed her armament at Kaiserliche Werft, Wilhelmshaven, and underwent Navy acceptance trials, commissioned on 10 January 1905.

München peacetime routine of torpedo & wireless testings

SMS München made a shakedown cruise in the Baltic Sea until 30 March. She was used as a torpedo test ship replacing Nymphe and tested also wireless telegraphy. Following individual training exercises in April and May she had a new captain, Korvettenkapitän Friedrich Schultz before joining fleet training while still affected to the Training and Experimental Ships Unit. This summer, she trained at the western Baltic, off Swinemünde and notably firing tests to digest reports of the recent Russo-Japanese War.

In 1906 she went on on individual and unit exercises and changed captain in March, with KK Ferdinand Thyen. She was in Norwegian waters this summer, stopping at Bergen and Trondheim, sending wireless signals to the recently constructed Norddeich radio station to test long range transmissions. She did the same with Helgoland and Cuxhaven radio stations. KK Johannes von Karpf took command in October and a month later she trained with the old protected cruiser Vineta and the I Training Flotilla, in the eastern Baltic. On 9 December she was drydocked for periodic maintenance, until 25 January 1907.

The 1907, aside her same training pattern, she was visited by Kaiser Wilhelm II in June, seeing U-1 simulated attack against München, a first for the German Navy. After the the annual fleet maneuvers as flotilla leader for torpedo boats and a new captain in winter, KK Ferdinand Bertram she was overhauled in Kaiserliche Werft until 8 February 1908. That year she visited Trondheim, Bergen, and Stavanger in Norway and multiplied wireless experiments. After annual fleet maneuvers as leader of III Scouting Group, Reserve Fleet, Karpf returned to command and she left Kiel on 24 October for a test cruise off Vigo and Málaga, Funchal and Madeira, still testing radio. She was back in Kiel on 17 December. The routine repeated in 1909.

Her overhaul completed in February 1910 she had a new captain in March, KK Ernst-Oldwig von Natzmer and on 13 April during training she accidentally near-rammed the torpedo boat S122, passing in front of her München while trying to reach an attack position. However due the captain’s prompt reaction, her bow took the hull in an oblique angle, so she only had mushed steel and a damaged engine room (but two dead). Taken under tow, the TB was later repaired in Sassnitz.

München’s bow had no significant damaged and she resumed training until November, repaired and overhauled at the Kaiserliche Werft, Danzig. In 1911 she became a torpedo target ship at the Training and Experimental Ships Unit while KK Rudolf Bartels took command. She trained in Norwegian waters in July 1911, participated in a naval review on 5 September. She however lost six men during the the night of 26 October, when lowering a boat to moor the cruiser to a buoy, due to a front rope loosening. She went out of overhaul in January 1912, assigned to the III Scouting Group. This year again she test her wireless in Vigo.

SMS Muenchen Bain picture, congress
SMS Muenchen Bain picture, congress

This was the same in 1913, but during the annual fleet maneuvers she hosted Wilhelm II, Großadmiral Alfred von Tirpitz (State Secretary of the Imperial Naval Office), Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl(fleet commander), and Admiral Georg Alexander von Müller (Chief of the Imperial Naval Cabinet). Off the Great Belt on 19 December she again lightly collided with a fast manoeuvering V159, but both only had minor damage. Her last peacetime overhaul was completed on 7 February 1914 and she keep her torpedo training and fleet maneuvers routine until the summer.

SMS München’s WWI operations

SMS München joined the III Scouting Group attached to the High Seas Fleet, planning to do some sweeps in the North Sea. Transferred to IV Scouting Group on 25 August she was foud with SMS Danzig transferred to the Baltic after the loss of SMS Magdeburg, to be soon back to the North Sea. She was moored at Brunsbüttel when the British Harwich Force attacked in the Helgoland Bight, leading to the Battle of Heligoland Bight, where München and Danzig were recalled, steam to the mouth of the Elbe to wait for orders, and ordrered to the Bay at 12:25, in support of SMS Strassburg. At 4:06, however München was detached to make a reconnaissance NW of Helgoland, but she spotted nothing and the battle ended.

Still with IV Scouting Group, Muenchen took part in the 3–4 November 1914 raid on Yarmouth avant-garde by I Scouting Group. She woukd take part also in the 15–16 December raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby, as flagship of the II. Führer der Torpedoboote under command of a new captain, Karl von Restorff, but again, seeing no combat. München also took part in the 24 January 1915 raid in support of I Scouting Group seeing action of the 1st and 2nd Battlecruiser Squadrons at the Battle of Dogger Bank, but she arrived too late this afternoon to see action. She was also mobilized for the actions of 29–30 March and 18–22 April.

SMS Munchen at the Kieler week
SMS Munchen at the Kieler week

On 7 May 1915 she was in the IV Scouting Group (München, Danzig, Stettin, Stuttgart, 21 torpedo boats) mobilized in the Baltic for a major German push against the strategic port of Libau, under command of Konteradmiral Albert Hopman. IV Scouting Group was to screen the main force to the north, to spot any Russian incursion from the Gulf of Finland. The Russians however intervened as feared, with the four cruisers Admiral Makarov, Bayan, Oleg, and Bogatyr, and spotted the IV SG, briefly engaging SMS München, but disengaged as they were unsure of their respective strength. The IV SG won a tactical victory. Libau was later captured, München being recalled west, to the High Seas Fleet.

She took part in several fleet sweeps, all failing to make contact with the enemy, on 17, 29–30 May, 11–12 September. München was in drydock maintenance (24 September to 31 October) and transferred to the Baltic on 18 January 1916, colliding during the night of her transfer with the freighter Moskau, off Rixhöft. Her port side was scraped, badly damaged and she returned in drydocked in Danzig, until 6 March 1915. Sge was sent back to the North Sea for another sortie on 25 March, off Amrum Bank, then on 24 April, covering the I Scouting Group on Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

At last in May 1916, she would see action, at Jutland: On 31 May with IV Scouting Group (Kommodore Ludwig von Reuter), she departed Wilhelmshaven in the early hours with the rest of the fleet, screening her flank, escorted herself by the torpedo boat S54 at her starboard side. The IV SG was abreast of the III Battle Squadron. The IV Scouting Group took up a position at the rear of the German line around 17:30 and weren’t heavily engaged this early in the battle. However much later that day, shortly after 21:00, their unit stumbled upon the British 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron (3rd LCS).

Their unit was leading the High Seas Fleet south when it happened, away from the Grand Fleet, and this was unexpected. But due to the obscurity and poor weather, only München and Stettin effectively saw and engaged the British cruisers: SMS München fired 63 shells without scoring any hits. She was hit twice: The first caused minimal damage, but the second struck her third funnel, causing damage to four of her boilers, so she slowed sown. Reuter made a turned hard to starboard but the 3rd LCS disengaged and this combat was over.

However the IV SG was not done with the battle of Jutland, and on 1st June, during the early hours, a ferocious night fighting developed, against specifically the British 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, at close range and in the darkness. The Germans fired star shells that illuminated HMS Southampton and Dublin so focused their combined fire on these. Badly damaged and retreating, the unit fell back in an attempt to draw them closer to Moltke and Seydlitz. Frauenlob was hit and started sinking, and München nearly collided with her. Evading the wreck, she launched a torpedo at Southampton but missed. München was hit three times. Two near-misses causing minor splinter damage, but a shell landed in her second funnel, exploding on the funnel support, splinters knocking out her starboard rangefinder. The wheel shaft in the helm was bent, forcing to use the steering gear compartment for more than two hours, men forming a command chain for directions, from the bridge.

At 01:20, München and Stettin mistook the German torpedo boats G11, V1, and V3 for enemies and started fire before the latter fire a star shell specific to the German Navy. Around 05:06, the pre-dreadnought battleships of the II Battle Squadron also mistook both German cruisers for British submarines and near-missed both München and Stettin, steaming up alongside the German line. Fleet commander, Reinhard Scheer soon ordered a general cease-fire to avoid more confusion. München spotted an imaginary submarine off Heligoland later at 11:40 and opened fire. When the paranoia of battle ceased, a damage report was done. München was hit five times, killing eight men, wounding twenty (sources differs in this), while firing 161 rounds. She needed repairs afterwards to her engine room and funnels, at Vegesack and Wilhelmshaven on 7-30 July.

She took part in another sweep on 18–19 August off the Dogger Bank. Again on 18–19 October, Scheer attempted a raid on Sunderland, which happened to be SMS München’s final wartime operation. She was ambushed en route by HMS E38 off the Dogger Bank. The latter launched a sprey of torpedoes, one hitting the cruiser. While Scheer cancelled the operation and returned, München took 500 metric tons of seawater flooding, loosing her boilers and contaminating the freshwater circuit used for steam. She was towed back to port by V73, and SMS Berlin. After provisional repairs, she steamed into the Jade Bight and entered the Kaiserliche Werft for possible repairs. However a commissioned examined her, determined it was better due to her age to decommission her in November 1916. Disarmed, she ended as barracks ship for patrol ships in 1918. Stricken on 5 November 1919, she became war prize “Q” on 6 July 1920, the British sinking her as a torpedo target in the Firth of Forth, on 28 October 1921.

Leipzig (1905)

SMS Leipzig underway, prow view
SMS Leipzig underway, prow view

SMS Leipzig was ordered as “N” at AG Weser shipyard (Bremen), laid down on 12 July 1904, launched on 21 March 1905 and fitting out in February 1906, started her builder’s trials. She was armed in Wilhelmshaven to and commissioned on 20 April 1906, making her official sea trials until mid-June 1905 with Fregattenkapitän Franz von Hipper (yes, that one) on command. She also escorted Kaiser Wilhelm II onboard cruise aboard the HAPAG steamer Hamburg for his annual summer cruise.

Peacetime career with the East Asia Squadron

Leipzig in China station Tsingtau
Leipzig in China station Tsingtau

Next, she was assigned to the East Asia Squadron, her crew preparing on 19 August, sailing from Wilhelmshaven on 8 September and went via the Med, Suez canal, Indian Ocean and arrived through the Dutch East Indies, to Hong Kong on 6 January 1907. She joined the protected cruiser Hansa and until 10 March, stayed as guard ship at Tsingtao, Kiautschou Bay. She visited the Yangtze river with Vizeadmiral Carl von Coerper on board and escorted by the gunboat Tiger and torpedo boat S90. In June 1907 she toured with the rest of the squadron northern ports in the region and made another in 1908, in northern East Asian waters followed by a trip in the Yellow Sea thus summer, before greeting her new captain, Richard Engel. In September-October, she visited Shanghai and another voyage in the Yangtze. On 17 November she flew her national flag at the Kobe naval review in Japan, before KK Karl Heuser took command, and was later dry-docked at Hong Kong for maintenance in January 1909.

She was ordered to German Samoa as unrest against German rule was ripe and colonial governor, Wilhelm Solf, requested assistance. For the first time she stopped en route to Manila in the Philippines and later arrived in Apia, capital of German Samoa on 19 March. She was soon joined by SMS Arcona and the gunboat Jaguar, plus the troopship Titania with 100 local police onboard. The local chief were captured and exiled. The ships patrolled off Samoa and in May departed. Leipzig took back Vice Admiral Coerper to Suva (Fiji) on 14-17 May, transferred to another vessel to sail back to Germany while Leipzig returned to Samoa, replaced later by SMS Condor, then steamed to Pago Pago (American Samoa), back to Apia, and headed for Tsingtao, via Pohnpei and Manila, arriving on 29 June. She later trained with the squadron (flagship armored cruiser Scharnhorst).

In early 1910, Leipzig, Scharnhorst and the gunboat Luchs in Hong Kong, cruised in southern waters, visiting Siam and various South China Sea ports like Shanghai and Formosa. FK Hermann Schröder became her new commander and they made a voyage back north via Japan in April-May. Leipzig cruised the Yangtze in July 1910, as far as Hankou to quell unrest. With SMS Gneisenau she went to Calcutta next, in early 1911 meeting Crown Prince Wilhelm touring East Asia, arriving on on 31 January. In March Konteradmiral Günther von Krosigk took command of the squadron and visited Leipzig for his first visit to Japan, meeting there the Emperor Meiji.

Leipzig visited other destinations in Japan and Siberia, and while off Vladimir Bay in mid-August 1910, Captain Schröder learned about tensions with France over Agadir, but the Russians being allied with the latter, they severed telegraph lines and the cruiser only received a garbled wireless message indicating the squadron was to be redeployed to the Indian Ocean. Leipzig wasn sent to Vladivostok, and remained there for confirmation on 15-18 August, exchanging telegraphs with Germany, learning the crisis had passed. The squadron was in the Yellow Sea and made it back to Tsingtao on 15 September.

On 10 October, the 1911 Revolution broke out in China and unrest threatened foreign interests. This prompted Krosigk to deployed the east asia squadron to protect German nationals. Leipzig sent a landing party to reinforce thos from the gunboats Tiger and Vaterland, while Gneisenau was in Nanking, the gunboat Iltis in Hankou. Japanese Rear Admiral Kawashima Reijirō took command of the international forces, combined efforts of various landing parties ashore, evacuating women and children to Shanghai. Leipzig (Krosigk’s flasghip) left Hankou in November due to the low tide in the Yangtze, joining Gneisenau in Shanghai, spending several months patrolling between Tsingtao and trouble ports along the coast, until early August 1912. Next she returned to her training cruise routine, to Vladivostok and Japan, present for the funeral ceremonies of the last Emperor Meiji.

She also was sent in Shanghai and visited cities of central Chinese coast, until in March 1913, her new captain, Johann-Siegfried Haun took command, her final one as was was already looming. The cruiser stayed as an observer as civil war went awhol, with imperial and republican forces clashing around Nanking this summer. She was back to Tsingtao in September, overhauled until October. She sailed south and visited the Philippines, then by May 1914, she relieved the light cruiser Nürnberg by then stationed off the Pacific coast of Mexico, protecting German interests during the Mexican Revolution. She was posted off Mazatlán, on 7 July 1914 together with Dresden and Nürnberg, and the three cruisers sent landing parties to evacuate foreigners. Due to cutout telegraph lines they never learnt of the July Crisis in Europe, and only received news of the war on 31 July. Oddly, just nearby at a few nautical miles, French and Brithsh vessels were also anchored, providing help to their own civilians. Leipzig transferred forty refugees to the then neutral US armored cruiser USS California, then preparations for wartime operations.

With Graf Spee’s Squadron

Leipzig off Mexico, Sept. 08, 1914
Leipzig coaling off Mexico, Sept. 08, 1914

Leipzig was still Magdalena Bay in Mexico, awaiting orders when they came on 5 August, Captain Haun informing the crew of the state of war between Germany and the Triple Entente, and opened secret instructions in case of war, informing of the gathering of all ships of the East Asia Squadron. Leipzig needed coaling and stopped in San Francisco, but she was unable to fully replenish her bunkers due to US neutrality laws. Haun decided to start a commerce raiding campaign to get his coal from captured allied merchant vessels. Finding none, Haun returned in the Gulf of California on 17 August to get coal, and later sank her first British freighter, carrying sugar underway to the Peruvian coast. She coaled in Guaymas, Mexico, coaling fully on 8 September and on the 10 proceeded south with Naval HQ instructions to stop in the Galápagos Islands where a German merchant vessel was stationed, but but reports of a British squadron there led the ship to diverge course.

After stopping to clean her boiler tubes, burning bad coal until then, she resumed her voyage to Easter Island, arriving on 14 October, joining the rest of the East Asia Squadron under command of Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee. Leipzig had had gathered three colliers for next operations and departed on 18 October with the rest of the Squadron, heading for South America, stopping in the Juan Fernández Islands and Mas a Fuera, then Valparaiso in Chile, receiving fresh intel about the British cruiser HMS Glasgow present in Coronel. Spee decised to ambush the British ship there, ingoring the presence of the HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth, both armoured cruisers.

Leipzig therefore participated in the Battle of Coronel: Leipzig stopped a Chilean barque while off Coronel, searched her and let her go. Leipzig took the head of the squadron. Later on 1 November, she spotted a column of smoke, and later identified three unknown ships, which were Cradock’s squadron. The British in turn spotted Leipzig and both squadron formed into lines of battle. Leipzig was then ordered as the third ship in line, behind the two armored cruisers for protection. At 18:07, each ship was ordered to engage its opposite number and fire broke at 18:34.

This meant Leipzig duelled with HMS Glasgow, but without success due to the range. At 18:49, HMS Glasgow, a recent Town class cruiser was heavier, faster and better armed with two 6-in guns and ten secondaries, and hit Leipzig. The shell however was a dud. Leipzig and Dresden afterwards both targeted Glasgow, hit five times. Spee afterwards ordered Leipzig to close and finish off Good Hope -savaged by the Schanrhost and Gneisenau- with a torpedo, but her approach was marred by a rain squall, and she discovered the ship had already sunk. By 20:00, Leipzig met Dresden in the darkness, which nearly fired on each other, and proceeded back to the Squadron. For this first battle, Leipzig remained essentially unscathed, with not even a wounded crewmen.

Spee afterwards to head for Valparaiso and wait orders. Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Nürnberg proceeded into the harbor while Leipzig and Dresden escorted the colliers to Mas a Fuera. The rest of East Asia Squadron at east arrived on 6 November and allcruisers resupplied. On 10 November, Leipzig and Dresden went to Valparaiso in turn and after resupplying, joined the Squadron stationed 250 nautical miles west of Robinson Crusoe Island. They coaled in the Gulf of Penas on 21 November and prepared to to cross the difficult Cape Horn. The British outrage after their defeat of coronel prompting to detach two battlecruisers (HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible) from their grand fleet, under command of Vice Admiral Sturdee, and clear orders to “search and destroy” Spee’s squadron. Departing on 11 November they were in the Falklands on 7 December, together with the battleship Carnarvon, and the cruisers Kent, Cornwall, Bristol and Glasgow, just repaired.

HMS Glasgow

On 26 November, the East Asia Squadron departed Penas and crossed the Cape Horn on 2 December. Leipzig captured the Canadian Drummuir, carrying 2,750 t of coal, transferred to the colliers Baden and Santa Isabel, stationed at Picton Island. On 6 December, Spee held a conference with all his commanders to decide to attack the Falklands, ingoring the presence of the powerful British fleet here. Haun, opposed the plan and proposed to bypassing the Falklands and rampage merchant traffic off La Plata. Spee’s seniority prevailed however, and set the Falklands on 8 December as primary orbjective, a fateful decision.

When approaching Port Stanley, they were spotted, the British ships raising steam, take by Spee as the British were burning their coal stocks. Later he realized there was a powerful British squadron, and decided to broke off and flee, the British in hot pursuit. By 12:55, the battlecruisers, faster, caught up and opened fire on Leipzig, last ship in the German line. Spee at 13:15bravely decided to cover the retreat of hos light cruisers, turning to face the British, five minutes later. Sturdee sent his fast cruisers to chase down Nürnberg, Dresden, and Leipzig however, and the battle developed between the two Scharnhorst and the two Invincible, which turned badly for Hipper.

SMS Leipzig sinking
SMS Leipzig sinking

Glasgow chased off Leipzig, her old adversary, and caught up. She opened fire by 14:40 and fired during 20 minutes, hitting Leipzig mutiple times until the latter turned to port to open the range, then starboard to present a full broadside. Both ships pummeled themselves hard, Glasgow eventually breaking off, falling behind the armored cruisers. However Leipzig was now battered by Cornwall and Kent. Soon she was on fire, but went on firing. She hit Cornwall eighteen times and three torpedoes (which failed). At 19:20 however, Leipiz had no guns operational left, all has been knowcked out, her funnels and mast broken, and fires obscured her vision. Haun issued order to scuttle and abandon ship. The British approached nevertheless, opened fire at close range, making a bloody mess on the bridge while crewmen were just trying to evacuate. This did not not stop there as they also engaged even a cutter filled with survivors, destroying it. No quarter was given and no rescue was attempted, but 18 men eventually were later saved from these freezing waters.

Danzig (1905)

SMS Danzig underway, date unknown
SMS Danzig underway, date unknown

SMS Danzig was ordered as “Ersatz Alexandrine” at the Kaiserliche Werft, Danzig laid down on 12 July 1904, launched on 23 September 1905 (christened by namesake’s Bürgermeister Heinrich Otto Ehlers), followed by fitting-out work, builders trials, armament, official trials with commission on 1 December 1907. Trials ended on 6 April 1908 after which she was assigned the light cruiser Arcona’s crew, assigned to I Scouting Group. Her first voyage was into the central Atlantic this summer, with the battleship squadrons as wanted by Prince Heinrich to break the monotony of German waters training, amidst tensions with Britain. All were back on 13 August, followed by autumn maneuvers (27 August-12 September), Danzig earning the Kaiser’s Schießpreis or Shooting Prize for accuracy excellence in the I Scouting Group. Therefore in 1910, she was used as training ship for the fleet’s gunners.

By August 1914 she was in Brunsbüttel with SMS München, and sailed to Kiel via the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal on the 28th when the British attacked the Heligoland Bight. Both cruisers during the ensuing battle were ordered to steam to the mouth of the Elbe, and proceed to the side, Leipzig arriving where Ariadne just sank, lowering boats to rescue survivors. Konteradmiral Franz von Hipper ordered his cruisers to regroup his cruisers towards the battlecruisers Von der Tann and Moltke, but Fregattenkapitän Reiß refused, to stay and continue the rescue, as for Munchen.

SMS Danzig underway, date unknown
SMS Danzig underway, date unknown

On 7 May 1915, the IV Scouting Group (with Danzig, München, Stettin, and Stuttgart) were ordered to the Baltic, supporting the offensive on Libau under Rear Admiral Hopman. The IV Scouting Group was deployed in a screen to spot and engage a possible Russian naval force from the Gulf of Finland. However when Admiral Makarov, Bayan, Oleg, and Bogatyr arrived and spotted the Germans, the fire exchange was bref until both forces broke off.

Libau was soon captured ans the IV Scouting Group was recalled. On 8 May 1915, Danzig joined the IV Battle Squadron en route to a sweep off Gotland until 10 May. Danzig however ran into a Russian minefield on 25 November 1915, hit one and was towed back to port to be repaired.

SMS Lepizig during Operation Albion, in cover of the attack on ösel Island

In early September 1917, after the fall of Riga, an operation was planned against the last Russian strongholds in the Gulf. The Navy High Command planned Operation Albion to seize Ösel island, and the gun batteries threatening passage in the Sworbe Peninsula. On 18 September, the joint operation with the army commenced with flagship Moltke leading the the III and IV Battle Squadrons, Danzig being assigned to the II Scouting Group, screening for the invasion force, under command of Prince Adalbert, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s son. On the 19th with Königsberg and Nürnberg she tried to intercept two Russian torpedo boats but could not locate them and broke off.

This was her last significant operation. Outside the routine of training, the cruiser was sidelined due to her age, freeing her crew for other, more modern cruisers, and eventually after inactivity for the remainder of 1915 and 1916, she was withdrawn from active service in late 1917, but only stricken on 5 November 1919. She became British war prize “R’ on 15 September 1920, but the latter decided to have her broken up in Whitby in 1921–1922.

Derfflinger class battlecruisers (1913)

Derfflinger class battlecruisers

German Empire (1913-14) Battlecruisers S.M.S. Derfflinger, Lützow, Hindenburg

The last German Battlecruisers, Derfflinger, Lützow and eventually Hindenburg, were all operational during WWI. They were the pinnacle of this development in continental Europe, innovating in two ways: 30 cm main guns all in centerline turrets, and a flush-deck hull, among others. As the Seydlitz and Moltke clas they were planned as mixed battlecruisers to deal with regular battleships. With Tirpitz’s staunch support, they were defined in the fourth and final Naval Law as three dreadnoughts, for which Design work on SMS Derfflinger herselfstarted in October 1910. They would end slightly different, especially the last, SMS Hindenburg, eventually launched later on a modified design.

SMS Hindenburg, colorized by irootoko Jr

It resulted in a ship even further on the path of “fast battleships” rather than battlecruisers. It happen at a time admiral Jackie fisher advocated for his “Baltic battlecruisers”, very light and extremely fast, with super-heavy guns. A stark contrast, until a logical technical rapprochement with super-dreadnoughts. HMS Hood was perhaps the closest to what the Germans were building or planning at that point. Only the first two would see intense actions, Hindenburg being completed too late to be engaged in any significant actions as she was commissioned on 10 May 1917, to be scuttled like the others in June 1919, after a career of just two years. The next, the Mackensen class for the first time sported 38 cm guns, greater speed and protection, and really were the first german “fast battleships”.

Development history

Their origin is found in the fourth (final Naval Law) passed in 1912. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz was keen to mobilize the press and his connections to mount a public outcry, over the British acting the way they did at Agadir (After the first Moroccan Crisis of 1905–06, France and Germany agreed on 9 February 1909 the former would retain political control, but the two would avoid tepping on each other’s economic interests in the country.
Germany’s move later tested the relationship between Britain and France, enforcing compensation claims to accept effective French control of Morocco. In short the Germans sent a gunboat (SMS Panther) in Agadir, replaced by the cruiser SMS Berlin. The British reacted by sending battleships to Morocco, and this was fully supported by France as part of the entente cordiale.

The crisis of 1911 suceeded to pressure the Reichstag to secured more funds to the Navy and in that fourth Naval Law added three new dreadnoughts, two light cruisers, as well as recruiting 15,000 more personal for the Navy. The three “capital ships”, still undefined, were reprecised by Tirpitz as battlecruisers, but still with this caracteristic duality, making them intermediate between battleships and battlecruisers in the British sense. They became the Derfflinger, Lützow, and Hindenburg. Design work started in October 1910, and went on until June 1911. It was soon decided to give SMS Hindenburg a slightly modified design and the completion of the design work was delayed. It was done between May and October 1912.

The navy department asked engineers to submit proposals to remedy problems found on the preceding battlecruiser like the Moltke class and Seydlitz, notably over propulsion, but moeover the main armament, which was still weak on paper compared to British battlecruisers. The four shaft arrangement was reduced to three as in battleships, as this would allow to use a cruising diesel engine for the central shaft and significantly improve their range. It would aslo eased refuelling operations, and reduce the crew needed in their machinery. The second point was perhaps more urgent, as it was about the use of a larger artillery than the usual 28-cm (11 in) used upt to that point (over arguments of standardization, development time, long range and quick firing), to 30.5 cm (12 in), to be at last able to compete with British designs armed with 15-in guns. But this was also caused by the confirmation the latest British battleships also had a main belt armor 300 mm thick (12 in).

Due to the dual nature of German battlecruisers, supposed to fight in batte line if need be, their armament needed to be able to defeat this protection. The turrets being larger, it was decided to reduced the overall weight by using less turrets, just four instead of five, and drop the echelon arrangement, which was not optimal, for an axial (centerline) arrangement, maximizing the arc of fire.

Moreover, two were forward and two aft, so to avoid the problems of previous admiship turrets stuck between funnels and superstructures. The superfiring solution seemed also obvious, but with a twist for the aft turret. Weight increases eventually was only 36 tons to the overall displacement. Tirpitz however, again, at first argued against this increase in gun caliber, but he was overruled, notably by the Kaiser himself.

The design of the hull also evolved in time, and engineers wanted to do the lightetst, yest strongest possible hull at the same time. It seems contradictory, but the new construction technique employed to save weight was to drop transverse steel frames entirely, and relying entirely on longitudinal ones (made strnger in the process). This enabled to retain the necessary structural strength at a lower weight and also easing a new hull design, still brand new for capital ships at the time: Dropping the forecastle entirely and create a flush-deck hull. The latter presented advantages, saving weight again notably, but it also made internal compatimentaion a bit more complicated. It coould also bee seen as a reaction to the two-stepped hull of the previous Seydlitz. The ASW protection was not very different than prevous designs, with outer hull spaces between the hull wall and torpedo bulkhead filled with coal, raising considerably the range in wartime.

On 1st September 1910, the design board adopted officially the German 30.5 cm (already developed for the Helgoland class back in 1908, but with a new improved moint and reload system). They were to be mounted in four twin turrets with a specific new design, mounted on the centerline. Overall the armor layout repeated the Seydlitz’s protection, adjusted for the flush deck hull. The German reaction to Agadir trigerred a new fear in the British medias, forcing the British Parliament to vote for more ships. Kaiser Wilhelm II in recation, wanted to reduced build time to two years each from keel laying to completion, and no longer three years, imposing drastic readjustments. This of course proved unfeasible, since both armor and armament could supply them on schedule anyway. In fact completion time was about two years and six month for the lead ship, but far more for the others, due to the war breaking out: Three for Lützow, and even four for Hindenburg, launched in August 1915 despite being laid down in October 1913.


Derfflinger general design scheme on Janes 1919

Derfflinger was initially ordered as an addition, under the provisional name “K”, but the other two were supposed to replace older ships as per usual. Lützow was ordered as Ersatz Kaiserin Augusta replacing the old protected cruiser SMS Kaiserin Augusta while the contract for SMS Hindenburg was named Ersatz Hertha, replacing the protected cruiser SMS Hertha.
SMS Derfflinger was named after Georg von Derfflinger, a Brandenburg-Prussia field marshal distinguished during the 30 years war in the 17th centry. The contract was awarded to Blohm & Voss in Hamburg, under construction number 213. She was also the least expensive at a cost 56 million gold marks, which is rare for a lead vessel. Laid down on 30 March 1912, she was ready for launch on 14 June 1913, but during the ceremony one wooden sledge upon which the hull rested got stuck jammed so she refused to slide. In fact it took until 12 July, almost a month later to have her released and enter the water. Completion therefore was delayed, and she only was commissioned on 1 September 1914, with the war just a few days old.

SMS Lützow was named after Ludwig Adolf Wilhelm von Lützow, a napoleonic era Prussian Notable that created the Freikorps. The contract of Ersatz Kaiserin Augusta was awarered to the Schichau dockyard in Danzig, under construction number 885. Cost was 58 million gold marks. Her keel was laid down on 15 May 1912, not long after her sisyter ship, and she was launched on 29 November 1913, so actually her completion was made during wartime, with massive shortages of personal and skilled labor, recources being rdirected elsewhere. Trials and post-fixes took time so she was only commissioned on 8 August 1915, almost one year after the war.

SMS Hindenburg, had to be named otherwise, but she was renamed to honor Germany’s statesman at the time, Paul von Hindenburg, as a recoignition gesture by the Kaiser, despite the fact her arguably would have more leverage than the Kaiser himself in time. As the final ship of the class, her delayed construction, awarded at the Imperial Dockyard in Wilhelmshaven (construction number 34) allowed engineers to refine the design and make significant changes (see later). She was also the costliest of all three at 59 million gold marks. She was laid down 1 October 1913, launched on 1 August 1915 (a week before the commission of Lützow) and eventually commissioned on 10 May 1917. By that time, the maritime phase of the war was basically over and the Kaiserliches Marine, after an half-success at Jutland, condemned to inaction, to the dismay of Hindenburg’s crews.

Design of the Derfflinger class

Hull & construction

Armor cross section of SMS Derfflinger

SMS Derfflinger and Lützow measured 210 m (690 ft) long at the waterline, and 40 cm longer (3 in) overall. They had a beam of 29 m (95 ft 2 in), and a draft of between 9.20 m (30 ft 2 in) forward, up to 9.57 m (31 ft 5 in) aft. They were were designed to displace 26,600 tonnes (26,200 long tons) standard load, then 31,200 tonnes (30,700 long tons) fully loaded, at combat weight. Their hulls were constructed from longitudinal steel frames only as stated before, with the outer hull plates riveted over this structure. The usual practice was to cross vertical and longitudinal frames. SMS Derfflinger’s below the waterline was subdivided into sixteen watertight compartments. This was revised on SMS Lützow with an extra seventeenth compartment. All three had a double bottom running for 65% of the total hull length. Although a decrease comared to Seydlitz, (75% of the hull), this was deemed sufficient enough.

At sea, all three ships had a metacentric height of 2.60 m (8 ft 6 in), meaning they had good stability and predictable roll. They were widely regarded as excellent sea boats, with gentle motion, although their low flush deck hull made for low freeboard and they were “wet” at the casemate deck. Being beamy ships, they also lost up to 65% speed when hard over, heeled up to 11 degrees, a greater figure than any preceding German battlecruiser. This trigerred a rebuilt and anti-roll tanks were fitted to SMS Derfflinger at her first refit.

General design

They general appearance was really different than any battlecruiser which preceded them, and they could be dubbed “2nd generation”, the fist one, all with forecastles and 28 cm guns being the Von Der Tann, Moltke, Goeben and Seydlitz. Having 30 cm guns was really a noverlty, as well as being all centerline, as the flush deck, and the superstructures grouped in the center of the ship as a result. The turret N°3 was widely separated from N°4, with a vents structure in between, communicating to the lower decks. As previous ships, the bow was doubled underwater by an icebreaking bow. There were two pole masts in front and aft of respective funnels, and supporting small lookout posts, larger for the mainmast. After refits, these were rebuilt as solid tripods with a large fire control post, after what was done on SMS Hindenburg. They had two small bridges, a captain bridge forward of the main conning tower, and an admiral bridge placed on a platform at the foot of the mainmast. The Derfflinger class also had four projectors placed on separate platforms around the funnels.

Standard crew comprised by default 44 officers and 1,068 men, but when used as flagship for the I Scouting Group, they had accomodation to house 14 officers and 62 men in addition. The Derfflinger class also carried the usual service small craft fleet, grouped in between funnel amidship and served by two cranes: One picket boat, three barges, two launches, two yawls, two dinghies. The steam launched wcould be used to searhead a landing party, but they were not given fitting to operate a small field gun or dismountable onboard salute gun. The 8,8 cm were used as such.

Armour protection

Conning tower design, Derfflinger class

All three Derfflinger-class were basically protected by a repeated scheme inherited from the Moltke class and Seydlitz. Krupp cemented steel armor was used everywhere, based on a longitudinal framing for the hull. Here are the detailed figures:

-Main armor belt 300 mm (12 in) alongside the central citadel (between N°1 and N°4 barbettes)
-Outer belt 120 mm (4.7 in) forward, 100 mm (3.9 in) aft.

-Tapered down to 30 mm (1.2 in) at the bow.
-Torpedo bulkhead 45 mm (1.8 in), 4m behind the main belt.
-Main armored deck 30 mm on average
-Deck over sensible areas 80 mm (3.1 in) – Ammo magazines and steering.
-Forward conning tower 300 mm thick walls, 130 mm (5.1 in) roof.

-Aft conning tower 200 mm (7.9 in) walls, 50 mm (2 in) roof.
-Main battery turrets front & sides 270 mm (11 in), roofs 110 mm (4.3 in).

-Secondary guns casemates 150 mm.
-Secondary guns shields 70 mm (2.8 in).

The three ships also carried protective nets stored along their side, until 1916 at least. The were retired later.

Powerplant & Performances

Athiough planned for SMS Derfflinger the centerline shaft diesel engine first planned, was not yet ready for use. A plan was setup as an interim measure, and the planned three-shaft system was abandoned. They reverted to four-shafts. They had two sets of marine-type turbines driving each two 3-bladed propeller screws 3.90 m (12 ft 10 in) in diameter. Lützow differed by having 4 m (13 ft 1 in) propellers, just as on SMS Hindenburg. Each set comprised a low-pressure turbine reserved for cruising and the inner shafts, and high-pressure machines driving the outer shafts. Steam was provided by 14 coal-fired admiralty-type twin boilers (one feeding face at each extremity) but also eight oil-fired equally double-ended boilers. In addition, electrical power was provided by two turbo-electric generators driven in turn by two diesel-electric generators for a grand total of 1,660 kilowatts -for 220 volts.

As designed, their machinery was supposed to deliver 62,138 shaft horsepower (46,336 kW) at 280 rpm calculated. Top speed on paper was 26.5 knots (49.1 km/h; 30.5 mph). Trials were less optimistic: SMS Derfflinger managed a much greater output of 75,586 shp (56,364 kW) but top speed remained sub-par, at 25.5 knots (47.2 km/h; 29.3 mph) only. Lützow managed even better at 79,880 shp (59,570 kW) and top speed reached 26.4 knots (48.9 km/h; 30.4 mph). Both had two sets of rudders.

SMS Derfflinger carried at normal load, in peacetime 3,500 t (3,400 long tons) of coal, 1,000 t (980 long tons) of oil, and was able at a cruising speed of 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph) to reach 5,600 nautical miles (10,400 km; 6,400 mi), still a far cry of what was hoped if they had fitted with a diesel. SMS Lützow on her side coukd carry 3,700 t (3,600 long tons) of coal, 1,000 tons of oil and same range.


Forward main turrets

Eight 30.5 cm SK L/50

The Derfflinger class had height 30.5 cm (12 in) SK L/50 guns in four twin gun turrets. Two forward in a superfiring pair, two aft in similar arrangement but with N°3 further apart. They were given Drh.L C/1912 mounts. These turrets were traversed by electric power but the guns were elevated hydraulically. Here are the main caracteristics:

  • 405.5-kilogram (894 lb) AP shell, SAP, HE
  • 855 meters per second (2,805 ft/s) muzzle velocity.
  • Elevation 13.5° maximum.
  • 18,000 m (20,000 yd) range at max elevation.
  • Rate of fire 2–3 shells per minute
  • 720 shells carried in all, 90 per gun: 65 AP, 25 SAP.
  • Barrel Life expectancy: 200 rounds

Although they were also tested to fired the 405.9 kg (894.8 lb) high explosive shell, it was not provided, except for coastal bombardment missions. The shells were loaded with two RP C/12 propellant charges, the main with 91 kg (201 lb) a brass cartridge and a silk bag that weighed 34.5 kg (76 lb) fore charge. Propellant magazines were located underneath shell roomsin forward turrets and N°3, but it was reversed for the N°4 turret.

1916 modifications: The turrets were upgraded for their mounts, allowing an elevation increase 16°, raising the range to 20,400 m (22,300 yd). The 25 semi-AP shells provided to each gun was for use against targets limuted armor protection targets such as cruisers and destroyers.

Fourteen 15 cm (5.9 in) SK L/45 gun

Seocndary artillery was located in the battery deck, making the central superstructure in the center of the ship. This made for a shorter armour lenght to protect. All these guns were in casemates, five on either side in recesses with around 150° traverse, two forward of the superstrucure, firing in chase, and two after, in retreat, with better arc of fire, so seven per side. On Derrfinger, two were deleted later when she was fitted with anti-roll tanks as extra room was needed.
Essential points:

  • 45.3 kg (99.8 lb) HE shell
  • 835 meters per second (2,740 ft/s) muzzle velocity.
  • Elevation 19° maximum.
  • 13,500 m (14,800 yd) range at max elevation.
  • Rate of fire 7 shells per minute
  • 160 shells carried per gun: HE types.
  • Barrel Life expectancy: 1400 rounds

These 45.3 kg (99.8 lb) HE shells were loaded with a single 13.7 kg (31.2 lb) RPC/12 propellant charge, with brass cartridge. In 1916, an upgrade allowed them to fire at 20°, raising the range at 16,800 m (18,400 yd).

Eight 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/45 guns

Definitely the standard for German capital ships in WWI, these guns were considered better than the standard British Vickers 3-in in some areas. On the Derfflinger class, they were provided with two different configuraton for antiship and AA fire:
Four were placed in the forward superstructure, four in the aft one, all protected by curved, enveloping light shields (to protect from splinters). In 1916 however they were removed, and only four mdified FLAK models were retained, and these Flak L/45 anti-aircraft guns emplaced around the forward funnel for for Lützow around the rear funnel, had an maximal elevation of 70°, reworked MPL C/13 mounting for better speed and elevation, better optics, larger choice of shells, with the standard 9 kg (19.8 lb) HE model. The FLAK 8,8 cm had an effective ceiling of 9,150 m (30,019 ft 8 in) indeed at max range and was accurate.

Four 50-60cm Torpedo Tubes

SMS Derfflinger was given at the origin, four 50 cm tubes located underwater in the bow, stern, and two admiship. Lützow and Hindenburg were upgraded with new and much more powerful 60 cm tubes.
-The 50 cm torpedoes of the G7 type were the stanfdard of the time across the Kaiseliches Marine, 7.02 m (276 in) long with a 195 kg (430 lb) Hexanite warhead, range of 4,000 m (4,370 yd) at 37 knots setup speed, and 9,300 m (10,170 yd) at 27 knots setup.
-The 60 cm torpedoes of the H8 type were 8 m long, carrying a 210 kg (463 lb) Hexanite warhead, having a range of 6,000 m (6,550 yd) at 36 knots and even 14,000 m (15,310 yd) at 30 knots. Both Lützow and Defflinger used their tubes at Jutland.

Derfflinger in 1915, old author’s illustration

Derfflinger specifications

Dimensions 210,40 x 29 x 9,20 m
Displacement 26,500t, 31,200t FL
Crew 44+1068
Propulsion 4 shafts 2 Parsons turbines, 14 Schultze-Thornycroft boilers, 62,130 hp
Speed 26.5 knots (49.3 km/h; 30.6 mph)
Range 5,600 nmi (11,400 km; 6,400 mi) at 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph)
Armament 4×2 305mm, 12x150mm, 12x 88mm, 4 TT 450mm* (2 sides, bow, stern).
Armor Battery 150, citadel 250, turrets 270, belt 300, blockhaus 350, barbettes 260 mm

The last German Battlecruiser, SMS Hindenburg


The Derfflinger (colorized photo).

Hindenburg was slightly longer than her sister ships at 212.50 m (697 ft 2 in) at the waterline and 212.80 m (698 ft 2 in) overall. She also displaced slightly more, at 26,947 tonnes (26,521 long tons) standard and 31,500 tonnes (31,000 long tons) fully laden. Like Lützow she had 17 underwater compartments fo ASW protection. Her power plant was rated at 71,015 shp (52,956 kW) at 290 rpm, for a top speed of 27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph). On trials she reached 94,467 shp (70,444 kW) and 26.6 knots (49.3 km/h; 30.6 mph).

She also stored mre than her sister-ships, 3,700 tons of coal, as well as 1,200 t (1,200 long tons) of oil; Her range at 14 knots was rated at 6,100 nautical miles (11,300 km; 7,000 mi). Her main guns were upgraded, having the new Drh.L C/1913 mounts allowing for a slightly faster reload and elevation. For protection, thickness of the turret roofs was increased to 150 mm (5.9 in) but the rest was identical.

But the main change was the installation of a brand new fire control direction tower with telemeter (by default, she had two of these, installed on their respective conning towers fore and aft). The FCS top was supported by a massive tripod, in opposition of the usual style of simple pole masts. The British had the time were markedly superior in this regards, with advanced telemetry in large spotting tops, linked with ballistic computers. They were only deserved by the quality of shells, many of which hit but failed to detonate, as seen at Jutland. The main feature of SMS Hindenburg was repeated on her earlier sister ships in 1917-18.

Derfflinger in 1915, old author’s illustration

Hindenburg specifications

Dimensions 212,8 x 29 x 9,4 m
Displacement 26,960t, 31,500t FL
Crew 1182
Propulsion 4 screws, 4 Parsons turbines, 18 Schultze-Thornycroft boilers, 71 000 hp
Speed 27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph)
Range 6,100 nmi (11,300 km; 7,000 mi) at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)
Armament Same
Armor Same but turret roofs 15 cm (5.9 in)

Links & resources


John Gardiner Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.
Bennett, Geoffrey (2005). Naval Battles of the First World War. Pen & Sword
Grießmer, Axel (1999). Die Linienschiffe der Kaiserlichen Marine: 1906–1918, Bernard & Graefe Verlag.
Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Tome I. Annapolis
Herwig, Holger (1998). “Luxury” Fleet: The Imperial German Navy 1888–1918. Humanity Books.
Staff, Gary (2006). German Battlecruisers: 1914–1918. Osprey Books
Tarrant, V. E. (2001) [1995]. Jutland: The German Perspective. Cassell Military Paperbacks.
Breyer, Siegfried (1997). Die Kaiserliche Marine und ihre Großen Kreuzer. Podzun-Pallas Verlag.
Campbell, N. J. M. (1978). Battle Cruisers. Warship Special. 1. Conways
Dodson, Aidan (2016). The Kaiser’s Battlefleet: German Capital Ships 1871–1918. Seaforth Publishing.
Dodson, Aidan; Cant, Serena (2020). Spoils of War: The Fate of Enemy Fleets after the Two World Wars. Barnsley
Staff, Gary (2014). German Battlecruisers of World War One: Their Design, Construction and Operations. Barnsley


Germany 30.5 cm/50 (12″) SK L/50″.
German 15 cm/45 (5.9″) SK L/45″. same
German 8.8 cm/45 (3.46″) SK L/45, 8.8 cm/45 (3.46″), same
German Torpedoes Pre-World War II, same
About the scuttling – IWM
Derfflinger class on wikipedia


Grosse Kreuzer Hindenburg By willembrock
Hindenburg salvaged 1930


Painting of the Lützow and Derfflinger at Jutland, May, 31, 1916
Painting of the Lützow and Derfflinger at Jutland, May, 31, 1916

First published 19 May 2016, first redacted 1995, rewritted December 2021.

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Active service

SMS Derfflinger

Built at Blohm & Voss and launched in difficult conditions (The wooden sledges jammed, the ship was launched a second time on 12 July 1913), SMS Derfflinger had a crew composed of dockyard workers at first, conducting her for fitting out in Kiel by early 1914. In July, 27th, the fleet was placed on a state of heightened alert with Derfflinger being feverishly completed. It was feared notably an attack from the Russian Baltic Fleet in the inverted style of the Russo-Japanese War, but this proved futile. At last, SMS Derfflinger was commissioned on 1 September and sailed out for her sea trials. By late October she was assigned to the I Scouting Group but unseen at first during trials, she developed turbines issues and had to be dockyard until 16 November. She was ready on 20 November, out at sea with the light cruisers SMS Stralsund and Strassburg plus the Vth Torpedoboat Flotilla, veturing some 80 nautical miles northwest of Heligoland without spotting anything and make it back.

Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby

Bombardment of Whitby

SMS Derfflinger participation to the raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby was performed by the entire I Scouting Group, after the success of the raid on Yarmouth. Admiral von Ingenohl wanted still to have a portion of the Grand Fleet detached and sent into a trap. This forced was under orders of Rear Admiral Franz von Hipper, flagship Seydlitz, and Derfflinger was second in line, followed by Moltke, Von der Tann, and Blücher, four light cruisers, two squadrons of torpedo boats, and the Hochseeflotte departing afterwards to provide distant cover. Meanwhile British intel had Vice Admiral David Beatty’s scrambling his four battlecruisers to intercept them. Admiral Ingenohl, informed of this ordered to retreat, Hipper still unaware and proceeding with the bombardment, with Derfflinger and Von der Tann on Scarborough and Whitby, before retreating eastward as planned. Later, confusion allowed the German light cruisers to slip away while Hipper now knew the location of the British battlecruisers and wheeled to the northeast, escaping.

Battle of Dogger Bank

Dogger Bank

In early January 1915 British ships were spotted in the Dogger Bank area, Admiral Ingenohl being reluctant to send his forces since I Scouting Group was deprived from Von der Tann, in maintenance. But Konteradmiral Richard Eckermann decided otherwise and ordered Hipper to go, on 23 January. His flagship was Seydlitz, followed by Moltke, Derfflinger, and Blücher. British intel again foiled these plans, and Beatty’s 1st Battlecruiser Squadron sailed, at the same time as Rear Admiral Archibald Moore’s 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron and William Goodenough’s 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, to meet Reginald Tyrwhitt’s Harwich Force north of the Dogger Bank.

After the duel between Kolberg and Aurora, Hipper turned his battlecruisers towards while soon spotting a number of ship, and without precision, Hipper decided to retreat, at a slow limited by the armored cruiser Blücher, caught soon by British Battlecruisers and sunk, but not before Hipper turned to face Beatty, concentrating on Lion from 16,500 metres (18,000 yd). New Zealand engaged Blücher, Sydlitz was crippled and Moltke left alone, but SMS Derfflinger was hit once, with minor damage, two armor plates forced inward and coal bunkers flooded. With Seydlitz badly damaged and Blücher crippled, the chase ended when Beatty was signaled U-boats in the cicinity, allowing Hipper to retreat.

Raid on Yarmouth and Lowestoft

Derfflinger at Lowestoft

SMS Derfflinger also took part in the raid on Yarmouth and Lowestoft on 24–25 April 1916. The I scouting group was commanded this time by Konteradmiral Friedrich Boedicker. SMS Derfflinger this time operated with her sister ship SMS Lützow, just commissioned, and the seasones Moltke, Seydlitz and Von der Tann, sailing with a screening force of six light cruisers and two torpedo boat flotillas, while High Seas Fleet (Admiral Reinhard Scheer) sailed later, at 13:40 as distant support. The British Admiralty was alerted again by Room 40 and the Grand Fleet was at sea at 15:50.

At 15:38, Seydlitz hit a mine and had to retreat, the flag being passed onto via the Lützow torpedo boat V28, and cruisers turned south towards Norderney avoiding the minefield. On 25 April before noon, the battlecruisers approached Lowestoft, with Rostock, Elbing, covering the southern flank. They spotted Commodore Tyrwhitt’s Harwich Force. Boedicker went on nevertheless, and rampage the city, until retreating northwards at 05:20, in degrading visibility for the next city, Lowestoft, which was spared much damage. On the return trip, Bodicker stumbled upon the Harwich Force, which fled south, but reports of British submarines ended the chase.

Battle of Jutland

Derfflinger Firing a full salvo

Soon after, Scheer planned a sortie, waiting for Seydlitz to be repaired. On 28 May, repairs over, SMS Seydlitz was back to I Scouting Group which spent the night on the Jade on 30 May and then steamed towards the Skagerrak at 16 knots, SMS Derfflinger being second in line after the flagship Lützow, Seydlitz being behind. The II Scouting Group (light cruisers Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Pillau, Elbing, 30 torpedo boats) provided the surrounding screen.

The High Seas Fleet left the Jade just 1h30 later, again to be posted as distant cover, with 16 dreadnoughts. The details of the battle of jutland can be seen in detail here. Hipper’s batteline engaged soon the 1st and 2nd Battlecruiser Squadrons at 14,000 metres (15,000 yd) and due to poor communication to coordinated targets, Derfflinger was left alone for ten minutes, and concentrated with increasing accuracy on HMS Lion, the flagship. Soon HMS Indefatigable exploded, hit by Von der Tann but the four Queen Elizabeth-class battleships emerged from the mist, and fired first at Von der Tann and Moltke. Seydlitz engaged Queen Mary, which was soon crippled and later exploded.

However at around 18:09 and at 18:19, SMS Derfflinger was hit by 15 in shells from either Barham or Valiant, as well as 18:55, the latter destroying her the bow and creating flooding. After 19:00, Lützow’s commander ordered the while line to fire on newly found light British cruisers, and they sunk HMS Defence. At 19:24 Beatty’s remaining battlecruisers spotted Lützow and Derfflinger and openend fire again, concentrating for eight minutes on Lützow, but the latter and Derfflinger replied well, Derfflinger firing he final and fatal salvo at Invincible, which magazine forward detonated.

By 19:30 the High Seas Fleet came into fray as Scheer, considered folding up at dark fell, stumbled upon the Grand Fleet and could not disengage so easily. Derfflinger and the other battlecruisers changed twice direction which led them pointing towards the center of the British fleet, creating a deadly “T”. Derfflinger, Seydlitz, Moltke, Von der Tann high speed “death run” masked attacking destroers which suceeded on disrupting the British formation. Soon after, the German battlecruisers turned in retreat, Derfflinger and the other having tme to repair their damage when possible. At 21:09, they were spotted again by the British and a formidable engagement saw at less than 7,800 metres Derfflinger hit several times, destroying notably her last operational gun turret while Lion and Princess Royal were also hit.

After Admiral Mauve turned his ships the British did not pursue and the battle ended at 03:55, Hipper reported to Admiral Scheer his fleet was crippled and no longer operational. SMS Derfflinger for her part had all but one turret knocked outn, after being hit 17 times, mostly by 14 and 15 inches shells, plus nine times by secondary guns. She fired 385 main guns shells and 235 rounds for her secondaries, and she also fired a torpedo. She also deplored 157 killed, 26 wounded, the highest toll of any battleship present to be not destroyed at Jutland on the German side. Her drydock repairs would last until 15 October, but for her stalwart resistance at Jutland, the British soon nicknamed her “Iron Dog”. With “shell magnet” and others, from that day, German Battlecruisers gained an ominous reputation, mostly due to their original design choices.

Later operations

SMS Derfflinger in 1918, note her new tripod mast

Derfflinger made battle readiness training (Baltic Sea) until the end of 1916 but had little to do as the U-boat campaign had preiority. The German surface fleet meanwhile was tasked of defensive missions. However, Derfflinger intervened during the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight (November 1917) when dispatched to assist hard pressed German light cruisers (II Scouting Group) arriving too late. On 20 April 1918, covered a minelaying operation off Terschelling and soon attention shifted towards supply convoys between Britain and Norway. In October and December 1918 two such convoys were destroyed. The next would be heavily escorted with the Grand fleet. Hipper planned a new operation, launched on 23 April 1918, and after Moltke lost her inner starboard propeller, the German fleet missed the convoy. SMS Derfflinger was also mobilized at the very end of the war to participate to the “death ride” from Wilhelmshaven, later cancelled due to desertion en masse of war-weary sailors. Derfflinger and Von der Tann had for example hundreds deserting when crossing the locks separating Wilhelmshaven’s inner harbor and roadstead.

Underway at Scapa Flow, 1919

Scuttled, capsized, in June 1919.

On 24 October 1918, this was over. After the capitulation, Derfflinger followed the rest of the fleet in captivity in Scapa Flow. On the morning of 21 June, as ordered by Reuter, scuttling preparation were made, opening valves and removing the lockings, detonating charges at 11:20, leaving her to sink at 14:45. Raised in 1939 she was left off the island of Risa until 1946, still upside down, then sent to Faslane Port to be broken up in 1948.

SMS Lützow

SMS Lutzow illustration as depicted in Janes

SMS Lützow was originally ordered as Ersatz Kaiserin Augusta, replacing as per usage, the former SMS Kaiserin Augusta. Built at Schichau-Werke, Danzig (more accustomed to smaller Torpedo Boats & destroyers) laid down in May 1912, launched 29 November 1913, she was commissioned on 8 August 1915, starting sea trials before heading to Kiel on 23 August for final adjustments and post-trial fixes. The torpedo boats G192, G194, and G196 shielded her from possible hostile submarines in the area. Final fitting out done and armament installed, she departed on 13 September for further armament trials, including torpedo firing tests (15 September) followed by gunnery tests on 6 October. It was soon detected her port low-pressure turbine had broken gears, so repairs took place in Kiel until late January 1916, followed by further trials and the whle preparation process ended on 19 February 1916, delaying from eight month her entry into service ! – SMS Lützow was eventually assigned to I Scouting Group, on 20 March, notably with her sister ship and other battlecruisers of the Hochseeflotte. She had missed three major engagements to that point.

Her first -and only- captain was Victor Harder. On 24 April, she departed with Seydlitz and Moltke for a brief foray into the North Sea, at the eastern end of the Amrun Bank, where British destroyers had been reported and followed by a second sweep two days later. A British submarine ambushed, but missed Lützow underway. Konteradmiral Friedrich Boedicker, I Scouting Group, raised his flag on Lützow from 29 March until 11 April as his usual flagship was in maintenance. On 21–22 April, she joined in anorther sortie into the North Sea, for nothing.

Bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft

Before Jutland, Lützow’ first major operation was this raid, on 24–25 April. The Scouting Group was under orders of Boedicker. Lützow was third in line, followed by Moltke, and Von der Tann. As described above, British Room 40 informed the admirakty that despatched in advanced Beatty’s battlecruisers and prepared the Grand Fleet to depart in turn from Scapa Flow, hoping to ambush the battlecruisers on their return trip. Avoiding Dutch observers on Terschelling the fleet was underway when flagship Seydlitz struck a mine and torpedo boat V28 took back admiral Boedicker to Lützow, the new flagship for this operation.

The bombardment of Lowestoft on 25 April took place whereas two German cruisers fought Reginald Tyrwhitt’s Harwich Force. Poor visibility spared Yarmouth, and on their way back crossed the Harwich Force again so Lützow opened fire like the rest of the line at 12,000 m (13,000 yards). The battle was soon over as the British fled and the Germands made their way home.

Battle of Jutland

On 31 May 1916, I Scouting Group departed the Jade estuary with SMS Lützow now promoted as Hipper’s flagship in the lead, followed by Derfflinger, Seydlitz, Moltke, and Von der Tann. As explained above and detailed in the battle’s page, at 16:00, Hipper’s battlecruisers fought their direct opponents from Vice Admiral David Beatty’s 1st Battlecruiser Squadron. The signal “Distribution of fire from left” was hoisted on Lützow for all ships to followed. Lützow was in fact the first to open fire (the battle of jutland’s opening shots), at 15,000 yards (14,000 m). HMS Lion and Princess Royal concentrated soon on Lützow, hoping to cripple the flagship and desorganize the German line.

Meanwnhile Lützow engaged HMS Lion. Her gunners overshoot at 16,800 yards (15,400 m), firing semi-armor-piercing (SAP) shells unlike the others, to tracers could be seen and followed by all, useful in the bad visbility. The others indeed used only AP shells. British rangefinders misread the range and overshoot as well. HMS Lion fired at 18,500 yards (16,900 m) but during three minutes, Lützow fired four more salvos, and hit their mark on the last one at 16:51, followed by a second hit a minute later, while 8 minutes later, Lion scored her first hit on Lützow, hitting (but bouncing apparently) her forecastle. Lützow at last dealt a tremendous blow as one shell penetrated the roof of Lion’s center “Q” turret. This detonated ammunitions stored inside, but flooding prevented explosion by prompt action of commander—Major Francis Harvey, which had the magazine flooded.

Meanwhile, this looked not good for Beatty: Indefatigable was sunk by Von der Tann and Lützow went on pounding Lion, but with moderate damage. Her gunnery officer, Günther Paschen, later regretted using SAP shells, thinking using AP rounds instead would have probably destroyed Lion, Beatty’s flagship and quickly end the contest as clear-cut German victory. Lützow fired 31 salvos at Lion so far for just six hits (telling volumes on accuracy at the time) and at least had HMS Lion shearing out of line temporarily. With haze, gunners believed they engaged Princess Royal whereas it was still HMS Lion. HMS Princess Royal however, immediately behind, scored two hits on Lützow. The first exploded between the forward turrets, the second on the belt. At 17:24 Lion was hit three times more in thirty seconds, her gunners being far more accurate at that stage.

Beatty ordered a turn just when the Queen Elizabeth-class battleships (5th BS) entered the fray, and opened fire, to the dismay of Hipper that was until then the winner of the engagement. Queen Mary was sunk, while opposing destroyers made torpedo attacks. HMS Nestor and Nicator targeted, but missed Lützow. At 17:34, Lützow launched her own broadside tube torpedo on the distant HMS Tiger, but without success. She also scored another hit on Lion, then three, and a fire broke out in the aft secondary battery of Beatty’s flagship.

Hipper was now engaged at 18:00 against both the remaining British battlecruisers and Queen Elizabeth-class battleships and 15 in (380 mm) shells were certainly a more serious threat for his hybrd battlecruisers. HMS Queen Elizabeths engaged and soon found its mark, hitting his flagship Lützow. She was hit again at 18:25 and 18:30, 18:45 and soon had both of her wireless transmitters damaged, Hipper seroting to searchlight messages afterwards.

After 19:00, he ordered his line a 16-point turn northeast to close with the approaching III Battle Squadron and assist the hard-pressed SMS Wiesbaden. During the cruisers screen engagement, HMS Onslow and Acasta approached Lützow, and launched a volley of torpedoes but missed. Onslow was hit thrice by her 15 cm guns and withdrawed. HMS Acasta however made another run, launched but missed again, and was soon engulfed by Lützow and Derfflinger’s combinded 15 cm barrage. Shi was hit twice and fled. At 19:15, Hipper’s lead ship spotted and engaged the armored cruiser Defence and at 19:16, Kapitän zur See (KzS) Harder ordered to fire despite Hipper’s hesitations about the nature of the ship. The other German battlecruisers and battleships joined in the melee; Lützow fired five broadsides in rapid succession. In the span of less than five minutes, Defence was struck by several heavy-caliber shells from the German ships. One salvo penetrated her ammunition magazines followed by a massive explosion.

Lion scored two more hits on Lützow, starting a serious fire, followed by them being spotted and fired upon by the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron. HMS Invincible scored 8 hits on Lützow concentrated in her bow and, causing massive flooding. Lützow and Derfflinger on her and at 19:33, Lützow’s third salvo entered her center turret, probably igniting the magazine, followed by a tremendous serie of explosion wiping out the ship. However Lützow was still hard-pressed, taking fire while listing badly by the bow, “ploughing” heavily.

At 19:30, the High Seas Fleet at last encountered the Grand Fleet and soon Scheer ordered Hipper to make his famous “death run” towards the British line. However it was declined by Lützow which lost speed and could not keep up. She tried to withdraw southwest but at 20:00, flooding reached the magazine for the forward turret and the crew frantically tried to evacuate as many shells and propellant charges elsewehere. At 19:50, Kommodore Andreas Michelsen (SMS Rostock) dispatched I Half-Flotilla’s G39 came to assist Hipper and take his staff aboard, to transfer him on another battlecruiser. V45 and G37 also laid a smoke screen but at 20:15 Lützow was hit by four 15-in shells. One made it though her forward superfiring turret, knocking it down, detonating a propellant. The second disabled the electric training gear of the rearmost turret, now hand-cracked for traverse. Hipper aboard G39 still tried to save I Scouting Group but command was now exerced by KzS Johannes Hartog. Lützow fired her last shot at 20:45, now obscured by smoke.

The end of Lützow

Nightfall saw Lützow steaming at 15 knots trying to return hime. By 22:13 the rest of I Scouting Group lost sight of her. Scheer hoped the foggy darkness would allo her to evade detection, but meawhile flooding appeared out of control, water reaching her forward deck, and floosing her forecastle above the main armored deck. At midnight, many thought she still could make it harbor, whereas she was now making 7 knots. At 00:45, the bow listing was such she plowed at 3 knots, only to reduce pressure on the rear bulkhead with forward main pumps’s control rods jammed.

By 01:00, the pumps were overwhelmed as Water now invaded the forward generator compartments. Light went off and the crew resorted to candlelight to continue trying save the ship. At 01:30 water flooded the forward boiler room and almost all of compartments in the forward section, up to the conning tower level were now underwater. Waves crashed above her bridge, leaped the base of the mast. Shell holes in the forecastle also created more leaks and the desperate attempts by the crew to patch the shell holes inhibited progress. At some point it was ordered to steam backwards, soon abandoned as the bow was submerged so much (17 meters) the propellers started to peep over the water.

At 2:20 she had taken some 8,000 tons of seawater and capsizing was no longer avoidable. To spare his crew at this point, KzS Harder gave the order to abandon ship. Torpedo boats G37, G38, G40, and V45 in escort came to take onboard the crew, though six men were still trapped in an air pocket in the bow. At 02:45 Lützow’s bridge itself was underwater, and from G38, Harder asked to scuttled her, firing two torpedoes. At 02:47, SMS Lützow, flagship of Hipper at Jutand disappeared approx. 60 km (37 mi) NW of Horns Reef. During the battle she fired an estimated 380 main battery shells, 400 rounds secondaryes and two torpedoes. She was hit 24 times and suffered 115 killed, 50 wounded. In 2015, her wreck was rediscovered by accident by HMS Echo while laying a tide gauge. So far, no ceremony or plaque has been made but she has the status of war grave.

SMS Hindenburg

Built at the the Kaiserliche Werft shipyard in Wilhelmshaven, SMS Hindenburg was the third and last of the Derfflinger class. She was ordered as replacement for SMS Hertha (Victoria Luise class cruisers), her keel laid down on 30 June 1913 at Kaiserliche Werft, Wilhelmshaven, and launched on 1 August 1915. Construction priorities of wartime delayed her completion so much she was only completed on 10 May 1917. British naval intelligence believed this was due to cannibalization to repair Derfflinger after Jutland, but it mostly was due to labor shortages and all priority given to submarine warfare by this point. For the same reasons, the Mackasen class was also suspended, as well as the last two sister ships of the Bayern class.

SMS Hindenburg was the last German battlecruiser, with very short career of two years. Only Fully operational by 20 October 1917, so after five months after fitting out of sea trials, armament trials, and fixes, training, but at this point the situation for the Hochseeflotte was of readiness in case of a large scale operation from the Grand Fleet. There was no operation planned in the north sea, to the point more assets were freed to unlock the situation in the Baltic, with success. However too precious even for this theater, SMS Hindenburg was kept in port, venturing at sea with the rest of the fleet for exercizes.

On 17 November 1917 however, SMS Hindenburg and Moltke, departed with the II Scouting Group as distant support for German minesweepers trying to block some areas to RN incursions, when British cruisers fell on them, soon joined with the battlecruisers HMS Repulse, Courageous, and Glorious, the latest commissioned. But by the time Hindenburg and Moltke arrived this was already too late. On 23 November, SMS Hindenburg became flagship of I Scouting Group, replacing the older Seydlitz.

Convoys to Norway

In late 1917, light German forces attacked British convoys to Norway. On 17 October, SMS Brummer and Bremse intercepted one of these, and sank nine of the twelve cargo ships en route, plus two escorting destroyers, HMS Mary Rose and Strongbow. On 12 December, four German destroyers again ambushed a second British convoy of five freighters escorted by two British destroyers and all were sunk plus one destroyers, the other returing badly damaged. This caused a scandal at the parliament and the British admiralty decided to bolster the protection of the next convoy with capital ships.

Admiral David Beatty now in charge of the Grand Fleet detached battleships for the next one, and Hipper saw this as an opportunity to revive the old tactic since the start of the war: Drawing a portion of the Grand Fleet to be isolated and destroyed peacemeal, reducing its overall superiority. Franz von Hipper, now Vice Admiral, planned the operation with of course the battlecruisers of I Scouting Group and their light cruisers and destroyers screen as vanguard force, and the Hochseeflotte in support, ready to pounce on the chasing British dreadnought battleship squadron.

At 05:00 on 23 April 1918, Hindenburg led the battle line from the Schillig roadstead. Hipper onboard ordered wireless transmissions to be near silent and taking a route out of reach from foreign observers. Unfortunately for them, the British admiralty still had the code books and Room 40 was not long to intercept a few messages. At 06:10 the battlecruisers were circa 60 km southwest of Bergen, when SMS Moltke lost her inner starboard propeller, causing by vibrations her entire engine gears disintigrating.

In the explosion which followed, debris from the broken machinery also damaged several boilers, tearing a hole in the hull and causing flooding, in addition to her machinery stopped dead. The crew tried to repair what they could, and the ship was later able to steam at a snail pace of 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) and she was left behind, to be towed by the detached battleship SMS Oldenburg.

Hipper went on northward and at 14:00 arrived in sight of the convoy route, crossing it but seeing nothing. Unbeknown to him, Room 40 had alerted the admiralty and the convoy schedule was changed, departing a day later. The same would happen in WW2 at several occasions after Enigma was broken. At 14:10, Hipper had no choice but to return home, veering southward. At 18:37, the fleet was back in the maze of defensive minefields placed in defence of the German coast and bases.

The death ride

On 11 August 1918, Hipper was promoted to Admiral, given overall command of the entire High Seas Fleet. Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter also replaced him at the head of I Scouting Group, with Hindenburg as his flagship. But nothing happened in 1918, as the entire fleet was stuck in harbor, much enraging the sailors that were highly criticized for their inaction whereas German was crippled by the British blockade, and the submarine warfare not giving the expected results. After the Americans entered the fray indeed, the US Navy participated now in the atlantic convoy and US capital ships were even detached in reinforcement to the Grand Fleet.

Born of despair, Hipper in September started to think about a “death ride” for the whole High Seas Fleet. The idea was to make a sortie and seek engagement, whatever the result. The goal was to give German a better bargaining position at the negociation table as defeat seemed inevitable. The plan was refined in October and Admiral Reinhard Scheer was charged of the detailed operations, with nothing more than a full attack and causing maximium damage to the Royal Navy, being confident enough since the results of the Battle of Jutland.

Scheer planned two simultaneous attacks by light cruisers and destroyers off Flanders and on shipping in the Thames estuary acting as a bait. The four battlecruisers would be sent in support the Thames attack. After after this, the Hochseeflotte was to concentrate off the Dutch coast, ready to meet the Grand Fleet that would have been sent inevitably. For this, the fleet was to be assembled first in Wilhelmshaven on 23 October 1918.

However by that stage of the war, discontent from war-weary sailors reached a peak. The decision to sent Lenin to Russia to trigerr the revoluition had backfired and bolshevism was now growingly popular among sailors, with elements that started to politicize entire crew sections. This all developed “under the rug” in 1918 and reached boiling point. At Whilehlshaven, disgruntled sailors decided to desert en masse, notably for Von der Tann and Derfflinger as they went through the harbour locks.

On 24 October 1918, even though, Scheer ordered to sail from Wilhelmshaven, but the crews disobeyed in most ships, on strike. It reached even the no-return point in the night of 18-29 October, sailors with outright mutiny on several battleships. Officers were placed under lock and key and molested. Those of III Battle Squadron refused to weigh anchors and sabotage were committed on board Thüringen and Helgoland. With all these ominous reports incoming Scheer rescinded the operation, which was later cancelled for good and the squadrons were dispersed to avoid “contagion”.

The 1919 internment and scuttling

The last chapter for Hindenburg, which never fired her guns in anger so far, was rather sad. Under the Armistice preliminary terms, the Allies ordered the fleet was to be conducted ti Scapa Flow, the main base for the Grend Fleet and kept here under custody, pending the result of negociations. SMS Hindenburg, as flagship of the scouting squadron and modern capital ship was concerned and on 21 November 1918, departed along three other battlecruisers, 14 capital ships, seven light cruisers, and 50 destroyers. Admiral Adolf von Trotha briefed Reuter which commanded the fleet about instructions in case the entente would try to seize the ship, of scuttling. The fleet spotted first HMS Cardiff, which led them to assembled entente fleet, a combined British, American and French armada of more than 370 vessels.

Interned in Scotland, news were rare and only came through supplies with letters from home. Negociations at Versailles went on, and Reuter was given a copy of The Times statung the Armistice was to expire at noon, on 21 June 1919, the signature deadline for German negociators. Her believed that after this, hios fleet would be saied by the British and possibly donatedto all belligerents. As instructed he started to plan the scuttling, and on the morning of 21 June, the British fleet left Scapa Flow for training maneuvers, leaving Reuter the chance her waited for, transmitting at 11:20 the order to scuttled the ships, performed by loyal skeleton crews (troublesome elements had been sent back to Germany a while ago). SMS Hindenburg was the last to sink, at 17:00, and deliberately on an even keel, not only to allow an easier evacuation by the crew but also flying proudly the Kaiserlichesmarine pennant, in view of everyone. She would be raised on 23 July 1930 after several attempts, scrapped at Rosyth between 1930 and 1932, her bell saved and now on display at the Bundesmarine HQ since 1959.

Hindenburg at Scapa Flow
Hindenburg steaming to and in Scapa Flow.

SMS Hindenburg scuttled, still straight. This enabled a torough examination by Royal Engineers later.

SMS Seydlitz (1912)

SMS Seydlitz, Battlecruisers

German Empire (1912)

The “shell magnet”

Derived from battlecruisers of the Moltke class, Seydlitz differed in many respects, with a three-stepped revised hull but same artillery arrangement and revised protection compared to the Moltke class, traduced in three thousand tons more in displacement. Still, she was more powerful and faster. Probably the most modern battlecruiser in service by 1914, SMS Seydlitz proved the excellence of its fire control system at the battle of Jutland, taking torpedo hits and perhaps 25 heavy rounds hits and survived. Her baptism of fire at the Battle of Dogger Bank in 1914 saw her duelling with HMS Lion, taking three hits. Repaired, hit a mine in 1916 and was repaired again. At Jutland, she was torpedoed by HMS Petard and Turbulent, also taking sixteen 15-in shells, so much so she was soon nicknamed the “shell magnet”. Managing to survive, she limped back with 5,330 tons of seawater in her bulkheads, beached to avoid sinking. Long repairs and following inaction saw her scuttled in Scapa Flow like the rest of the Hochseeflotte in 1919. She was BU in 1928.


Alternative designs considered for the Seydlitz (src): On top, 4×2 12-in guns, center, one amidship axial 28 cm turret, and bottom, current configuration.

Detailed Design

Seydlitz compared to Moltke and Von der Tann

Seydlitz was substantially larger than prevoious battlecruisers, with 200 meters (656 ft 2 in) long (waterline) and just 60 cm longer at 658 ft 2 inches overall. Her beam was 28.5 m (93 ft 6 in), but increased to 28.8 m (94 ft 6 in) when anti-torpedo nets are stored alongside. Her draft was important at 9.29 m (30 ft 6 in), larger forward than aft at 9.09 m (29 ft 10 in). Normal displacement was 24,988 metric tons (24,593 long tons) (design figures), and 28,550 t (28,100 long tons) fully loaded. Her double bottom ran for 76% of her hull, with heavy compartimentation on either side of the machinery spaces.

As usual, Seydlitz carried a small fleet of service boats stored on the deck in between her échelon turrets amidship. She carried a picket boat, three barges, two launches, two yawls, two dinghies. Her standard complement comprised 43 officers plus 1025 men and as flagship of I Scouting Group, carried an extra 13 officers and 62 men.

Her general shape was the same as Moltke at a particular point, which was the second funnel. The hull was longer, slightly beamier, so as to increase the powerplant and top speed, the general outline of the second funnel, bridge and CT locations, but the biggest difference was the forecaste and elongated forward section of the hull. There was an extra deck, making for a three-tiered deck style which was unique. Not other battlecruiser, not even capital ship ever built had this particular appearance. The whole silhouette stayed very low, while seakeeping qualities were even better. Metacentric height was good, notably due to the choice, like for the Moltke class, of two superfiring turrets aft, and not forward.

Appearance in 1914

Armour Protection

armour scheme
A partial view of her armour scheme – click to see the full design scheme in color on

Seydlitz, just like the Moltke class and Von de Tann used Krupp cemented armor, and nickel steel for the whole protective scheme. Here are the details:

The 300mm main belt between barbettes was tapered to 150mm at the lower edge, 1.7m below the waterline and above it, tapered to 230mm at the upper deck. It was 200mm thick at the battery port sills. Forward it was 120 down to 100mm and 100mm aft all the way after the furtheraft barbette. The barbettes were 230 above the upper deck, 200 mm below, but the wing barbettes were just 100mm as they were located behind the battery, which provided an extra protection. This decreased down to 30mm for all, at the level of main armored belt. The repartition of the main armored deck was as followed: 30mm amidships, 50mm forward, 80mm after, but with 50mm slopes over the citadel. The forecastle deck was 55-25mm over the battery. The upper deck 25mm thick. The torpedo bulkhead for ASW protection located below the citadel extended between the last barbettes and was located 4m (13 feets) inboard amidships, 50-30mm thick there and continued as a 30mm splinter bulkhead at the level of the upper deck.

SMS Seydlitz armour scheme

Armour scheme

In brief:

  • Main Armored belt 300 mm (11.8 in) citadel, 1.4m above, 0.4m below wl.
  • Tapering bow and stern 100mm (3.9 in).
  • Torpedo bulkhead 50mm (2 in).
  • Forward conning tower 350mm (13.8 in) walls, 200 mm (7.9 in) roof.
  • Main turrets 250mm (9.8 in) faces, 200mm sides, 210mm back, 70–100 mm (2.8–3.9 in) roofs.
  • Turret barbettes 230mm (9.1 in) above deck.
  • Turret barbettes below decks 200mm.
  • Casemates 150mm (5.9 in) sides, 35mm (1.4 in) roofs.
  • Deck armor, main (citadel roof) 80mm (3.1 in).
  • Deck armor, citadel bottom 30mm (1.2 in).
  • 50 mm slope connecting the belt and deck.

SMS Seydlitz armour cut


Seydlitz underway at high speed, circa 1918


Seydlitz had about the same powerplant as the previous ships, with four Parsons direct-drive steam turbines (at that stage, still no German turbines were ready and reliable, but the process was ongoing for battleships). These were arranged in two sets, which consisted each of a high-pressure outboard turbine exhausting into a low-pressure inboard turbine. Each drove a 3-bladed screw propeller 3.88 m (12.7 ft) in diameter. Twenty-seven small-tube Schulz-Thornycroft boilers comprising each two fire boxes provided the steam. They were divided into three boiler rooms, ducted into two funnels. Electrical power was provided by six Siemens turbo generators producing 1,800 kW at 220 V. This was the same configuration as for the Moltke class, but with the difference of two boilers (25).


The powerplant was rated as designed for a 63,000 metric horsepower (62,000 shp) output. The resulting top speed, also as designed, was 26.5 knots (49.1 km/h; 30.5 mph). To compare, the Moltke class powerplant produced 51,289 horsepower, procuring 25.5 knots (47.2 km/h; 29.3 mph) as designed. But this was of course as often exceeded on sea trials, while forced draft. Total uoput reached 89,738 metric horsepower (88,510 shp) for a top speed, still unheard of for a battlecruiser, of 28.1 knots (52.0 km/h; 32.3 mph). This made SMS Seydlitz in 1913 the world’s fastest capital ship.

There was enough compartimentation to carry a normal load of 3,600 tonnes (3,500 long tons) of coal in peacetime, twice as much in wartime. Seydlitz when cruising at 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph) was able to cross 4,200 nautical miles (7,800 km; 4,800 mi), a bit more than the Moltke class. Steering was the same as before, relying on two side-by-side rudders. In general, SMS Seydlitz was described as a good steamer and sea boat, stable and with gentle, predictable motion making her a reliable gun platform. Of course her shape was not the best fit for agility, and she bleeded out 60% speed at hard rudder, heeling at least to 9°.


Main guns in action at Jutland, painting by Carl Becker. Notice the ejector ports at the turrets back.

Main: Ten SKL /50 28 cm (11 in)

SMS used extactly the same main battery scheme as before: Ten 28 cm (11 in) SK L/50 guns, in five twin-gun turrets, with one forward, two amidship in echelon and two sueprfiring aft, axial.
They used however the new Drh. L C/1910 mounting. It enabled to depress the guns down to −8°, or elevate them to 13.5° like the previous Drh. L C/1908. Te latter angle provided a range of 18,100 m (59,400 ft). By 1916, a new mount was available and modufications were made on the existing one to upgrade it and allowing a 16° elevation. The range went to 19,100 m (62,700 ft). The guns however sre still hand-rammed, requiring the barrels to be horizontal during the reloading phase. Training and elevation however was of course controlled hydraulically. Still, the guns had an excellent 3 rpm average rate of fire, the main reasons to maintain these whereas the British, which until then used the slower 12-in, already went to a 13.5-in caliber on their “splendid cats” serie. The shells were almost twice as heavier.

Each gun was supplied with 87 armor-piercing (AP) rounds exlusively, for a total of 870 total. Of course the ammunition storage rooms were provided by anti-flash vents and doors, sprinklers and a valve for quick flooding, for safety. Each 305 kg (672 lb) shell was accompanied by a 24.0 kg (52.9 lb) fore propellant charge, in a silk bag plus a 75.0 kg (165.3 lb) brass case main charge. Muzzle velocity was 880 m/s (2,900 ft/s).

For fire control, the main fire director was a 3 m rangefinder located atop the gunnery control tower located aft of the conning tower. The turrets were also each provided a 3 m (9.8 ft) rangefinder located on the roof.

von der tann profile
Von der Tann
moltke profile

Seydlitz 1918
Seydlitz (1918)

Secondary: Twelve SKL 150 mm

SMS Seydlitz had exactly the same secondary battery as the preceding Moltke-class, with twelve 15 cm (5.9 in) SK L/45 quick-firing guns, all in single casemates amidship. They fired armor-piercing (AP) shells only at at 4-5 rpm. Their pivot mounts allowed for a −7° +20° elevation traduced into a range of 13,500 m (14,800 yd). After the same 1916 refit, elevation was increased (although still manual), for a range of 16,800 m (18,400 yd). This was close to the main guns range, and in the bad weather, low visbility of the north sea, this means ideal range was about 15,000 m, so both the main and secondary battery could fire in concert. Each AP shell weighed 51 kgs (112 lb). Muzzle velocity was 735 m/s (2,410 ft/s).

Light Armament: Twelve SKL 8,8 cm mm

The torpedo boats defence was entrusted to twelve 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/45 quick-firing guns. This was the same as the previous class, and location was identical. Eight were mounted in casemates fore and aft, the rest on superstructures, and they fired a 7.04 kg (15.5 lb) HE shell at 590 mps (1,936 fps), with an average rate of fire of 15 shells a minute. Maximum range was 6,890 m (7,530 yd), usueful range half that. They were manually operated for range and traverse. Two were removed in 1916, replaced by high-angle 8.8 cm Flak L/45 anti-aircraft guns, place on the aft superstructure roof under shieds.

Torpedo armament: Four 50 cm tubes.

SMS Seydlitz received four submerged torpedo tubes, like her predecessor. One tube was underwater, located in the bow, mid-way in the cutting portion of the icebreaker slope, one in the stern, one either side. These were still the same caliber of 50 cm (19.7 in) and eleven of them were stored in reserve. In 1912, they operated the G6 torpedoes: 140 kg (310 lb) warhead, 27 kts/5,000 m (16,000 ft) or 35 kts/2,200 m (7,200 ft) settings. In 1913 they were replaced by the famous G7 type, with a 200 kg (440 lb) warhead and 27 kts/17,200 m or 37 kts/7,400 m settings.

SMS Seydlitz in Kiel prior to ww1

SMS Seydlitz in Kiel prior to ww1

Steaming to Scapa Flow, 1919

Seydlitz in 1914
Old author’s iIllustration of SMS Seydlitz in 1914

Seydlitz class specifications

Displacement 24,600t, 28,100t FL
Dimensions 200 x 28,5 x 9,2 m
Propulsion 4 shafts Parsons turbines, 27 Schultze-Thornycroft boilers, 88,500 shp
Speed 26.5 knots (49.1 km/h; 30.5 mph)
Range 4,200 nmi (7,800 km; 4,800 mi) at 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph)
Armament 10 x 280 (5×2), 12 x 150, 12 x 88
Armor Battery 200mm, citadel 220mm, turrets 251mm, Main belt 300mm, CT 350mm, barbettes 230mm
Crew 1068 ()



Battle damage photos
HD plans
On, 8,8 cm
Drachinfels video
Battle damage footage


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Battle of Jutland 30th May to 1st June 1916: Official Despatches with Appendices.
Bennett, Geoffrey (2005). Naval Battles of the First World War. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military Classics.
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Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One: Guns, Torpedoes, Mines and ASW Weapons of All Nations; An Illustrated Directory.
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Halpern, Paul G. (1995). A Naval History of World War I.
Herwig, Holger (1998) [1980]. “Luxury” Fleet: The Imperial German Navy 1888–1918. Amherst
Massie, Robert K. (2003). Castles of Steel. New York: Ballantine Books.
Scheer, Reinhard (1920). Germany’s High Seas Fleet in the World War. London: Cassell and Company
Staff, Gary (2006). German Battlecruisers: 1914–1918. Oxford: Osprey Books.
Strachan, Hew (2001). The First World War: Volume 1: To Arms. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tarrant, V. E. (2001) [1995]. Jutland: The German Perspective. London: Cassell Military Paperbacks.
Breyer, Siegfried (1997). Die Kaiserliche Marine und ihre Großen Kreuzer, Podzun-Pallas Verlag.
Campbell, N. J. M. (1978). Battle Cruisers. Warship Special. 1. Conway Maritime Press.
Dodson, Aidan; Cant, Serena (2020). Spoils of War: The Fate of Enemy Fleets after the Two World Wars. Seaforth Publishing
Staff, Gary (2014). German Battlecruisers of World War One: Their Design, Construction and Operations. Seaforth Publishing

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SMS Seydlitz in action


On 22 May 1913 SMS Seydlitz was commissioned with the provisional, but skilled crew of the old armored cruiser SMS Yorck transferred to the reserve fleet. She was under orders of Kapitän zur See Moritz von Egidy until 29 November, 1917, so during the most active part of her career. She made her sea trials and won a speed record for a capital ship one knot faster than the Lion class; She joined the Hocheeflotte (High Seas Fleet) during squadron exercises off Helgoland. Konteradmiral Franz von Hipper (I Scouting Group) made her his flagship on 23 June 1914, until 26 October 1917. Nothing much happened than fleet exercises, alternating between the baltic and the Jade and north sea, traniting via the Kiel canal. In August 1914, she as in the Jade like most of the Hochseeflotte, made ready for a strategy Hipper thought out in agreement with F. Von Ingenohl, the Hochseeflotte’s C-in-C, to draw a portion of the RN to the Hochseeflotte or an ambush on minefields and pre-positioned U-boats.

Battle of Heligoland Bight (Aug. 1914)

The first large naval engagement of this war happened when light cruisers met a sweep of British cruisers and battlecruisers on 28 August 1914. The cruisers were from the Harwich Force, a rapid reaction force able to intercept incoming German threats in the north sea, and they fell on German destroyers spotted patrolling the Heligoland Bight. However not far from here, six German light cruisers were in distant cover, SMS Cöln, Strassburg, Stettin, Frauenlob, Stralsund, and Ariadne. They soon entered the fray and repelled the British cruisers with heavy damage. However after communication of this the following battlecruisers from David Beatty arrived in turn at 13:37 and completely returned the situation again. The chasing light cruisers became preys.

The next logical step was to scramble the I Scouting Group battlecruisers in response. As flagship, SMS Seydlitz was stationed in the Wilhelmshaven Roads when all this happened and at 08:50, Hipper requested from Admiral Von Ingenohl to rescue the fleeing German cruisers. Thetefore, Von der Tann Moltke and Seydlitz set sail together at 12:10, slowed down by the low tide and sand bar in the Jade Estuary. At 14:10 at last, both Moltke and Von der Tann crossed the bar and Hipper communicated to the light cruisers hi plan to fall back on him to draw Beatty to battle.

Hipper himself was an hour behind SMS Seydlitz, still with a draft too deep to pass the bar at that stage and waiting. At 14:25, Strassburg, Stettin, Frauenlob, and Stralsund met the German battlecruisers, while the flagship, Seydlitz arrived at last at 15:10. However it was too late for Ariadne that was caught up and sank. Hipper search for the two missing light cruisers also, Mainz and Cöln not knowing they had been sunk too and at 16:00, decided to fold up. The British were already back home.

Raid on Yarmouth (Nov. 1914)

On 2 November 1914, SMS Seydlitz, Moltke, Von der Tann, and Blücher, reinforced four light cruisers left the Jade for a new mission, a raid on the English coast, destined to draw out the 1st battlecruiser squadron onto the Hochseeflotte, which was to depart soon. The 1st Scouting Group, still headed by Seydlitz and Hipper on board, arrived off Great Yarmouth the following morning. They opened fire for the operational phase, destroying port installations and ships. Meanwhile SMS Stralsund laid a minefield to sink merchant vessels in the vicinity.

The first victim was the British submarine D5, which struck one mine.

After a battering, Hipper estimated it was time to sail back. When returning, a heavy fog blanketed the Heligoland Bight so they slowed down and lost each other’s sight. Due to the very poor visibility, one ship, the armored cruiser Yorck, lost its mark and veered off the known path, entering a German minefield, stricking two mines and sinking.

Raid of Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby (Dec. 1914)

Fleet admiral F. Von Ingenohl decided this English coast raids were a sound policy, and as the first one was apparently too short to draw out the British as expected, he hoped that a longest raid, one more objectives would also draw out the Grand Fleet. At 03:20, 15 December, Seydlitz, Moltke, Von der Tann, and the brand new SMS Derfflinger, still with Blücher, and screened by the cruisers SMS Kolberg, Strassburg, Stralsund, and Graudenz, plus two squadrons of torpedo boats left the Jade, headed north past Heligoland, and reached Horns Reef lighthouse before heading for Scarborough. Hipper left the Jade with the High Seas Fleet only 12h behind: 14 dreadnoughts, 8 pre-dreadnoughts, 2 armored cruisers, 7 light cruisers, 54 torpedo boats.

Since the captured of SMS Magdeburg’s codebook, the British were aware of this operations and setup their own ambush. The plan was so send the Grand Fleet behind the German raiding force to ambush and destroy it. Beatty’s force (4 battlecruisers, 3rd, 1st Cruiser Squadrons) was to create a pincer with the 2nd Battle Squadron (six modern dreadnoughts). The the night of 15-16 saw a first encounter with British destroyers. Ingenohl ordered a retreat while Hipper went on with the bombardment, splitting to shell the two remaining ports. Seydlitz teamed with Moltke and Blücher to Hartlepool. Seydlitz was hit three times by coastal batteries but suffered little damage with no casualties. At 09:45 the 1st scouting Sqn. was reassembled, mission accomplished and prepared to sail for home.

They soon ran into Beatty’s battlecruisers, at first at 12:25, light cruisers (II Scouting Group) crossed the British forces and the latter spotted Stralsund and signaled this to Beatty. However signals confusion allowed the German light cruisers to escape while Hipper was now aware of the location of the British battlecruisers. Both forces withdrawn, but Ingenohl was wildly criticized.

Battle of Dogger Bank

Battle of the Dogger Bank

In January 1915, the Royal Navy was probing the Germans and setup a reconnaissance in force, in the Dogger Bank area. A timid Von Ingenohl did not sent the scouting group, weakened by the drydocking of SMS Von der Tann but he was pressed on by Konteradmiral Richard Eckermann, new Chief of Staff. Hipper depated therefore for the Dogger Bank with Seydlitz as lead ship, followed by Moltke, Derfflinger, and Blücher. They were assigned a screening force, Graudenz, Rostock, Stralsund, and Kolberg, plus 19 torpedo boats. German wireless signals decoded by Room 40 prompted another sorties of both Beatty and the Grend Fleet.

The 1st Battlecruiser Squadron was added to the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron, 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, to meet with Harwich Force on 24 January, circa 30 nmi (56 km) north of the Dogger Bank. SMS Kolberg spotted HMS Aurora of the Harwich Force and the fight conducted Hipper to turn his battlecruisers towards it, just when Stralsund spotted the northwest smoke plumes of a large fleet.

Hipper decided to head back for hoe, slowed down by Blücher until Beatty caught up. Lion fired on Blücher, Queen Mary and Tiger joined in and eventually crippled the armored cruiser, but the other ones turned to engaged them. However in signals confusion from flagship HMS Tiger, bith fired on SMS Seydlitz while Moltke was left unscaved.

SMS Seydlitz received her first hit in her forecastle (10:25) by Lion, with little damage but at 10:40, another penetrated the rear barbette. The explosion flashed into the working chamber and the propellant charges were set ablaze. The explosion killed 159, destroying both aft turrets in one go. Both magazines were flooded, preventing more explosions. Pumpenmeister Wilhelm Heidkamp was severely injured when ordeed to turn the valves, now red-hot. At 11:01, Seydlitz however hit Lion, knocking out two of her engines (half of those). Derfflinger struck Lion also, at the waterline, flooding and cripplling her. At 11:25 Seydlitz was hit by a third round on her armored belt amidships, which absorbed the blast.

Blücher was left alone after reports of U-boats prompting Beatty to start evasive maneuvers. This left the other German battlecruisers to retreat, but the armored cruiser was doomes and will sank later. Seydlitz was back in the Jade and soon entered the Kaiserliche Werft drydock in Wilhelmshaven for repairs lasting until 31 March 1915.

Battle of the gulf or Riga (August 1915)

On 3 August 1915, Seydlitz, Moltke, and Von der Tann were sent to the Baltic, forming I Reconnaissance Group for a raid in the Riga Gulf. The Russian naval forces there were targeted. The Slava was the main target. The minelayer Deutschland blocked the entrance to Moon Sound and Hipper added to his force the four Nassau and four Helgoland clas battleships. Seydlitz was back to the North Sea after the operation, faling to destroy Slava. On 11–12 September, she covered a minelaying operation off Terschelling. On 24 November, she ran aground in the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal, but was able t wit for the tide and freed herself. On 4 December 1915 as she exited the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal, she was entangled in one of the net barriers, which had to be removed by Divers.

Raid on Yarmouth & Lowestoft (April 1916)

I Scouting Group targeted the English coast again, sailing to attack Yarmouth and Lowestoft in the same plan. Hipper, sick, was replaced by Konteradmiral Friedrich Boedicker for his operation onboard his flagship, SMS Seydlitz. Derfflinger, her sister ship, but also Lützow, Moltke and Von der Tann left the Jade at 10:55, 24 April, supported by 6 light cruisers and two torpedo boat flotillas. Again, room 40 warned the British Admiralty which deployed the Grand Fleet at 15:50. After leaving the area off Terschelling, at 15:38, Seydlitz struck a British mine. The blast created a 15 m (50 ft) gaping hole at the waterline, abaft of the starboard broadside torpedo tube. The explosion killed 11, drawned, by the 1,400 tons of seawater that flooded her.

Her bow plunged from 1.4 metres (4.6 ft) below the waterline, and the crippled battlecruiser was ordered to turn back, escorted by the light cruisers at 15 knots (28 km/h) for the Jade. The four remaining battlecruisers changed course after this, but continued their trip. At 16:00 onboard Seydlitz, Boedicker left on the torpedo boat V28 to head back and join SMS Lützow for the operation to proceed as planned. Seydlitz, escorted by two torpedo boats, reached the Jade and was later sent to a drydock for remairs, keeping her out of action for months. She was just ready in late May, just in time for Jutland, a crucial moment in her career.

SMS Seydlitz at Jutland

Of all the actions of WWI, SMS Seydlitz perhaps gave the best performance of all German capital ship that day. It’s here she gained her reputation of “uninskable ship”, baffled the British by the amount of punishment she took (21 heavy shells, a torpedo) while also claiming HMS Queen Mary. But between Lowestoft and this, her crew had barely time to rest. As soon as the ship left the drydock, she was planned for action. Vizeadmiral Reinhard Scheer indeed, under pressure by the Emperor for results, planned a foray into the North Sea with the same tactic, to draw out either Beatty’s battlecruiser squadron or Jellicoe’s Grand fleet into a trap.

The operation was planned already in mid-May, but the absence of Seydlitz, arguably at that time, one of the finest German capital ships, prevented it. Reinhardt Scheer wanted his battlecruiser force at full strength. Seydlitz was to be thrown into action as soon as repaired.

On 22 May, Wilhelmshaven dockyard reported she was ready, but post-repair sea trials showed still ongoing watertight problems, massive leaks in the fore and aft transverse bulkheads. As a week of extra repairs was needed, Scheer postponed his operation again. The entire fleet was waiting for Seydlitz. Wilhelmshaven dockyard at last assured Scheer the ship was ready at noon, on 28 May, when she exited the drydock and sailed to join the I Scouting Group.

On the night of 30 May 1916, she was anchored in the Jade roadstead and at 02:00 CET, the I. scouting group proceeded with caution to Skagerrak (at 16 knots). Hipper however had his flag transferred to SMS Lützow, the very last German battlecruiser at that point, of a new generation. SMS Hindenburg meanwhile was still fitting out. SMS Seydlitz was in the center of the battle line, after Derfflinger and ahead of Moltke. This force was screened as usual by the II. Scouting Group: Light cruisers SMS Frankfurt, Boedicker’s flagship, Wiesbaden, Pillau, and Elbing plus 30 torpedo boats (II, VI, and IX Flotillas). They took their position in a “cloud” around the battlecruiser line, ready to spot anything on the horizon.

Scheer left the Jade with the Hochseeflotte to act as distant cover as usual, 1h30 later and by then comprised the maximum strenght of sixteen dreadnoughts, notably the brand new König class. By that point, the Bayern class was also fitting out and were sorely missed for the battle, as the first German dreadnoughts with 38 cm guns, able to compete with the Queen Elisabeth and Revenge classes. The High Seas Fleet also comprised a screening force, IV. Scouting Group (light cruisers Rostock (flagship) Stettin, München, Hamburg, Frauenlob, Stuttgart, 31 torpedo boats). And the six pre-dreadnoughts of II Battle Squadron, which departed sooner, rendezvoused with the main battle fleet at 5:00. To read more about the battle’s details:


We will concentrate her on Seydlitz. At 16:00, Hipper encountered Beatty’s battlecruiser squadron and the Germans were the first to open fire at around 15,000 yards (14,000 m), including Seydlitz. Seydlitz engaged herself HMS Queen Mary. At 16:54, range fell to 12,900 yards (11,800 m) so that she could train her secondary battery. Her 15 cm guns started to bark in turn, targeting Queen Mary’s superstructures, but soon as to engage the dangerously closer British 9th and 10th Destroyer Flotillas.

At circa 16:55-16:57, SMS Seydlitz was hit twive by Queen Mary, one penetrating her flank 5 ft above the main battery deck. A fire started. The second went into the aft superfiring turret’s barbette, igniting propellant charges in the working chamber. The fire flash went down down to the magazine but nlike the British, German anti-flash precautions were very strict and saved the ship. Extra measures has been taken after the closely aboided explosion at the Dogger Bank. That turret was out of action for the rest if the battle, and she lost its gun crew and loaders in the process.

At 17:25, Indefatigable was destroyed by Von der Tann, causing some commotion on the Britush side, and Beatty regrouped and sailed towards the fast incoming 5th Battle Squadron (Queen Elizabeth-class battleships). Their heavy guns started to bark while Seydlitz and Derfflinger concentrated on HMS Queen Mary. Two salvoes eventually caused perhaps five hits, and a massive explosion followed. The battlecruiser was ripped in half, sinking rapidly. The shockwave of the blast was enough to rock sailors on the deck of the British ships around.

At that point opposing side destroyers multiplied torpedo attacks, and soon one British torpedo struck Seydlitz. It was 17:57 when she was hit directly below the fore turret. This was not far, just aft of where she received her mine damage and she was “patched” sooner. The 40 x 13 ft (12 × 4 m) opening caused flooding and started a list. Despite this, Seydlitz maintained her top speed and position.

At around 18:00, SMS Lützow came in range of both the British battlecruisers and Queen Elizabeth-class battleships. This was quite an overwhelming opposition, but duels engaged neverthless at between 18:09 and 18:19, SMS Seydlitz was hit by a -first- 15 in shell from H%S Barham or Valiant (it’s unclear at that point as confusion reigned when silalling duels, and both super-dreadnoughts concentrated on the battlecruiser. This shell struck the face of the port wing turret. It did not penetrate but the blast rocked the turret and disabled both guns. A second struck the aft superfiring turret again. This time it detonated cordite charges not burned, just relaunching a fierce fire. Two 150 mm guns were also while the deck aft turret lost its right-hand gun.

By that point, Capitain von Egidy recalled the appealing visibility with a dense mist, and targeting being done by aiming at flashes of the enemy’s guns in the distance, which now fell to just 13,000 yards, so the allow the secondaries firing too.

Circa 19:00, Beatty’s forces now closer to the Grand Fleet turned his ships towards Scheer again in order to indicate their position, and both lines closed for a new engagement, down this time to 11,000 m. Visibility however was better for the British due to the sun’s position silhouetting the Germans battlecruisers, which took a beating.

Seydlitz was hit six times: The forward section was pounded, and the section under the forecastle became a raging inferno. Hipper was forced soon to temporarily withdraw southwest. Seydlitz had by that point her list increasing badly to starboard, slowing down. Her fore middle deck was entirely flooded, she lost almost all buoyancy to the point her prow was now regularly submerged by incoming waves. At 19:30 the High Seas Fleet was still unaware of the Grand Fleet’s position, Scheer considering a full withdrawal before darkness, when the Grand Fleet was at last spotted. Her ordered al his ships a turn 16 points to starboard, followed by Seydlitz, so she was found astern of SMS König.

Hipper’s battlecruiser had some respite, while Admiral Jellicoe turned eastward on a perceived German path of the retreat. Soon another 16-point turn in reverse was ordered and soon Scheer ordered Seydlitz, Von der Tann, Moltke, and Derfflinger to make the infamous “death run” at full speed towards the British fleet, hoping to disrupt their formation. At around 20:17, Seydlitz was just 7,700 yards (7,000 m) of Colossus, and she managed to hit the British battleship, causing minor damage to her superstructure, before turning in retreat behind a screen of torpedo boats and smoke.

The battle went on at dusk, but there was a new respite allowing some urgent repairs to be done Seydlitz and other bettered German battlecruisers. It was ordered notably to cut away wreckage interfering with the turret and mastered fires, fixing the fire control and signal gears dmaged by shrapnel, stopping flooding, and man and prepare searchlights. The German fleet was reorganized and ready when the British were spotted again at 21:00. Beatty turned his battlecruisers westward to the fray and after nine minutes sighted the German battlecruisers. He closed to 8,500 yards and opened fire at 20:20. Seydlitz was hit again: One struck the aftermost gun turret, jammed for good, another landed on bridge, killing nearly all officers present, even some in the conning tower.

Seydlitz at 21:32 hit Lion and Princess Royal. Manoeuvers had the pre-dreadnoughts of II Battle Squadron covering the retreat of the German battlecruisers, and soon the entire line turned southwest to broadside Beatty. At 22:15, Hipper transferred his flag to the still undamaged Moltke, and ordered to moved towards the head of the German line. Seydlitz and Moltke were the least damaged, while Derfflinger and Von der Tann were too battered and slow to comply to the 20 knots run. They nearly collided with Stettin while underway and caused the following Frauenlob, Stuttgart, and München a hard turn to port, so they fell on the British 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, duelling at 800 yards.

Von Reuter then decided to lure them towards Moltke and Seydlit but they broke off and fled. After Frauenlob exploded, Seydlitz lost sight of Moltke and could no longer keep up. The latter was speeding away towards Horns Reef.

The ship in drydock in Wilhelmshaven and her torpedo damage being patched up.

At 00:45, Seydlitz was now caught between the Grand Fleet and the Jade, trying to find a path in the dark. She was sighted by HMS Agincourt, the latter indentifying her as a small ship, possibly destroyer. But the captan declined to fire not to betray his position. At 01:12, Seydlitz went through and was now heading to Horns Reef, reached around 03:40. Her gyro-compasses disabled, she was to trust the light cruiser Pillau to guide her home. She arrived at 15:30, 1 June.

It was time for damage assessment: The bow practically submerged and the only unflooded compartment left was the broadside torpedo room. The wounded crew was evacuated and two pump steamers were dispatched to help the ship. They stabilized flooding, so she was able to steam back to port, reaching the outer Jade river on 1st June. Its only on 3 June, at very low speed, that she entered the Wilhelmshaven Lock. A first assessemtn stated she had been flooded by 5,308 tonnes of seawater. At 03:55, Hipper reported the damage his ships took. Fortunately none was sunk, a miracle considering what they went through. Derfflinger and Von der Tann each had only two guns in operation, Moltke was also flooded with 1,000 tons, Seydlitz far more, plus her starboard wing turret left operational and one gun for the forward turret, plus more of her secondary 15 cm guns. Seydlitz has been struck by 21 high-caliber shells, with two secondary battery shells, and a torpedo, deploring 98 killed and 55 wounded. But she also fire fired 376 main shells, claiming a probable 10 hits. The destrouction of Queen Mary was not exclusive, but is largely considered she was the main contributor.

Hit on her gun barrelHit on her gun barrel

sms seydlitz after Jutland in Wilhelmshaven on 3 June 1916, showing the extent of her battle damage. Colorized by irootoko JR. Battlecruiser normally don’t have the resilience she showed. The British were presuaded she took at least 30 hits from main battery shells, something even a battleship would have a hard time coming with. When room 40 later analyzed reports, the admiralty was stunned to know that all German capital ships but the old Pommern, survived. This, and the equally amazing survivability of Lützow and Derrflinger prompted an enquiry after the ships were interned in Scapa Flow and scuttled. Hindenburg in particular, the last and best of the lineage sinking upright, was toroughly examined by Royal engineers.

Last Operations

Repairs started on 15 June 1916 in drydock 3, in the Imperial Dockyard, until 1 October 1916. After post-fix trials and training, she was back with her unit in November. The former flagship Lützow has been sunk previously so Seydlitz became the new flagship. On 4 November, Seydlitz and Moltke headed with the II Division, I Battle Squadron, III Battle Squadron (notably the brand new SMS Bayern), sailed to Bovbjerg, Danish coast, to try to recuperate the stranded U-20 and U-30 before the British arrived. The mission was a success.

Scheer committed his ships ahain, this time to intercept a British convoy to Norway, by late 1917. The Royal Navy indeed had battleships attached to the convoys, so Scheer saw an opportunity to detach and destroy it. Strict wireless silence was ordered, to to prevent room 40 to warn the British admiralty, though the Germans at this point still were doubtful their code has been broken. The operation was planned on 23 April and the High Seas Fleet was as usual in distant support. On 24 April 1918, 05:20 Hipper reched a point 60 nmi (110 km; 69 mi) west of Egerö in Norway and laid an ambush. Faulty intelligence however doomed the operation as U-boats falsely reorted a west-bound convoy leaving Bergen on Tuesday, 22, and another bound to Norway departing from Methil in Scotland on the 24th. Moltke lost her propelled and was forced to break radio silence, alerting the Royal Navy and promting Beatty to make a sortie with the grand fleet, too late to intercept them. On 25 April, the Hochseeflotte and battlecruiser were withdrawn behind minefields, 40 nmi (74 km; 46 mi) off Helgoland. Moltke was torpedoed by E42 en route but like Seydlitz, survived.

Kapitän zur See William Taegert took command on 30 November 1917 and until 4 December 1918. Kapitänleutnant Otto Brauer was her last captain, from 5 December 1918 to her scuttling on 21 June 1919.

Seydlitz en route to Scapa Flow

The battlecruiser was mobilized for her last mission, the “death ride” planned for the High Seas Fleet in October 1918. Scheer (Großadmiral) wanted to obtain a better bargaining position for Germany’s peace negociations; However in Wilhelmshaven, war-weary sailors aware of the unrest in the capital and in part receiptive to bolshevism deserted en masse. Von der Tann and Derfflinger lost 300 men while in transit, and 29 October, sailors mutinied, ships refused to weigh anchors, acts of sabotage multiplied in SMS Thüringen and Helgoland. Nothing serious happened on Seydlitz, but Hipper and Scheer cancelled the operation. The mutiny soon spread to Kiel, fuelling the German Revolution and civil war that followed.

After the capitulation was signed in November, while the armistice terms were discussed, the entente powers ordered the German fleet to be interned in Scapa Flow. Seydlitz departed with the rest of the fleet, under a watchful escort of some 370 entente warships. When on site, their guns were disabled (breech blocks evacuated, under lock and keys) and they only had small crew, for Seydlitz about 200 officers and men to service the ship at minima.

As the Treaty of Versailles was concluding with very harsh conditions for Germany, admiral Reuter believed the British were about to seize the German fleet on 21 June 1919, the deadline to a signature, and when the Grend fleet departed for manoeuvers, he ordered a general scuttling, starting at 11:20. Seydlitz had her valves opened and explosive charges detonated whle the crew evacuated. She listed rapidly and eventually capsized at 13:50, burying her superstructures in the mud, under twelve fathoms. She was sold for scrap to Cox and Danks. Her salvaging proved difficult, she sank again but the second attempt was made in front of cameras. But she refused to comply again, being accidentally refloated while Cox was absent and no cameras were turning. She was sunk again and raised on 2 November 1928, then towed to Rosyth on 1930. Her bell was carried by SMS Kormoran during WW2.

Seydlitz capsized after scuttling

SMS Von der Tann (1910)

SMS Von der Tann (1910)

German Hochseeflotte Battlecruiser (1908-1919)

SMS Von der Tann, first German Battlecruiser

SMS Von der Tann was built in response to the british HMS Invincible, and although still armed with 28 cm guns, on paper inferior to the British Vickers Armstrong 12-in guns, SMS Von der Tann nevertheless was a larger and faster ship, significantly better-armored. The Germans also argued their 28 cm standard gun was more accurate, with slightly longer range. Von der Tann was soon at the forefront of Admiral Hipper’s fast actions to lure out the Grand Fleet, by shelling the English coast. She fought at Jutland, famously destroying HMS Indefatigable in the opening minutes. Von der Tann later was badly battered herself by British battleships but in stark contrast, with all her main battery knocked out, she survived to tell the tale and was back in action after two months…

Design development

Indeed, according to Conway’s all and many authors, a consensus emerged over time to define the previous SMS Blücher as an “armoured cruiser”, not a battlecruiser. Even if she was given a modern monocaliber artillery. The main problem was her 21 cm artillery (8.1 in) was too weak for capital ships standards, battlecruisers were part of. However by the virtue of her speed, at 25.4 knots (47.0 km/h; 29.2 mph) she was still faster than contemporary British armoured cruisers like the Warrior class, and more powerful as the latter only had six 9.2 in main guns in single turrets.

Nevertheless, the advent of the British Invincible class, launched on 13 April 1907 -Blücher was laid down on 21 February 1907 and it was too late to modify the design- she was armed with eight 30.5 cm (12 in) guns as main battery and completely outclassed all armored cruisers overnight. The type died out as the result worldwide. For the German admiralty, the next large “large cruiser” (“Schwere Kreuzer” in German classification) FY 1907 needed an entirely new design as countermeasure. But plans has been laid down way before.

Work started on the new “Kreuzer F” in August 1906, as German intel knew about HMS Invincible on the works since 1905 when details were sold to the German naval attaché(1). Basic requirements was the new upgraded armament to eight 28 cm (11 in) guns. The secondary battery comprised eight 15 cm (5.9 in) guns and the required design speed was at least 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph). Preliminary designs options included secondary guns either in four twin-gun turrets or casemates, central battery. The Construction Office (Naval Constructor von Eickstedt) submitted a competing proposal with six 28 cm guns but more 17 cm (6.7 in) guns in compensation.

SMS Blücher
The previous SMS Blücher, first and last German monocaliber armoured cruiser, launched 11 April 1908.

Senior officers however disagreed over the intended role of the new ship: Indeed, the State Secretary of the Reichsmarineamt Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, wanted her as a direct answer to the British Invincibles but with both heavier guns, lighter armor and higher speed. His idea was of a fleet scout able to deal with opposing cruisers. Tirpitz did not want it to be used in a battle line. However Kaiser Wilhelm II followed by a large part of the admiralty argued that due to its cost, and like previous armored cruisers, she would do better id incorporated in the battle line right away, possibly after completing her scouting mission. This required a much heavier armor, this insistence was in no small part due to the flagrant numerical inferiority of the German High Seas fleet. Initial proposals for artillery ranged 30.5 to 34.3 cm (12-13.5 inches) but budget restrictions weight much in the development of these new guns (a recurring problem for the German Navy which ended in 1914 undergunned as well). The fastest way which decided the outcome was to adopt as an interim measure the smaller and wheaper 28 cm twin-gun turret already developed for the last two Nassau-class battleships and following Helgoland class. Therefore “Kreuzer F” became a compromise, a bit slower, lesser armed, but much better protected than planned by Tirpitz.

A conference in September 1906 saw this compromise design going into a written, more developed form. At that time, the lead designer Von Eickstedt feared her protection was still inadequate: Explosive trials had still not been completed and he wanted to postpone it to alter the ASW protection, also arguing that even light 21 cm or 24 cm (9.4 in) guns were enough to deal with the armour of contemporary British battlecruisers. Admiral August von Heeringen (General Navy Department) objected vehemently the last point since he foresaw Cruiser F engaging battleships, so a minimal 28 cm caliber was mandatory. Admiral Eduard von Capelle (deputy director of the RMA) however agreed that the results (planned for November) of the underwater protection system could influence the main battery, to offset the future weight of these alteratis. Tirpitz however rejected both the lighter caliber and agreed to increase the displacement if the protecttion needed alterations. This limited was to be set above the 19,000 metric tons (19,000 long tons) first planned.

General scheme of the Von der Tann in 1916 (cc)

In September 1907 the design staff submitted to the admiralty three basic designs:
-“1a”, 2×2 28 cm, 4 single turrets
-“2a” 4×2 28cm
-“5a” 3×2 28cm+ 2×1 of the same

All three variants of these had all the secondary guns in a casemate battery. The Kaiser eventually approved “2a”, with the larger battery, and the design staff soon refined it into the design “2b” with wing turrets en echelon arrangement to allow for a theoric full broadside. The initial triple-expansion steam engines were also eliminted in favor to the new turbines worked out at the time, for a speed increase to 24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph), traduced into the “2a1” varian and the 2C1 which in addition had all the updated protection scheme.

Final Design of Von der Tann

General scheme, 3d

On 22 June 1907, the Kaiser authorized “Cruiser F”, soon named Von der Tann (Von der Tann-Rathsamhausen, the Bavarian general of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War). The order was won by Blohm & Voss shipyard, Hamburg. The latter delivered its final blueprints and the contract was signed on 26 September 1907 for a final cost established at 36.523 million Marks, 30% more than SMS Blücher, even 50% more than the Scharnhorst class. Soon, the parliament raised an issue of this as Naval Laws behind construction program were to maintain regular prices over time.

The final hull was 171.5 m (562 ft 8 in) long at the waterline, 171.7 m (563 ft 4 in) overall, with a ram and edgy stern. The beam was increase up to 26.6 m (87 ft 3 in).The anti-torpedo nets added almost a meter when stored alongside the hull. Normal draft was 8.91 m (29 ft 3 in) forward, 9.17 m (30 ft 1 in) aft as customary for the time for a better penetration. Her final displacement slipped above her first agreed displacempent to 19,370 metric tons, but jumped to 21,300 t when fully laden. Construction called for transverse and longitudinal steel frames and split between fifteen watertight compartments. There was also a double bottom over 75% of the lenght.

Brasseys diagram 1913

The crew compartments saw the officers accommodated in the forecastle, which was found unsatisfactory, never repeated in other designs as they were too far away from the bridge. SMS Von der Tann initial design showed also, amazingly, a lattice mast, but its structure proved too uncertain and standard pole masts were chosen instead, with spotting posts attached in 1914 for gunnery. Both were not open but fully enclosed and lightly protected. The foremast was split in two parts, with the lower pole crowned by an open platform already. For night combat, the ship possessed six projectors, two axial on platforms fore and aft of the two masts, plus two abaft these, also in platforms. The bridge was quite low contrary to British ships: The navigation bridge was stuck in front of the massive conning tower, barely above the level of the forecastle “A” turret’s roof.

All turrets in addition had a quasi-telemeter by the use of two sights far apart on both sides of the front roof slope. The two turrets were relatively low and far apart: The first was located just behind the foremast, and the second in between the two secondar turrets en echelon, B and C. They were both surruonded by exhaust vents and grilles with ventilators directing fresh air in the respective engine rooms. Servitude boats were stacked on the largest section of the ship, abaft the second funnel, with two cranes for lifting them.


Powerplant & performances

SMS Von der Tann used steam turbines, at that tie a novelty for a German capital ship. This was a first, obtained by the insistence of Tirpitz. This propulsion system consisted of four steam turbines placed in two sets with high pressure turbines on the outer shafts, and the low pressure turbines for the inner shafts, intended for economical cruise. This was an arrangement soon classic for German battlecruisers, whereas battleships had three shafts, the axial one being the low-pressure turbine (when turbines were used). The shafts drove 3-bladed screw propellers 3.6 m (12 ft) in diameter. The turbones of course were not located in the same room for ASW defense purposes. Instead they were split into three engine rooms. Eighteen coal-fired double-ended water-tube boilers provided the steam, themselves hoursed in five separate boiler rooms. They were were ducted into two funnels, widely spaced.

Total output as design was to be 42,000 metric horsepower (41,000 shp) and the required top speed 24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph). In reality, these figures proved pessimistic on trials, as Von der Tann proved she was capable of reaching 79,007 metric horsepower (77,926 shp), giving her a top speed of 27.4 knots (50.7 km/h; 31.5 mph), a record for a ship of such tonnage at the time. The staff was so impressed that the captain was ordered to setup a record, steaming his way between Tenerife and Germany at 27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph), even reaching 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph) when conditions were pristine.

This made headlines home and did not escape the british admiralty eitherk comforting Admiral (and sea lord) Jackie Fisher in his obessions. She became overnight the fastest capital ship afloat. For range, Von der Tann was designed to carry 1,000 t (980 long tons) in peacetime, which cane be extended beyond 2,600 t (2,600 long tons) in wartime, filling her internal ASW torpedo bulkheads and other spaces. Her maximum raduis was 4,400 nautical miles (8,100 km; 5,100 mi) at 14 knots. She was also fitted with a powerful electrical plant, made of six turbo generators by AEG producing a grand total of 1,200 kW (1,600 hp) at 225 volts, another record at that time.

Von der Tann however ran on low-quality or sub-par coal and after the raid on Scarborough, her commander Captain Max von Hahn, remarked the burning properties of her coal resulted in a heavy smoke signalling her presence from far away. As the war progressed, this coal quality only get worse, and at battle of Jutland, her boilers after 16:00 were meft to burn to the lowest-grade remnants of what she carried at first, resulting in ger loosing speed consistently. Derfflinger and Seydlitz were also impaired by the same problem. After 1916, the admiralty decided to modify the boilers on many of her capital ships with tar-oil sprayer systems to improve the combustion rate.

Von der Tann revealed herself as a good sea boat, with gentle motion, but some weather helm. Steaming in reverse rendered her control near impossible, and she lost a lot of speed when turning hard over, about 60% while heeling to 8°. To stabilize her, she was given Frahm anti-roll tanks during construction. But on sea trials these proved ineffective, only reducing her roll by 33%. When back in drydock, Bilge keels were addedand the forer internal anti-roll tanks were filled with extra fuel instead. These anti-roll tanks could also be filled woth 180 t of coal, further improving her range.

Armour scheme

SMS_Von_der_Tann_midle_section A big selling point of Von Der Tann’s design (as those who followed) was her armour scheme. It was intended clearly from the start to allow her to take her place in a battleline, therefore she was to be able to deal with 12-in rounds. Needless to say it was not the case for the Invincible class, only suited to deal with cruiser rounds, 6-in at the time. In all, she carried 2,000 tons of armour MORE than the Invincible and Indefatigable classes (10% of her total weight). This explains the comparative performances seen at Jutland, but let’s dive deeper shall we ?

Von der Tann’s armor came from Krupp, of the cemented and nickel steel type. The main belt armor was ranginf from 80 to 120 mm forward and 250 mm over the ship’s citadel admiship (between barbettes), then down to 100 mm thick aft. The forward conning tower had 250 mm walls, the aft one 200 mm thick. The four turrets were covered by sloped 230 mm faces while the side plates were 180 mm thick and the back plate and roof were protected by 90 mm. The main armoured deck was 25 mm thick, with slopes down to main belt 50 mm thick. The citadel used on the Blücher was recalled, with a torpedo bulkhead 25 mm thick, 4 meters away from the outer hull skin. The void was filled with coal.

  • Main belt: 3.1-4.7 in fwd, 9.8 in amid, 3.9 in aft
  • CT: fwd 9.8 in, aft 7.9 in
  • Main Turrets: 9.1 fwd, 7.1 sides, 3.5 inches back & roof
  • Barbettes: 9.1 in
  • Armoured deck 0.98 in, sloped 2 in
  • Torpedo Bulkhead 0.98 in, 13 ft away

Like most Hochseeflotte vessels, Von der Tann was given anti-torpedo nets, but these were removed towards after Jutland.


-Eight 28 cm SK L/45 guns: They were designed and manufactured by Krupp from 1909, in service the next year, and became rapidly the most German capital ship mainstay artillery. These used separate-loading, with a cased charge and 284–302 kg (626–666 lb) shells, ad exact Caliber of 283 millimeters (11 in), and a horizontal sliding-wedge breech. Its muzzle velocity was 855 to 875 m/s (2,810 to 2,870 ft/s) depending of the shells, and it fired at a 20.9 tons/in2 (3,300 kg/cm2) pressure. The approximate Barrel Life was 210 – 260 rounds, and each was supplied by around 82 rounds. The rounds were either the APC L/3,2 28 cm Psgr. L/3,2 (m.Hb), HE L/3,6 base fuze 28 cm Spgr. L/3,6 Bdz and HE L/4,4 base and nose fuze 28 cm Spgr. L/4,4 Bdz u. Kz (m.Hb). Range at 20° was 20,670 yards (18,900 m) and 22,310 yards (20,400 m) after 1915, firing at 3rpm to compare with the Invincible’s 12-inches: 2,700 ft/s (823 m/s) muzzle velocity and maximum firing range of 22,860 m (25,000 yd), 1.5 rounds per minute. So in essence, Germans shells were faster (so better penetration), and the Germans could fire twice faster, so sending two volleys for one, although slightly outranged. This never really a problem in the north sea were weather conditions were often appealing.

-Ten 15 cm SK L/45: The secondary guns of the battery deck were one deck level below the forecastle, five casemate turrets in recesses of the hull offering the best arc of fire, three pointing forward, two backward. With slightly lighter shells compared to the british 6-inches, they fired again faster at 5-7 rpm with a muzzle velocity of 840 metres per second (2,800 ft/s). Range was 14.9 km (9.3 mi) at 20°. These ten casemated guns were placed on MPL C/06 pivot mounts and provided with 150 high explosive and armor-piercing rounds. Originally top range was 13,500 m (14,800 yd) but ported after the 1915 refit to 16,800 m (18,400 yd) with better elevation.

-Sixteen 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/45 guns: Tertiary guns were all in single mounts, sixteen in all: Two on either side of the forward superstructure in casemates, two on pivot mounts, under shields on the roof of the aft superstructure, and the four last in casemates fore and aft of the hull, in chase and retreat. The MPL C/01-06 type on pivot mounts had a greater elevation and the each was provided with a grand total of 3,200 shells. These guns fired a 9 kg (20 lb) shell with a rate of 15 rounds per minute at 10,694 m (11,695 yd), an excellent range for such “light guns”. So much so that they were consiered almost as secondaries. By late 1916, in the repairs following the Battle of Jutland, her hull 8.8 cm guns were remove. The firing ports were welded shut but two 8.8 cm extra flak guns were installed on the aft superstructure. Overall, compared to the Invincible class, which was less compromised as the pure “monocaliber” HMS Dreadnought, she did much better: Invincible was armed with 16 single 4 in (102 mm) guns, while between her 15 cm and 8,8 cm which had almost the same range she presented 26 “secondary guns”, and almost thrice the firepower related to their rate of fire.

-Torpedoes: Four individual 45 cm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes, with 11 torpedoes in reserve. They were located in the bow, stern, and broadside. Each carried a 110 kg (240 lb) warhead, with a max range of of 2000 m (1.04 nmi) at 32 knots setting (59 km/h), down to 1.5 km (0.81 nmi) at 36 knits (67 km/h). Jutland was the last time both sides’s capital ships fired their torpedoes in battle.

For accuracy, the ship possessed two main telemeters placed over armored conning towers fore and aft, directing their respective turrets. For long range accuracy, they had in 1914 lookouts posted in the main pole masts fighting tops, and a year later tests were made to carry a spotter plane: A seaplane was tried with a crane attached on the aft deck to depose and recover it.




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Von der Tann Specifications

Dimensions 171.7 x 26.6 x 8.91/9.17 m (563 x 87 x 30 ft)
Displacement 19,370 t, Full load: 21,300 t
Propulsion 4 steam turbines, 18 Schultz-Thornycroft boilers, 41,430 hp
Speed 27.7 kts max (51.39 km/h; 31.93 mph)
Range 4,400 nmi (8,100 km; 5,100 mi)
Armament 8 x 280 mm (4×2), 10 x 150 mm in barbettes, 16 x 88 mm Flak, 4 x 450 mm TT (sub)
Armor Belt: 80-250 mm, Turret faces 230 mm, CT 250 mm, Torpedo bulkhead 25 mm
Crew 41-882

Illustration of the Blücher
Illustration of the Blücher, by the author (1/750)

SMS Von der Tann in action

Von der Tann 1911

Von der Tann’s keel was laid down on 21 March 1908 at Blohm & Voss NyD in Hamburg, and launched on 20 March 1909. General Luitpold Freiherr von und zu der Tann-Rathsamhausen (III Royal Bavarian Corps) christened the battlecruiser tat day. Fitting out proceeded until the new warship was ready to be towed in May 1910 at Kaiserliche Werft, Kiel, for final preparations. Dockyard workers, instead of crews, manned the ship by then, and on 1st September 1910 she was commissioned with a crew hastily assembled from the dreadnought SMS Rheinland, so already well trained, under command of Kapitän zur See Robert Mischke. Her sea trials showed she was an excellent steamer and reached performances unheeard of for such capital ship at the time, making runs for hours on end at more than 28 knots, cruiser/destroyer speed. Von Tirpitz was delighted.

SMS Von der Tann made her first shakedown cruise in South America, sailing out on 20 February 1911 and stopping in the Canary Islands. She visited Rio de Janeiro, hosting the president Hermes da Fonseca, then reached Itajaha to meet and team with SMS Bremen. They proceeded to Bahía Blanca in Argentina and were back to Bahia, then Buenos Aires, departing in April and be home at Wilhelmshaven on 6 May. The ship acted as a floating adverstising platform to negociate awas effected to the Ist Scouting Group and in June, steamed to the Dutch harbor of Vlissingen to carry Crown Prince Wilhelm and his wife to the coronation ceremonies of King George V and naval Review at Spithead until 29 June. The battlecruiser was abundantely photographed and visited by international officials by then, impressed by the new ship.


In August the battlecruiser was back to exercizes with the fleet and became flagship of I Scouting Group, replacing SMS Blücher (Vice Admiral Gustav Bachmann). In July 1912, she left her post for an engine overhaul, replaced by Moltke and greeted a new captain, KzS Max Hahn in September. She became afterwards flagship for Konteradmiral Franz von Hipper and from 1st October, flagship of the 3rd Admiral of Reconnaissance Forces (Counter-admiral Felix Funke). Nothing much happened afterwards, until 1914.

In August 1914, her first major sortie was an unsuccessful search for British battlecruisers after the Battle of Heligoland Bight. She was stationed in Wilhelmshaven Roads prior to that, was ordered to steam out with SMS Moltke to save the beleaguered light cruisers, and teamed up with SMS Strassburg, Stettin, Frauenlob, Stralsund, and Ariadne en route. Ariadne sank while Mainz and Cöln went missing.

Raid on Yarmouth, 2-3 November

She was mobilized to prepare the Raid on Yarmouth, on 2–3 November 1914, departing at 16:30 with SMS Seydlitz (Hipper’s flagship), SMS Moltke, Blücher, and four light cruisers (Strassburg, Graudenz, Kolberg, Stralsund) from the Jade Estuary. The goal was to lay minefields in British sea lanes. At 18:00, the hochseeflotte scrambled two battlesquadrons in support. The fast scouting force was suppose to draw the British out on this cover force. Hipper’s force avoided Heligoland’s British submarines in ambush and speeding at 18 knots, at 06:30 on the 3th his force spotted the British minesweeper HMS Halcyon, fired upon, soon drawing closer the escort destroyer HMS Lively. Hipper knowing going risking his ships into a known minefield, and turned awa to arrive off Great Yarmouth, shelling the coast. The British Admiralty now informed scrambled the fleet, but the Germans already folded up.

Raid on Scarborough, 15 December

William Scott Hodgson, Bombardment of Whitby, 16 December 1914
William Scott Hodgson, Bombardment of Whitby, 16 December 1914

Under order of Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl another raid was was decided on the English coast for luring a portion of the Grand Fleet out. At 03:20, on 15 December 1914, SMS Blücher, Moltke, Von der Tann, Derfflinger, Seydlitz, and the light cruisers Kolberg, Strassburg, Stralsund, Graudenz, flanked by two squadrons of Hochseetorpedoboote left the Jade, sailing north past Heligoland again, and reached the Horns Reef lighthouse, then turned towards Scarborough and commenced shelling (with little effect).

Twelve hours after, the High Seas Fleet departed in cover with 14 dreadnoughts, eight pre-dreadnoughts, two armored cruisers, seven light cruisers and 54 TBs. What the Germans did not realized was since August 1914 the Russians captired SMS Magdeburg’s code books with all German radio signals that were transmitted to Britis intel, and when intercepting traffic, warned the Royal Navy. Vice Admiral Beatty’s four battlecruisers and the 1st, and 3rd Cruiser Squadron sailed out to meet them. Son also, the 2nd Battle Squadron (six dreadnoughts) sailed away to take position behind Hipper and ambush him. Meanwhile, unaware of this, Hipper’s battlecruisers were split into two groups with Seydlitz, Moltke, and Blücher shelling Hartlepool, Von der Tann and Derfflinger Scarborough and Whitby. They destroyed coast guard stations and the signalling station in Whitby. By 09:45 they reassembled, and retreat eastward. Meawnhile, Ingenohl withdrawn while David Beatty’s battlecruisers were in position to face Hipper and the encirclement proceeding with the expected arrival of the Grand Fleet. At 12:25, SMS Stralsund was spotted and reported to Beatty, however the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron detached to pursue German cruisers, receiving a misinterpreted signal from the British battlecruisers which alerted Hipper and allowed his battlecruisers veering to the northeast and escaping.

Raid on Yarmouth and Lowestoft (24-25 April 1916)

Von der Tann was refitted and took no part in the Battle of Dogger Bank, replaced by Blücher which was sunk at this occasion, with a detachment Von der Tann on board. In 1915, the battlecruiser operated in the North and Baltic Seas. In August she shelled the island fortress at Utö and exchanged fire with the Russian armored cruiser Admiral Makarov, also later engaging the Bayan and five destroyers while being struck by a shell through the funnel in return. In February 1916, KzS Hans Zenker became her new captain. She sailed to shell Yarmouth and Lowestoft on 24–25 April under orders of Konteradmiral Friedrich Boedicker onboard Seyditz. She sailed during this raid with the German battlecruisers Derfflinger, Lützow, Moltke, and Seydlitz, but the latter struck a mine and turned back with a screen of light cruisers. The four remaining battlecruisers headed to Norderney to avoid the minefield, while Boedicker disembarked and was carried back to the fleet by the torpedo boat V28, raising his mark on Lützow. The shelling took place covered by SMS Rostock and Elbing on their southern flank. They destroyed two 6 in (15 cm) shore batteries and shelled Lowestoft in low visibility, but helped with a landmark, the Empire Hotel… Next, they turned north, towards Yarmouth, in even poorer visibility, firing only one salvo each. Reports of British submarines and torpedo attacks soon had them packing for home while learning the Grand Fleet sortied earlier from Scapa Flow to intercept them. Von der Tann took part also in the fleet sorties of 5–7 March, 17 April, 21–22 April, and 5 May 1916 as well.

Raid on Lowestoft, 25 April 1916

Von der Tann at Jutland (May 1916)

Certainly the defining moment for SMS Von der Tann, which cemented her image as a “badass battlecruiser”. At the time she was part of Hipper’s First Scouting Group, the rearmost of five battlecruisers in the line. On 31 May 1916, Hipper’s force met Beatty’s battlecruiser squadron and the Germans were the first to open fire at around 15,000 yd (14,000 m). At 16:49, Von der Tann targeted HMS Indefatigable and in 14 minutes, she scored five hits on her after firing 52 AP shells. One was a “lucky hit”, which went through and ingnited cordite, causing HMS Indefatigable to explode and sink rapidly. Seen from New Zealand, a sailor described “the Indefatigable hit by two shells from Von der Tann, one on the fore turret. Both appeared to explode on impact. After an interval of thirty seconds, the ship blew up. Sheets of flame were followed by dense smoke which obscured her from view.”.

Following this first loss, Beatty turned away, while the 5th Battle Squadron closed in, opening fire at around 19,000 yd (17,000 m). Von der Tann and Moltke first came under fire from the 5th BS battleships HMS Barham, Valiant, and Malaya. They started zig-zagging to avoid plunging fire, and at 17:09, Von der Tann was hit by a heavy shell from HMS Barham beneath the waterline. It dislodged a section of the belt armor while 600 tons of seawater poured in. Temporarily damaged on her steering gear, she quickly fell out of line to port. At 17:20, she took also a 13.5 in shell from HMS Tiger on her “A” turret’s barbette, disloging a part of the armor plate inside, which struck the turret training gear and jammed the turret at 120°, placing her out of action. At 17:23, another 13.5 in shell from the same hit “C” turret, killing 6. It holed the deck, creating enough wreckage to jam it too. Meawnile the starboard rudder was damaged too. A fire started in the practice targets storage room creating soon a thick cloud obscuring her, fortunately a saving grace. Sections of the torpedo nets were knocked loose also, trailing behind her, aggravating her loose course. They were cut loose before catching in the propellers, but this event was enough to have them rmoved on all German battleships afterwards.

HMS Indefatigable

HMS New Zealand meanwhile engaged in turn SMS Von der Tann but lost sight of her and shifted to Moltke. At 17:18 Von der Tann was closer to Barham, at 17,500 yd (16,000 m), and she opened fire with her remaining turret, scoring one at 17:23. She fired 24 shells but had to return to New Zealand, due to her struck fore and aft turrets and badly positioned amidship turret. At 18:15, her last active turret jammed in turn, leaving Von der Tann with her secondary armament ! She could have been withdrawn but her captain chosed to remained in the battle line, just to distract British gunners. She started to maneuver in an erratic manner to avoid British gunfire, while firing her secondaries nevertheless, just to attract attention.

At 18:53 she was down to 23 knots after one hour and a half dealing with mechanical difficulties. “D” turret was repaired at last and back into action. She took her last heavy hit at 20:19 from HMS Revenge. The 15-in AP shell struck her aft conning tower. Splinters penetrated, killing the Third Gunnery Officer and both rangefinder operators, wounding other crewman. Fragments fell through the ventilating shaft, into the condenser so lighting failed. The crew used their matches and petrol lamps. At 20:30, “B” was operational again and bu 21:00 “C” turret also.

Original photo

But at 22:15, Hipper in Moltke ordered his battlecruisers speeding up to 20 knots and fall into the rear of Hochseeflotte. Derfflinger and Von der Tann however lagged behind. They closed to the II Squadron, joined by old pre-dreadnoughts Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein at midnight, offering some protection. At 03:37, the British destroyer HMS Moresby fired her torpedoes, that closely missed Von der Tann’s bow. She had to turn sharply to starboard to avoid these. At 03:55, Hipper reported to Admiral Scheer the damage her took, asking to sail home. Derfflinger and Von der Tann indeed had most of therir artillery knocked out, Moltke was flooded and Seydlitz was severely damaged.

It would happen later that part of the jamming was also attributed to the very high rate of fire and crew’s commitment to achieve this. Several main guns of the amidships turrets indeed became overheated, dilating and jamming in their recoil slides. Von der Tann had all her main artilley down for 11 hours. “D” turret was recovered last, after cutting away bent metal with oxyacetylene torches. Casualties amounted to 11 dead and 35 wounded. 170 main shells had been fired, plus 98 secondaries.

Last operations (1916-1918)

Von der Tann in 1918

Like the rest of the Hochseeflotte, SMS Von der Tann subsequent actions were limited. She underwent repairs from 2 June until 29 July 1916, and took part in several unsuccessful raids into the North Sea until the end of theto lure out Beatty’s battlecruisers again, covered by Admiral Scheer with 15 dreadnoughts. Since the British were aware they sortied the Grand Fleet and at 14:35, Scheer was reported this and decided to fold down. There were sorties on 25–26 September, 18–19 October, and 23–24 October. There was another one on 23–24 March 1917 but again, the fleet folded before reaching its objective for the same reasons. KzS Konrad Mommsen was her new captain in April 1917, while the battlecruiser became flagship of Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter. The largest operation at that point was a sortie to attack convoys off Norway on 23–25 April 1918, and another on 8–9 July 1918. In both she met no target and never fired her guns again.

SMS Von der Tann was planned to take action as well in October 1918, just days before the Armistice taking effect. A last-ditch sortie from Wilhelmshaven to engage the British Grand Fleet head on in a final, gigantic clash “for honor” after so much inactivity, to the growing frustration of the sailors, weary of the effect of the British blockade on their family back home. Scheer was now Grand Admiral of the fleet and his plan was to reproduce the “win” at Jutland, in order to obtain a better bargaining position for Germany amidst peace negociatons. He expected massive casualties but his plan was eventually defeated by war-weary sailors. They deserted en masse. Many from Von der Tann and Derfflinger (around 300) just climbed over the side and disappeared ashore. Mutinies erupted on 29 October 1918, and ultimately forced Hipper and Scheer to cancel the raid while Kaiser stated “I no longer have a navy.”

German battlecruisers steaming to Scapa
German battlecruisers steaming to Scapa

As per the capitulation’s condition the High Seas Fleet was interned in Scapa Flow. Von der Tann’s captain there was Wollante. A soldiers’ council was formed aboard the ship which took control of the vessel while negociations for the Treaty of Versailles were ongoing. Von Reuter eventually ordered the scuttling on the morning of 21 June. Charges were setup and exploded at the bottom of Von der Tann’s hull, and she ship sank in two hours and fifteen minutes. She would be later raised by Ernest Cox’s salvage company, on 7 December 1930. She was scrapped at Rosyth by Alloa Company beginning the next year.

Roon class armored cruisers (1904)

Roon class armored cruisers (1904)

German Empire (1901): SMS Roon, Yorck

The Roon class were follow-up armored cruisers of the Prinz Adalbert-class, built for the Kaiserliche Marine. Although quite similar in general appearance, they still incorporated incremental improvements, notably for the powerplant, reflected in their fourth funnel. Still, they had a relatively light armament and thin protection compared to the foreign armoured cruisers, notably those of the British Royal Navy of the time, the Devonshire class for example (1902) had four single BL 7.5-inch (191 mm) Mk I guns, while the Duke of Edinburgh class (1904) had no less than six BL 9.2-inch (234 mm) Mk X guns, for 12,590 long tons (12,790 t) versus 10,260. They ended not as fast as expected, but still two knots faster than the previous cruisers.


Roon and Yorck served in the 1st Scouting Group, the reconnaissance force of the Hochseeflotte when starting their service, used as group and deputy commander flagships. As battlecruisers started to replace them, they were decommissioned in 1911 and 1913 respectively, but reactivated in emergency in August 191 and assigned to III Scouting Group with the same duty as before and Roon as the group flagship, so that they operated together again. In November 1914 they participated in the raid on Yarmouth, but Yorck was lost in a minefield at her return. The group was disbanded and Roon was transferred to the Baltic in April 1915. She took part notably in the attack on Libau in May, Battle of the Åland Islands in July, Battle of the Gulf of Riga in August and decommissioned in 1916. She was used as training ship and later, accommodation vessel at anchor. She could have been converted into a seaplane tender but after 1918 she was stricken and BU in 1921.

Design of the Roon class


Hull & protection

The Roon class hull was 127.30 meters (417 ft 8 in) long at the waterline, and 127.80 m (419 ft 3 in) overall. The beam was 20.20 m (66 ft 3 in) at the largest frame, while they had a draft of 7.76 m (25 ft 6 in), for a total displacement between 9,533 metric tons (9,382 long tons) (normal) and 10,266 metric tons (10,104 long tons) fully loaded. So in short they were slightly longer, slightly thinner and with less draft and less tonnage than the Prinz Adalbert, and two more boilers were supposed to give them a great speed boost all combined: 22 knots instead of 19. This proved too optimistic.
The hull’s construction called for transverse and longitudinal steel frames with steel hull plates riveted on as previous cruisers. Below the armoured deck were managed twelve watertight compartments, with a double bottom below, running for 60% of the tota lenght.

SMS Roon and Yorck had Krupp cemented steel armor and on the waterline they had an armored belt 100 mm (3.9 in) thick (amidships) betwene barbettes, so around the vitals. It decreased down to 80 mm (3.1 in) on both ends of the central section. This armoured belt was backed by a layer ot teak, 55 mm (2.2 in) thick, acting as buffer. The casemate deck was protected by side armor 100 mm thick. The armored deck was 40 mm up to 60 mm (1.6–2.4 in), connected to the belt using sloped armor 40–50 mm (1.6–2.0 in) thick. The forward conning tower walls were 150 mm (5.9 in) on thickness with a 30 mm (1.2 in) roof. The rear conning tower was, as usual also, thinner, with 80 mm walls, 20 mm (0.79 in) roof. The main battery gun turrets frontal arc was protected by 150 mm thick plates and 30 mm roofs. The secondary (15 cm) turrets had 100 mm thick front and sides, 80 mm gun shields. Main Barbettes were about 150 mm, secondary 80 mm.
This armour scheme was in no way revolutionary, it ticked all the boxes of previous ships, going down to SMS Prinz Heinrich, but still was way less than the Prinz Adalbet class. The reason of this decrease was the same as two more boilers and a thinner beam, draft and tonnage: Achieving a better speed. But this was quite a price to pay for two more knots only usable when the sea calm.

Powerplant & mobility

Powerplant arrangement
SMS Roon and Yorck had basically the same engine arangement as the Prinz Adalbert, using three 3-cylinder vertical triple expansion engines(VTE), driving each a screw propeller. The central propeller was 4.50 m (14 ft 9 in) in diameter, while the outer ones were 4.80 m (15 ft 9 in). The central one could be use for cruising, the outer for high speed manoeuvers.
The only real change was the use of sixteen Düsseldorf-Ratinger Röhrenkesselfabrik (Dürr) coal-fired water-tube boilers, instead of 14, so two more. Each had 4 fireboxes, making for a grand total of 48. These boilers were ducted into not three, but four funnels, making the easiest dinstinction between the Roon and Prinz Adalbet class. This ensemble produced together 19,000 ihp (14,200 kW), allowing for a top speed of 22 knots (41 km/h).

At sea
On trials, none proved able to reach this designed and contracted speed. Roon managed to reached 21.1 knots (39.1 km/h; 24.3 mph) and Yorck 20.4 knots (37.8 km/h; 23.5 mph). For electrical outfitting, both cruisers called for four turbo generators in all, producing a total of 260 kilowatts/110 volts. Like the previous cruisers however, the Roon class proved to be good sea boats. Even fully loaded they had a gentle motion and manoeuvred well, responsive to the helm, despite a single rudder steering. Hard over however they heeled and lost 60% speed.
They were stable, with their metacentric height of 1.04 m (3 ft 5 in). Their range was 4,200 nmi (7,800 km; 4,800 mi) at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph), less than the Prinz Adalbert class.
Complement was 35 officers, and 598 enlisted sailors and as squadron flagship, they had accommodations for extra 13 officers and 62 personal. A second command ship it was 9 officers, 44 personal.


Main Battery:
Primary armament comprised four 21-centimeter (8.3 in) SK L/40 guns (40 caliber), mounted in two twin-gun turrets fore and one aft. Turrets of the DrL C/01 type had hydraulical power.
Elevation ranged from -5 to +30 degrees. They fired a 108 kg (238 lb) AP (armor-piercing) shell at a muzzle velocity of 780 meters per second (2,600 ft/s). Maximum range for the SK L/40 was 16,200 m (17,700 yd). They also had a complement of HE (High explosive) shells, and that could depend on the mission. In total, 380 shells were carried.

Secondary battery:
It comprised ten 15 cm (5.9 in) SK L/40 guns, all in single turrets, and clustered casemates amidships. This was two less than the previous Prinz Adalbert. They fired a 40 kg (88 lb) shell at 800 m/s (2,600 ft/s). They could be elevated also to 30%, providing a maximum range of 13,900 m (15,200 yd). However these casemates were placed way too low: As a result, they were always “wet” in heavy seas. To the point heavy spray prevented their use altogether. In all, 1,600 6-inches rounds were carried.

Tertiary Battery:
For close-range defense they counted on fourteen 8.8 cm SK L/35 guns. This was four more than the previous Prinz Adalbert, but the Roon were larger. They were all placed individual casemates along the upper superstructure, pivot mounts on upper decks. These guns fired a 7 kg (15 lb) shell at 770 m/s (2,500 ft/s). At max elevation (25 degrees) they reached a 9,100 m (10,000 yd) range. 2,100 shells were stored for these guns.

Torpedo Tubes:
Like previous cruisers, the Roon class was equipped with four 45 cm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes, submerged, in the bow, stern, and broadside, creating a lozenge. This was two less than the previous Prinz Adalbert. These were capable of launching the standard C/03 torpedo, which was fitted with a 147.5 kg (325 lb) warhead. The standard range gad two setups:
-1,500 m (4,900 ft) at 31 knots (57 km/h; 36 mph)
-3,000 m (9,800 ft) at 26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph)

profile roon
Old author’s Profile of Roon

Roon Specifications

Dimensions 127.8 x 20.2 x 7.76 m (419 oa x 66 x 25 ft)
Displacement 9,533 t standard, 10,226 FL
Crew 35 officers, 598 ratings
Propulsion 3 shafts, 14 boilers, 3 VTE engines 19,000 ihp (14,000 kW)
Speed 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph), Range: 4,200 nmi/12 knots
Armament 2×2 21 cm (8.2 in), 10 × 15 cm (5.9 in), 14 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/30, 4 × 45 cm (18 in) TTs
Armor Belt: 150 cm (7.9 in), Turrets: 20 cm (7.9 in), Deck: 3 cm (1.2 in)

German Große Kreuzer SMS Yorck fitting out at Blohm & Voss, Hamburg, on 20 September 1905

Read More:


J. Gardiner Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1865-1905
Dodson, Aidan (2016). The Kaiser’s Battlefleet: German Capital Ships 1871–1918. Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing.
Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One: Guns, Torpedoes, Mines and ASW Weapons of All Nations; An Illustrated Directory.
Gardiner, Robert, ed. (1979). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860–1905. Conway.
Gardiner, Robert & Gray, Randal, eds. (1985). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships: 1906–1921.
Greger, Rene (1964). “German Seaplane and Aircraft Carriers in Both World Wars”. Warship International. Toledo: Naval Records Club, Inc. I (1–12)
Grießmer, Axel (1999). Die Linienschiffe der Kaiserlichen Marine: 1906–1918; Konstruktionen zwischen Rüstungskonkurrenz und Flottengesetz, Bonn: Bernard & Graefe Verlag.
Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. I: Major Surface Vessels. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Herwig, Holger (1998) [1980]. “Luxury” Fleet: The Imperial German Navy 1888–1918. Amherst: Humanity Books.
Hildebrand, Hans H.; Röhr, Albert & Steinmetz, Hans-Otto (1993). Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe (Band 7/8) (in German).
Massie, Robert K. (2003). Castles of Steel. New York City: Ballantine Books.
Pavlovich, Nikolaĭ Bronislavovich (1979). The Fleet in the First World War: Operations of the Russian Fleet. New Delhi: Amerind Pub. Co.
Scheer, Reinhard (1920). Germany’s High Seas Fleet in the World War. London: Cassell and Company, ltd.
Staff, Gary (2006). German Battlecruisers: 1914–1918. Oxford: Osprey Books.
Taylor, John (1970). German Warships of World War I. Garden City: Doubleday.
Tucker, Spencer E. (2005). The Encyclopedia of World War I. ABC-CLIO.

The two Roon-class armoured cruisers SMS Yorck and SMS Roon in Norway (reddit)


More CC photos –
the class on


3D model by Tom fsx on Free 3D in 3dsmax format
The ship is also featured in the naval video game Distant Guns: Jutland

Model Kits

Official Kombrig page on the 1:700 model
Kombrig 1:700 kit on
small 3d printed on for board games –
Review of the 1:350 Kombrig model on

⚠ Note: Post rewritten on 26/05/2023

The Roon class in service

SMS Roon

SMS Roon was ordered as “Ersatz Kaiser” as a replacement for the old ironclad “Kaiser”. She was fitted-out and modified to be used as flagship, before commission on 5 April 1906 under her first commander Kapitän zur See (KzS) Fritz Hoffmann. She performed her sea trials that lasted until 9 July, showing no issue. After brief post-fix work, she joined I Scouting Group (15 August) replacing the older SMS Friedrich Carl as flagship, deputy commander & Kommodore Raimund Winkler. After taking part in the annual fleet maneuvers by late August to early September she saw the arrival of her new captain Ksz Oskar von Platen-Hallermund, followed by KzS Karl Zimmermann, now under supervision of Kommodore Eugen Kalau vom Hofe in October.

SMS Brandenburg and Roon in 1906

Prewar Operations (1906-1911)

She took part in training exercises and cruises the next years, with the I Scouting Group and High Seas Fleet. By 1907 however she made a cruise to the United States for Jamestown Exposition (300th anniversary of the colonists arrival in Chesapeake Bay) with SMS Bremen, leaving Kiel on 8 April and arriving on the 24th. Bremen remained, but Roon returned to Germany, arriving on 17 May.
From 11 September to 28 October 1907 Roon remained as deputy flagship until Yorck’s overhaul was complete and she had a new captain, FK Friedrich Schrader. She cruised the Atlantic 7-28 February 1908 with the scouting group, making tactical exercises and communicating via wireless telegraphy to the HQ and between them. They recal at Vigo in Spain and their way back. In March Roon had a new deputy commander aboard, Konteradmiral Kalau von Hofe back.
After another summer atlantic cruise, with the battleship squadron under command of Prince Heinrich, she was prepared for overseas operations in the context of the Anglo-German naval arms race, back on 13 August. Autumn maneuvers (27 August to 12 September) were done, while KAdm Jacobsen became new commander, FK Georg Scheidt as captain.

SMS Roon photographed during an USN visit in 1907

Februay 1909 saw manoeuvers in the Atlantic (I Scouting Group only) and summer Hochseeflotte’s. The ship made a show off at Spithead, Britain. Later KzS Reinhard Koch relieved Jacobsen and Roon took part in the winter 1909 manoeuvers, then the deputy commander transferred his flag to Yorck. The training routine repeated in 1910-11, apart a naval review for the Kaiser in September 1911.
She was decommissioned on 22 September for an overhaul and in reserve for budgetary reasons, allowing more funds and crews for other, more modern vessels.

Early Operations (August-December 1914)

By July 1914, Roon was remobilized and on 2 August initially assigned to II Scouting Group as flagship (KAdm Gisberth Jasper) under command of KzS Johannes von Karpf. But she was reassigned to the IV Scouting Group, replacing SMS Blücher. Her group was renamed the IIIrd on 25 August, and she was still its flagship albeit KAdm Hubert von Rebeur-Paschwitz replaced Jasper. The 26th they made a sortie into the eastern Baltic Sea, trying to rescue the stranded SMS Magdeburg in Russian waters, this was cancelled however as she was captured in between.
The 3rd group was stationed in North Sea from 6 September, making a sortie in the Skagerrak (25-26 September) after false reports. Later she escorted the minelaying cruisers Nautilus and Albatross and auxiliary minelayer Kaiser laying the “Alpha” defensive minefield. They also accompanied the sortie on Yarmouth on 2–3 November.

Roon with the Hochseeflotte
Roon with the Hochseeflotte

Raid on Scarborough

By 15–16 December 1914 she she took part also in the raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby with SMS Prinz Heinrich, in the van of the High Seas Fleet, distant cover for Hipper’s battlecruisers, taking no part in the bombardment. However with her escorting destroyers she spotted the destroyers HMS Lynx and Unity, but had no time to fire as the fog masked them. News were sent to Admiral von Ingenohl which ordered the Hochseeflotye to disengage, Roon becoming the rearguard, soon joined by SMS Stuttgart and Hamburg. They met underway Asmiral Loftus Jone’s destroyers, being shadowed for about 45 minutes until Stuttgart and Hamburg sallied forward in attack and drove them off. But 20 mm later Roon signaled them to abandon pursuit and return. Vice Admiral David Beatty tried to intercept them with HMS New Zealand until learning about the bombardment of Hartlepool, so he broke off the pursuit and verred towards them. This probably saved Roon, as the firepower of HMS New Zealand, an Indefatigable-class ship, was way above her capabilities (and faster).

Transfer to the Baltic

At that point the admiralty realized Roon and in general armored cruisers were too slow to be part of a Scouting Group, too weak for their potential aversaries in the North Sea, and so by 15 April 1915, Roon and the III Scouting Group were transferred to the Baltic as the Russian Baltic Fleet posed less of a threat. The group was discarded and instead she became part of the “Reconnaissance Forces of the Baltic” (KAdm Albert Hopman). FK Hans Gygas replaced Karpf as new deputy commander, Roon maintaine as his flagship.
On 30 April she was drydocked and overhauled in Kiel, and out of this, making sea trials and preparation for the raid on Libau, on 7 May 1915. On 11 May British submarine E9 spotted her en route and fired five torpedoes but missed. Roon later made other sorties in the central Baltic until late June.

Karpf transferred his flag to the light cruiser SMS Lübeck and Hopman returned to Roon as SMS Prinz Adalbert, torpedoed, was under repairs. Roon and Lübeck covered Albatross minelaying mission on 30 June-2 July and took part in the Battle of Åland Islands: Augsburg and three destroyers were escorting Albatross when attacked by Bayan, Admiral Makarov, Bogatyr and Oleg. Augsburg escaped while Albatross, severely damaged, took refuge in Swedish waters, Roon joining Lübeck to try to rescue the chased German destroyers. Roon engaged Bayan first, Lübeck Oleg. However soon Rurik (an adversary worthy of Roon) arrived and the artillery duel turned badly for Roon, hit several times and eventually forced to retreat. This showed the baltic was not a promenade either.

The Rurik, a worthy adversary to Roon (colorized by Irootoko Jr)

Later in July Roon and her group started to cover operations of the advancing German Army north from Libau. They also covered the pre-dreadnought battleships of the IV Battle Squadron also deployed on the eastern Baltic under Vizeadmiral Ehrhard Schmidt. In August they were sent in the Gulf of Riga but failed to force their way into the gulf (Battle of the Gulf of Riga) until reports of British submarines forced them out 20 August. Roon on 10 August with Prinz Heinrich shelled Russian positions at Zerel (Sworbe Peninsula) and surprised Russian destroyers at anchor, one being badly damaged.
On 9 September, Hopman returned his flag to Prinz Adalbert so as Roon could be overhauled in Kiel until mid-October, returning to Libau on 18 October, and flagship. Prinz Adalbert three days later was sunk by a British submarine and so the admiralty decided to retired Roon, considered having a weak ASW protection. By 15 January 1916 she was no longer flagship, reuturned to Kiel, being decommissioned on 4 February.
By November 1916 she was disarmed, converted into a training/accommodation ship in Kiel with a smaller skeleton crew, her crew being sent to more modern ships. She served there until 1918 until the admiralty decided to convert her as a seaplane carrier, having already experimented this with SMS Stuttgart in 1918, limited to two aircraft. Roon made a better potential seaplane carrier and conversion commenced to carry four aircraft. It was planned to removed her main battery, replaced with six 15 cm gun, six 8.8 cm AA guns, large hangar installed aft of the main superstructure, but this was cancelled as the Navy wanted to rely on zeppelins for aerial reconnaissance in the end. Roon was stricken on 25 November 1920, scrapped in Kiel-Nordmole.

SMS Yorck

SMS_York-small Yorck was ordered as “Ersatz Deutschland” to Blohm & Voss, Hamburg commemorating Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg (Prussian general or the Napoleonic Wars), completed by late 1905. She made her builder’s trials, was transferred to Kiel, to be properly commissioned on 21 November. She was transferred to the I Scouting Group on 27 March 1906, replacing on 2 April as flagship the older Friedrich Carl, under Vizeadmiral Gustav Schmidt.

Prewar Operations (1906-1914)

For several years she followed the usual peacetime routine of training exercises with the fleet (reconnaissance forces) and major fleet exercises in setup seasons in summer and winter.
On 29 September 1907 Konteradmiral Hugo von Pohl hoisted his flag in turn. Yorck was overhauled 11 September-28 October, replaced by Friedrich Carl. Later she returned as flagship, under KAdm August von Heeringen. She cruised the Atlantic 7-28 February 1908 with the scouting group between tactical exercises and wireless telegraphy tests, recoaling in Vigo, Spain. However in May she was replaced as flagship by SMS Scharnhorst.

SMS Yorck through the Kiel Canal
Yorck through the Kiel Canal

She made another summer Atlantic cruise with the High Seas Fleet under Prince Heinrich. Yorck stopped in Funchal, Madeira and Coruña in Spain and was back home on 13 August. The autumn maneuvers followed until 12 September in which she was awarded the Schießpreis (Shooting Prize) for this year. Erich Raeder became her new navigation officer at that time. In October, KzS Arthur Tapken took command (until September 1909).
In February 1909, I Scouting Group made another Atlantic training cruise but Scharnhorst was detached to the newly created East Asia Squadron on 11 March, so the role of flagship returned to Yorck for Heeringen and his staff. After another Atlantic cruise in the summer, Yorck visited Vilagarcía de Arousa (18-26 July) and stopped in Spithead. By early 1910 SMS Blücher recenlty commissioned was replaced Yorck as flagship on 25 April. Yorck later however became flagship of deputy commander KAdm Reinhard Koch, then KAdm Gustav Bachmann and KAdm Maximilian von Spee (future head of the East Asia Sqn.) on 15 September. Yorck won the Schießpreis again for the 1909–1910 year and had KzS Ludwig von Reuter as new deputy Cdr. from September 1910.

SMS Yorck’s stern

On 31 March 1911 while in a routune maintenance she suffered a benzene explosion in her aft-most boiler room. She had one stoker killed, several injured and so due to repairs, missed the maneuvers. On 1 October, KzS Franz von Hipper replaced Spee after which her group cruised to Norway and Sweden by November, stopping at Uddevalla (3-6) but Yorck missed the next maneuvers of February 1912. In March she was replaced in the group bt four light cruisers, but remained as flagship under VAdm Bachmann, until Von der Tann became the new flagship. Her new captain became Ksz Max Köthner but she had another accident on 2 November (one pinnace accidentally detonated a naval mine). She had two more sailors killed, two wounded.

Yorck had yet another accident on 4 March 1913 during training off Helgoland as the torpedo boat S178 attempting to pass in front missed her manoeuver and Yorck’s ram bow slammed into her, the breach being severe enough to have her flooded and sinking in minutes, with 69 men going with her. Yorck and Oldenburg only rescued 15. Yorck was only slightly damaged and went on with the maneuvers. KAdm Felix Funke replaced Bachmann, but the latter returned later and Funke again, Yorck being finally decommissioned in Kiel on 21 May leaving the I Scouting Group for ever. She was also the last armoured cruiser in any scouting group. After an overhaul she was placed in reserve her crew transferred to Seydlitz.

Early War Operations – North Sea

Remobilized, recommissioned on 12 August she was assigned to the IV Scouting Group, then IIIrd (KAdm Hubert von Rebeur-Paschwitz) and from 20 September, patrolled the German Bight, before transfer to the Baltic Sea for a sortie to Östergarn (22-29 September) and bacl to to the North Sea. On 3 November she assisted the I Scouting Group’s raid on Yarmouth, statying s distant cover until the British counterattack. She also provided the reconnaissance screen and ws back Wilhelmshaven lateer that day in heavy fog, so to avoid minefields she ended in the Schillig roadstead.
Yorck’s last commander (KzS Pieper) believed the fog had cleared enough to proceed, and so got underway, although the ship’s pilot refused to take responsibility to sail into the minefields and as it was awaited, at 04:10, Yorck struck a mine. While trying to turn to exit the minefield she struck another and this was fatal. The very fast flooding had her capsizing with seconds, sinking with almost all hands. Sources disagree however between 127 (out of 629) or 336, then 381 rescued, notably by the coast defense ship SMS Hagen.
Captain Pieper, which survived, was court-martialled, convicted, and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. The shipwreck, wid-way between Horumersiel and Hooksiel posed no navigation hazard but it was ultimately scrapped in 1926 and completely in 1936–1937, her turrets only removed in 1969, the remainder in 1983 to clear the sea floor.

Prinz Adalbert class armored cruisers (1901)

Prinz Adalbert class armored cruisers (1901)

German Empire (1901): Prinz Adalbert, Friedrich Carl

Standard Armored Cruiser – The Prinz Adalbert class:
After Fürst Bismarck (1897), the first German armoured cruiser, Prinz Heinrich (1900) setup the standard for future armored cruisers, and its design was found so successful it was just upgaded on three successive classes until the arrival of the Dreadnought: The Prinz Adalbert, Roon, and Scharnhorst class.

The new cruisers benefited from incremental improvement with a slightly revised armor layout for internal protection, revised main battery, more powerful propulsion for a better speed. Prinz Adalbert was a gunnery training ship before 1914 while Friedrich Carl served as the flagship of the fleet’s reconnaissance forces, replaced in 1909 and becoming a training vessel. In July 1914, both were mobilized, Friedrich joining the cruiser squadron in the Baltic Sea (sunk by mines off Memel in November 1914) and Prinz Adalbert initially served in the North Sea, supporting the Raid on Yarmouth in November 1914 before transferring to the Baltic to replace her lost sister. Prinz Adalbert was torpedoed by British submarines twice in 1915, the second time in October led to a catastrophic explosion that vaporized the ship into smitherine.

Both Prinz Adalbert class cruisers in fleet execises
Both Prinz Adalbert class cruisers in fleet execises, underway circa 1911

Design development

The First Naval Law in Germany which was passed in 1898 planned twelve armored cruisers, all intended as replacement for proper battleship, in overseas service based in German colonies. Aside this, the Kaiserlisched Marine (German Navy) required cruisers for fleet operations so a compromise was to be fin both in design and use. Due to budget constraints, it was decided these cruisers should perform both roles, mainly conolial station in peacetime and fleet ops in wartime. This law generated SMS Prinz Heinrich, an alteration of the Fürst Bismarck, on budget. The law defined one large cruiser yearly, so as soon as the Prinz Heinrich was in construction, design work started on the follow-on armoured cruiser.


Brassey’s design schematics

The design was prepared in 1899–1900, as basically an improvement on Prinz Heinrich, which contained all the innovative solutions needed for future developments. Its basic hull size and general shape was the same, with some proportions increased, while the armament and armor layout were improved.


The previous ships had two slow firing 24 cm main guns, one fore and one aft, so it was chosen instead Four lighter, quick-firing 21 cm (8.3 in) guns, in twin turrets. Indeed in between debates within the design staff concluded that it was more efficient to trade two heavy shells for a broadside of four in half the time. These 21 cm became standard from then on, for all armored cruisers which followed. Their secondary battery was was essentially the same as on Prinz Heinrich, with just two more 8.8 cm (3.5 in) guns.

Main battery: Four (2×2) 21 cm (8.3 in) SK L/40 guns.
-Depression −5°, elevation to 30°
-Maximum range 16,300 m (53,500 ft)
-238-pound (108 kg) shell
-Muzzle velocity of 780 m (2,560 ft) per second
-Ammo carried: 340 rounds total, 85 per gun.

Secondary armament: Ten (10) 15 cm (5.9 in) SK L/40 guns mounted in casemates
-Mounted single amidships both sides, plus four twin turrets above.
-Elevation 30°, muzzle velocity 800 mps
-Maximum range of 13,700 m (44,900 ft)
-40 kg (88 lb) HE shell
-Total supply: 1,400 shells, 140 per gun.

Tertiary armament: Twelve (12) 8.8 cm SK L/35 guns
-Two groups of four, shielded, pivot.
-Mounted close to the Forward conning tower, funnels amidships, rear superstructure.
-Elevation 25°
-Range 9,090 m (29,820 ft)
-Muzzle velocity 770 mps (2,530 ft)
-7 kg (15 lb) shell
Also, Four 45 cm (17.7 in) submerged torpedo tubes were mounted in the bow, stern, and broadsides. A supply of eleven torpedoes was provided.

Armor Protection

Basically all figures and the general scheme remained the same as on Prinz Heinrich, but with a comprehsenive improvement: Now the upper belt was connected to the main battery barbettes, by oblique armored bulkheads. Decks had also thicker plates:
-Steel armor (cemented) by Krupp.
-Main belt armor 100 mm (3.9 in) +50 mm (2 in) teak central section, over machinery and ammunition.
-Outer belt 80 mm (3.1 in), unprotected bow and stern.
-Armored decks 40 mm to 80 mm.
-Sloped armor 50 to 80 mm, connecting the deck and armored belt.
-Casemate and turrets for 15 cm guns: 100 mm.
-21 cm gun turrets: 150 mm (sides), 30 mm roofs.
-Forward conning tower: 150 mm walls, 30 mm roof.
-Rear conning tower 20 mm walls.
-Hull subdivided into fourteen watertight compartments
-Double bottom for 60% lenght
-Heavy military masts (back again)


There was a new propulsion system, producing 10 % more output, helping to achieve an increase of 0.5 knots (0.93 km/h; 0.58 mph) a welcome improvement over the Prinz Heinrich which was generally seen as too slow. The hull lines and integration of the shafts was well refined: The propeller shafts were not only better faired into the hull lines, reducing drag they were also self-supporting. This innovation was passed onto the next cruisers.


SMS Prinz Adalbert (ordered as “B”, built at the Imperial Dockyard, Kiel – construction number 27) was started in April 1900, launched 22 June 1901. The ceremony was attended by Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II and the cruiser’s namesake and Royal brother, Admiral Prince Heinrich plus Wilhem’s son, Prince Adalbert of Prussia, while her christening was performed by Prince Heinrich’s wife. Fitting-out work was somewhat slowed down by the overworked Imperial Dockyard, but completed eventually on 12 January 1904, at a cost 16,371,000 Goldmarks. She was commissioned for sea trials that day, under command of Kapitän zur See Hermann Jacobsen. She started servce as a gunnery training ship after her sea trials were completed by 30 May.

SMS Friedrich Carl was ordered as “Ersatz König Wilhelm” provisionally, built at the Blohm & Voss shipyard, Hamburg, as yard number 155. She had her keel laying ceremony in August 1900 but her construction proceeded slowly due to the shortage of labor in the Yard, crowded with orders. She was launched almost two years later, on 21 June 1902. The launching ceremony saw Prince Friedrich Leopold of Prussia, son of the ship’s namesake making a speech, and his wife, Louise Sophie, christening her. The fitting-out work was actually faster proceeding until November 1903. Then followed her shipyard’s trials with a provisional crew under supervision of captain Kapitän zur See Johannes Merten. She then moved to be armed at Wilhelmshaven where her artillery waited. She was fully completed only by 12 December 1903, and started her official pre-commission sea trials, which were successful, but were stopped until conclusion in March 1904.

-Three 3 Vertical cylinder triple expansion engines (VTE)
-14 coal-fired Dürr water-tube boilers (Düsseldorf-Ratinger Röhrenkesselfabrik)
-Three funnels.
-Center shaft: 3-bladed screw 4.5 m (15 ft) diameter
-2 Outboard shafts: Four-bladed screws 4.8 m (16 ft).
-Shortened propeller shafts, better faired into the hull lines
-Hydrodynamic improvements all around the board
-PwP Rated for 16,200 metric horsepower (Prinz Adalbert) 17,000 PS (Friedrich Carl)
-Top speed 20 to 20.5 knots respectively.
-Coal supply 750 t in peactime, 1,630 t in wartime.
-Range 5,080 nautical miles (9,410 km; 5,850 mi) at 12 knots
-Electrical power: Four generators, 246 kilowatts (330 hp) @110 volts total.

profile Prinz Adalbert
Old author’s Profile of Prinz Adalbert

Prinz Adalbert Specifications

Dimensions 127 x 20.4 x 7.8 m (416 oa x 66 x 25 ft)
Displacement 10,690 t standard, 11,461 FL
Crew 36 officers, 585 ratings
Propulsion 3 shafts, 12 boilers, 3 VTE engines 13,500 ihp (10,100 kW)
Speed 18.7 knots (34.6 km/h; 21.5 mph), Range: 3,230 nm (5,980 km)/12kts
Armament 2×2 21 cm (8.2 in), 12 × 15 cm (5.9 in), 10 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/30, 6 × 45 cm (18 in) TTs
Armor Belt: 20 cm (7.9 in), Turrets: 20 cm (7.9 in), Deck: 3 cm (1.2 in)

Read More:

Corbett, Julian Stafford (1921). Naval Operations: From The Battle of the Falklands to the Entry of Italy Into the War in May 1915. II.
Dodson, Aidan (2016). The Kaiser’s Battlefleet: German Capital Ships 1871–1918. Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing.
Gardiner, Robert & Gray, Randal, eds. (1985). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships: 1906–1921.
Grießmer, Axel (1999). Die Linienschiffe der Kaiserlichen Marine: 1906–1918; Konstruktionen zwischen Rüstungskonkurrenz und Flottengesetz
Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. I: Major Surface Vessels. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Halpern, Paul G. (1995). A Naval History of World War I. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Herwig, Holger (1998) [1980]. “Luxury” Fleet: The Imperial German Navy 1888–1918. Amherst: Humanity Books.
Hildebrand, Hans H.; Röhr, Albert & Steinmetz, Hans-Otto (1993). Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe (Band 3)
Hildebrand, Hans H.; Röhr, Albert & Steinmetz, Hans-Otto (1993). Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe (Band 7)
Polmar, Norman & Noot, Jurrien (1991). Submarines of the Russian and Soviet Navies, 1718–1990.

SMS Prinz Adalbert in service

SMS Prinz Adalbert underway
SMS Prinz Adalbert underway

Prewar service

In September 1904, as a gunnery training ship, SMS Prinz Adalbert took part in the annual autumn maneuvers with the Heimatflotte (Home Fleet). She was part of a special training unit accompanied by a flotilla of torpedo boats, created in early 1905, SMS Prinz Adalbert being its flagship, until 1907, hosting Rear Admiral Hugo Zeye. She had the honor, with the light cruiser SMS Berlin to escort the Emperor’s yacht Hohenzollern to Sweden for a Royal visit to King Oscar II. This was in July 1905. In August she joined SMS Undine and Nymphe for an exercise off Swinemünde, testing a simulated night attack by torpedo boats, attended by Konteradmiral Ludwig Schröder. The cruiser hosted the Kaiser at their conclusion, towing an old torpedo boat filled with cork used as mobile target. The cruiser missed the 1905 autumn maneuvers, in maintenance, but took place in the following naval on 13 September. On 17-28 June she became flagship of Prince Heinrich (commander of the Baltic Sea Naval Station) and participated in Norway to the coronation review of King Haakon VII.

She took part in the 1907 and 1909 autumn manoeuvers, as part as the Reserve Division (Vizeadmiral Zeye). She became flagship, III Scouting Group (Konteradmiral Johannes Merten). In March 1910 and March 1911, she made gunnery testing sessions in the North Sea and visited the Faeroe Islands, and later Ålesund in Norway in the summer 1911. She partiipated in September in the Kiel naval review in presence of Wilhelm II and Archduke Franz Ferdinand. She was decommissioned in Kiel on 29 September, SMS Blücher taking her place as the fleet’s gunnery training ship. Her overhaul took place until 1st November 1912 and she returned to her former duty at the artillery school at Sonderburg, replacing Prinz Heinrich. Nothing much happened in 1913, and until August 1914.

Operations of 1915

North Sea
In July 1914, SMS Prinz Adalbert was pressed into front-line service, levaving her peacetime training duties, under command of Kapitän zur See Andreas Michelsen. She took the lead of IV Scouting Group (Konteradmiral Hubert von Rebeur-Paschwitz) and on 26 August, sailed to rescue the light cruiser SMS Magdeburg, running aground and later scuttled before she arrived. She was transferred to the North Sea on 7 September, protecting SMS Nautilus and Albatross for their minelaying missions, accompanied by the auxiliary minelayer SMS Kaiser. They operated at the southern entrance to the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal. Prizn Adalbert also watched over the Great Belt after false intelligence pointing out a British attempt to force the Baltic. She made a sortie with the Hochseeflotte on 2–4 November.

After SMS Friedrich Carl, her sister ship, was sunk in November 1914, SMS Prinz Adalbert was assigned to replace her in the Coastal Defense Division, Baltic, on 29 November, and later flagship, Admiral Ehler Behring (commander of the cruiser detachment) from 7 December. On the 15 December, she she teamed with Augsburg, Lübeck, Amazone, and Thetis for a sweep towards the Åland Islands, without meeting the Russian Navy. Another followed on 27–29 December, this time in escort of the battleship Kaiser Friedrich III (V Battle Squadron), off Gotland. On 6 January 1915, she particpated in another raid off Utö, discovering a Russian submarine base. Due to the shallow waters, the attack did not took place. On 22 January 1915, she made another raid to the Åland Islands, shelling Russian positions at Libau en route, but running aground off Steinort while SMS Augsburg struck a mine off Bornholm. In March, the Admiralstab (Admiralty Staff) detached the II Battle Squadron from the High Seas Fleet as a reinforcement. These were to perform diversionary attacks while German forces would try to take Memel. The German armoured cruiser operated in the Bothnian Sea, attacking Russian merchant shipping in March.

Kounteradmiral Behring conducted another raid in 13-17 April from his admiral ship and Thetis, Lübeck, supporting the minelayer SMS Deutschland, operating off Dagö Island. Admiralstab afterwards reorganized the Baltic Sea forces and Konteradmiral Albert Hopman took command while captain Michelsen (promoted) was replaced by Kapitän zur See Wilhelm Bunnemann. Hopman departed Kiel for Danzig on 27 April 1915 while Paul von Hindenburg, was preparing a major assault on Libau. The Baltic squadron was deployed in support, bolstered by the pre-dreadnoughts of the IV Battle Squadron, and the IV Scouting Group (Hochseeflotte) exceptionally detached for the campaign. The attack started on 7 May. Prinz Adalbert was accompanied by the more modern armored cruisers Roon and the older Prinz Heinrich, the od coast guard battleship Beowulf, the light cruisers Augsburg, Thetis, and Lübeck, escorted by Hochseeetorpedoboote and several torpedo boats plus minesweepers to clear the way. As the city was shelled, destroyer V107 struck a mine in Libau’s harbor an sank. Meanwhile the naval support has proven decisive and German forces captured the city.

Prinz Adalbert class cruisers

On 1 July 1915, SMS Albatross, Roon, Augsburg, Lübeck and seven destroyers were laying a minefield off Bogskär and separated afterwards, Augsburg and Albatross were intercepted by Rear Admiral Bakhirev’s Russian squadron. Flotilla Cdr. Johannes von Karpf ordered Albatross to reach neutral Swedish waters while Roon and Lübeck were called in reinforcement. Albatross eventually was gounded off Gotland and Roon was catch up and exchanged fire with the Russians briefly. Hopman sailed with Prinz Adalbert and Prinz Heinrich in support and en route they were ambushed by the British submarine E9. She managed to hit Prinz Adalbert. The torpedo struck under the waterline at the hight of the forward conning tower. Ten men were killed in the explosion and damage was severe. Kt.Admiral Hopman was transferred on V99, while captain Michelsen remained on board to supervise repairs and return to port. The repair teams managed to stop the leakages but the ship steamed with 2,000 t of seawater, and her draft was such she could not made it into Danzig and instead went to Kiel for repairs on 4 July.

Out of the drydock on September 1915 she was prepared for a sortie to the Gulf of Finland with SMS Braunschweig, Elsass, Mecklenburg, Schwaben, and Zähringen, preceded by their scout, SMS Bremen. The sweep was inconclusive, as the next on 5 October, to cover this time a minelayer operating off Östergarn. On 19 October, Prinz Adalbert was no longer admiral ship, passed on to Roon. She started a patrol between Fårö and Dagerort, and while 20 miles west of Libau on 23 October she was ambushed by the submarine E8. Firing at 1,200 m her torpedo spread struck at the level of the ship’s ammunition magazine, causing a massive explosion. Broke in two, Prinz Adalbert sank with all but three survivors, at the time, the greatest single loss of life for the German Baltic forces.

SMS Friedrich Carl in action

SMS Friedric Carl photo by Max Dreblow
SMS Friedric Carl photo by Max Dreblow

As the Emperor’s escort 1904-1905

SMS Friedrich Carl’s official sea trials were interrupted in March 1904 when tasked to escort Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Norddeutscher Lloyd steamer SS König Albert. This was her first shakedown cruise, and it was spent in the Mediterranean Sea. On 12 March, she departed Bremerhaven for Vigo in Spain for a state visit to the Spanish king Alfonso XIII. The latter was a guest onboard Friedrich Carl on 15 March. Sjhe later stopped in Gibraltar, saluting the British Channel Squadron, then Naples and the way of Mahón. There, on 24 March, Wilhelm II boarded his Royal yacht Hohenzollern. The cruiser was visited by King Victor Emmanuel III. However the cruiser was in need of post-trials refit and left for home. She stopped in Venice en route on 7 May and was in Kiel, on 17 May, assigned to the reconnaissance force, replacing the protected cruiser Victoria Louise.

From June 1904, Friedrich Carl was affected to II Squadron, touring Dutch, British, and Norwegian ports until August, towing at some point two torpedo boats to Stavanger in Norway. She took place in annual maneuvers for August-September in the North sea, and Baltic Sea. In September 1904, Captain Merten was replaced by Fregattenkapitän Hugo von Cotzhausen. At last, the cruiser’s sea trials officially ended, and she already had quite a mileage. In November 1904 was reported in her logbook a short-lived mutiny. KAdm Gustav Schmidt became commander of reconnaissance forces of the Active Battlefleet, transferring his mark on Friedrich Carl, as flagship of the reconnaissance squadron.
In January-February 1905, SMS Friedrich Carl was participating in training exercises in the Baltic while she struck a submerged shipwreck north of the Great Belt. Damage was light and she was able to proceed. From 23 March, she escorted the Kaiser in his new state visit in the Mediterranean onboard SS Hamburg. When in Lisbon, the cruiser hosted King Carlos I of Portugal. At the advice of German Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow, the ships departed to Morocco and arrived in Tangiers on 31 March, saluting the French cruisers Du Chayla and Linois. The Kaiser’s speech there was supporting Moroccan independence, leading to the First Moroccan Crisis. The ships depated and stopped in Gibraltar, seeing SMS Friedrich Carl colliding without much gravity with HMS Prince George. She was back in Germany in June and was in maintenance on 10-26 August.

Prewar role in the reserve fleet

In July 1905 SMS Friedrich Carl was transferred in the Baltic Sea and ran aground underway, but damage was light. She took part in the squadron exercises at the end of the year and by February 1906, made a training cruise back to Denmark. SMS Yorck replaced her as squadron flagship by March while herself became flagship of the deputy commander, Kommodore Raimund Winkler, albeit briefly, replaced by Roon on 15 August. After the autumn manoeuvers, FregatteKaptain Franz von Hipper (yes, this one) took command and the cruiser resumed her role as deputy commander flagship. Captain Eugen Kalau vom Hofe became her new captain until March 1908. The preceding year, she had a collision with SMS Yorck and made a major training cruise into the Atlantic Ocean in 1908. She was decommissioned on 5 March for repairs and an overhaul.
She was back in active service on 1st March 1909 while KzS Friedrich Schultz took command. The cruiser was to be used as a torpedo test ship, replacing SMS Vineta, her captain heading also the Torpedo Testing Inspectorate. On 30 March, her tests were conducted off Rügen, in April 1909, until the 24th. She took part in the usual autumn manoeuvres in August-September, still affected in the Reconnaissance Group, Reserve Fleet, and the routine resumed in 1910, 1911, this time under command of KzS Ernst Ritter von Mann und Edler von Tiechler (September 1909), then KAdm Wilhelm von Lans (December 1909) and FK Andreas Michelsen (September 1911).

In July 1911, she took part in torpedo tests with SMS Augsburg in Norwegian waters. The severe winter of 1911–1912 saw her rescuing stranded merchant ships in pack ice. She later resumed her role as Testing Ship while KAdm Reinhard Koch took hoisted his mark on SMS Friedric Carl in October 1912. She was affected to the II Scouting Group, Hochseeflotte. 1913 and 1914 followed the same routine but on 6 April 1914, she ran aground off Swinemünde, but was pulled out free. She hosted Großadmiral Alfred von Tirpitz during the Kiel’s sailing regatta of July 1914, and saluting the also present British Royal Navy. This was onboard SMS Friedric Carl that Edward Goschen, British ambassador to Tirpitz informed him of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. On 31 July, when the war was about to break out, SMS Friedrich Carl was in drydock at Kaiserliche Werft, Kiel.

A short wartime service in the Baltic

Indeed, on 28 August, the cruiser was at sea under command of KzS Max Schlicht, later replaced by FK Loesch, assigned to the Cruiser Division in the Baltic. She took place of the older cruiser Freya, hoisting the flagship mark of KAdm Robert Mischke. By late September 1914, she covered a minelaying operation off Langeland. She then became flagship of KAdm Ehler Behring, her squadron comprising the cruisers Vineta, Hertha, Hansa, Augsburg, Thetis, and Lübeck, plus attached torpedo boats and U-boats. Their base was Neufahrwasser, Danzig. SMS Friedrich Carl took part in her first wartime sortie, into the Gulf of Finland, on 24 October 1914. They missed the Russians, but some British submarines were signalled. Since her last immobilization she carried two seaplanes, with summary accomodations for reconnaissance. On 30 October she took part in another inconclusive sweep without success. By early November 1914, she was withdrawn for short repairs and afterwards was ordered to attack the Russian port at Libau. The German HQ feared it would be turned with Russian help into a British submarine base. Friedrich Carl left Memel on 16 November, and made night trip to arrive off Libau when at 01:46, on 17 November, just 33 nautical miles west off Memel she struck a mine laid down by the Russians in October. The crew at first thought of a submarine hit, and she ship veered down to head for Memel whe she struck a second mine at 01:57. Her damage control team managed to keep her afloat until 6:20, when the captain ordered to abandon ship. SMS Augsburg arrived and evacuated the crew. She ship disappeared from view at 07:15 and only lost 8, killed in the explosion and sinking, in stark contrast to her sister ship.

Kolberg class cruisers (1908)

Kolberg class Cruisers (1908)

Germany (1907-1927): SMS Kolberg, Mainz, Cöln, Augsburg

The Kolberg class is a class of light cruisers built for the Kaiserliche Marine shortly before the early 1910s. Four ships, SMS Kolberg, Mainz, Cöln, and Augsburg, were designed by the shipyards Schichau-Werke, AG Vulcan, Germaniawerft and Kaiserliche Werft from the cities of Danzig, Stettin and Kiel.


SMS Augsburg Dreblow


Hull construction

The ships had a waterline length of 130 meters and an overall length of 130.50 meters, a beam of 14 meters and a draft of 5.45 meters at the bow and 5.73 meters at the stern. They displaced 4,362 tons at nominal load and 4,882 to 4,915 tons at full load.
Their hulls were constructed with longitudinal steel frames. The hulls have been divided into thirteen watertight compartments and incorporate a double bottom, extending 50% of the length of the keel. Considered excellent cruisers holding the sea well, they had a large turning radius. Steering was controlled by a single rudder. Their transverse metacentric height was 0.83 m.
The crew consisted of 18 officers and 349 crewmen. They embarked on several smaller vessels, including a picket ship, a barge, a cutter, two yawls and two dinghy.


Their shielding was made of Krupp-type steel. From stern to bow, the deck was covered with armor plate. This was 20 mm (0.79 in) at the bow, 40 mm (1.6 in) thick above the machinery spaces, 20 mm forward of the machinery spaces and 80 mm (3.1 inches) at the bow. The funnel coamings were 100 mm (3.9 in) thick. The castle had 100mm thick sides and a 20mm thick roof. The armor of the stores was 40 mm thick and the turrets protected by shields 50 mm thick (2 inches).


Parsons turbines set
The four ships had slightly different propulsion systems to test the best ones for future builds. The Kolberg was fitted with two sets of Melms & Pfenniger steam turbines, driving four three-bladed propellers 2.25 m in diameter. The Mainz was fitted with two sets of AEG-Curtiss turbines, driving a pair of three-bladed propellers 3.45 m in diameter. The Cöln was initially fitted with Zoelly turbines, before being replaced shortly before the start of her sea trials by a set of Germania turbines, driving four three-bladed propellers; two with a diameter of 2.55 m and two others of 1.78 m. The Augsburg was fitted with two groups of Parsons turbines, driving four 3-blade propellers 2.25 m in diameter. All four ships were fitted with fifteen coal-fired Marine-type water-tube boilers, divided into four boiler rooms on the centreline. The boilers were distributed in three chimneys, themselves distributed in a uniform way. In 1916 the Kolbergs and Augsburgs were fitted with an oil-fired heating system to increase the burn rate of the coal-fired boilers2, the Mainz and Cöln having been sunk at this time3.

⚠ Note: This old post is scheduled for rewriting and expansion in 2023.

Engine power was 19,000 horsepower (14,000 kW), except for those in the Mainz, rated at 20,200 hp (15,100 kW). This produced a top speed of 25.5 knots (47.2 km/h), Mainz’s more powerful engines gave her a half knot speed advantage. All four ships exceeded these figures in speed trials, however, and all four cruisers reached speeds in excess of 26 knots. The Kolberg carried 970 tons of coal and, after 1916, an additional 115 tons of fuel oil. This fuel gave it a maximum range of around 6,250 km at 14 knots (26 km/h). The Mainz carried 1,010 tons of coal, giving it a maximum range of around 6,720 km at cruising speed. The Cöln carried 960 tons of coal for a cruising radius of 6,500 km. The Augsburg carried 940 tons of coal and had the same range as the Cöln2.


Their main armament consisted of 12 single guns of 105 mm SK L/45 mounted on a base; two were placed side by side forward on the forecastle, eight amidships (four on each side), and two in superimposed turrets aft3. These guns fired a 17 kg shell at a muzzle velocity of 710 meters per second4. Their rates were 15 shells/min. The guns had a maximum elevation of 30 degrees, which allowed them to engage targets up to 12,700 meters4. For the Kolberg and Augsburg, the 105 cm guns were replaced in 1916-1917 by 6 x 150 mm SK L/45 guns. The 150 mm guns fired a 45 kg shell at a muzzle velocity of 835 meters per second. Their rates were 4.5 shells/min. The guns had a maximum elevation of 27 degrees, which allowed them to engage targets up to 16,800 meters4. Initially, their secondary armament consisted of 4 x 5.2 cm SK L/55 guns, quickly replaced in 1918 by 2 x 88 mm SK L/45 anti-aircraft guns. These guns fired 10 kg shells at a muzzle velocity of 765 m/s, for a rate of 15 shells/min. Their range was 11,800 meters at 45 degrees. The ships also included 2 x 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes (submerged in the keel), carrying 450 mm C/034 torpedoes. With a load of 176 kg, their range was 1,500 meters at 31 knots (57.4 km/h) and 3,000 meters at 26 knots (48.2 km/h)4. In 1918 Kolberg and Augsburg were fitted with two additional 500 mm (19.7 in) torpedo tubes, mounted on the deck. Carrying 500 mm G7 torpedoes, their load was 195 kg, their range was 4,000 meters at 37 knots (68.5 km/h) and 9,300 meters at 27 knots (50 km/h)4. Ships of the class carried on board up to 100 marine mines.


Ordered under the contract name “Ersatz Greif”, the Kolberg was laid down on January 15, 1908 at the Schichau-Werke shipyard in Danzig, under the hull number 814. She was launched on November 14, 1908 and then commissioned in the Hochseeflotte on June 21, 1910. Its construction will have cost 8,181,000 marks. The cruiser was in drydock at the Kaiserliche Werft yard in Kiel between 1916 and 1917.

Ordered under the contract name “Ersatz Jagd”, the Mainz was laid down in September 1907 at the AG Vulcan shipyard in Stettin, under the hull number 288. It was launched on January 23, 1909 and then commissioned in the Hochseeflotte October 1, 19096. Its construction will have cost 8,777,000 marks.

Ordered under the contract name “Ersatz Schwalbe”, the Cöln was laid down in 1908 at the Germaniawerft shipyard in Kiel, under the hull number 191. She was launched on June 5, 1909 and then commissioned into the Hochseeflotte on June 16 June 1911. Its construction cost 8,356,000 marks.

Ordered under the contract name “Ersatz Sperber”, the Augsburg was laid down in 1908 at the Kaiserliche Werft shipyard in Kiel, under the hull number 34. She was launched on July 10, 1909 and then commissioned into the Hochseeflotte October 1, 1910. Its construction will have cost 7,593,000 marks. The cruiser was in drydock at the Kaiserliche Werft shipyard in Kiel between 1916 and 1917.

⚙ Kolberg class specifications

Dimensions 130.5 x 14 x 5.45/57.3 m (428 x 45 x 17 ft)
Displacement 4,362 tons standard, 4,882/4,915 tons Fully Loaded
Crew 18 Officers, 349 sailors peacetime
Propulsion 2 shafts turbines, 15 boilers, 20,200 hp (15,100 kw).
Speed 25.5 knots (47.2 km/h)
Range 6,250-6,720 nm @ 10 knots.
Armament 12× 10,5 cm, 4x 5,2 cm, 2x 45 cm TTs
Protection Deck 20–40 mm, Gun shields 50 mm, CT 100 mm (3.9 in)

Kaiserliches Marine


SMS Mainz

SMS Mainz’s crew

Prewar and WWI career

Kaiserliche Marine SMS Kolberg

S.M.S. Kolberg Postcard
The Kolberg witnessed several face-to-face encounters with the British during the war, including the raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby in December 1914 and the Battle of Dogger Bank the following month. It also faced the Russians twice9, during the Battle of the Gulf of Riga in August 1915 and during Operation Albion in November 191710. After the end of the war, it was ceded to France as a war prize and renamed Colmar . She served briefly in the French Navy, including a deployment to Asia in 192411. The Colmar was withdrawn from service in 1927 and scrapped two years later.

Kaiserliche Marine SMS Mainz

After commissioning, Mainz served with the II Scouting Group, part of the reconnaissance forces of the Hochseeflotte13. She was assigned to patrols off Heligoland Bay at the outbreak of World War I in early August 191414. In late August 1914 she fought in the First Battle of Heligoland in which she was sunk by British cruisers and destroyers on the morning of 28 August15.16. The British rescued 348 crew before the ship rolled over and sank. Eighty-nine men were killed in the battle, including its commander.

Camera Record Mainz off Heligoland, August 28th, 1914

Rescuing Mainz’s crew after the battle of Heligoland Bight, 28 August 1914

The burning cruiser Mainz just before sinking before Helgoland

Kaiserliche Marine SMS Cöln

After commissioning, Cöln served with the II Scouting Group, part of the reconnaissance forces of the Hochseeflotte. She was assigned to patrols off Heligoland Bay at the outbreak of World War I in early August 1914. In late August 1914 she fought in the First Battle of Heligoland in which she was sunk by British cruisers and destroyers on the morning of 28 August. The crew abandoned ship, but German forces did not search the area for three days; only one man was found alive.

Kaiserliche Marine SMS Augsburg

At the beginning of her career, SMS Augsburg acted as a torpedo test ship, then as a gunnery training ship. After the outbreak of the First World War, she was assigned to the Baltic Sea, where she spent the entire duration of her service. On August 2, 1914, she took part in an operation during which the first shots were fired against the Russians. She then took part in the Battle of the Gulf of Riga on 20 in August 1915, and Operation Albion in October 1917, as well as many smaller engagements. By January 1915, she hit a mine and was inoperative for many months. After the end of the war, she was ceded to Japan as spoils of war and renamed “Y”. She was was scrapped in 1921.

SMS Augsburg in Dreblow

Interwar career: FS Colmar, ex-Kolberg

Colmar (ex-Kolberg) in Shanghai, 1924

Colmar in Indochina 1925

SMS Kolberg was stricken on 5 November 1919 and handed to the French in Cherbourg on 28 April 1920 as “W”. She was recommissioned as Colmar in 1922, her original 8.8 cm guns replaced by 75 mm ones. A new aft deckhouse was built and an extra 75 mm gun installed on its roof.

Her sea trials lasted until late 1922, and she was sent for colonial service in French Indochina, departed in June and arriving on 7 September 1922. She replaced Montcalm as flagship of the Naval Division of the Far East and was sent in Vladivostok in 1923 after the Great Kantō earthquake, proceeding to Yokohama to assist in the relief effort with Jules Michelet, Victor Hugo, and Jules Ferry. In 1924, Colmar and Jules Ferry also landed troops to protect western interests during the violence in Shanghai. Colmar was back in France in February 1925 and lasted in service a few more months, until decommissioned in November. She was cannibalized until 1927, for the other ex-German cruisers until and stricken on 21 July 1927, sold for BU. See also about Colmar/Kolberg.

Prinz heinrich (1900)

Prinz heinrich (1900)

German Empire (1900)

Setting up a standard- The Prinz Heinrich:
The SMS Prinz Heinrich (“Prince henry”) was a single German armored cruiser (called “heavy cruiser” in German nomenclature), built in 1898-1901 for the Kaiserliche Marine. She was named in honor of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s younger brother. She was the second German armoured crusier, drawing much from the previous Fürst Bismarck, but also improving in many point, so much she was seen as the forerunner for subsequent armoured cruisers. SMS Prinz Heinrich entered service in March 1902, and served from 1906 as the scouting forces fleet’s flagship. She became a gunnery training ship from 1908 to 1912 and she underwent modernization and conversion into a dedicated training ship in 1914, for future crews of armoured cruisers. But her participation in WW1 was not limited to second line duties: Fully reactivated she acted as coast defense ship and took part in the fleet supporting the Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby in December 1914, destined to lure out British battlecruisers. She soldiered on in the Baltic sea in 1915 but was disarmed in 1916 and took secondary roles until the end of the war.

SMS Prinz Heinrich through the Kiel Canal
SMS Prinz Heinrich through the Kiel Canal

Design of the Prinz Heinrich

SMS Prinz Heinrich was the second armored cruiser built in Germany, authorized under the 1898 Naval Law, Alfred von Tirpitz’s ambitious naval construction program when he arrive at the head of the State Secretary of the Reichsmarineamt, Imperial Naval Office. Her design was prepared while construction of the Fürst Bismarck was underway so there was the risk of not taking account of early service lessons. Naval historians like Hugh Lyon or John Taylor stated in the 1970s that the new cruiser was intended for overseas service to what more recently Aidan Dodson said that she was neither wooden sheathed not copper/zinc sheated seen by that time as a necessity on a place where shipyard facilities would be scarce. That’s the main difference in the design compared to Fürst Bismarck: She was the first German armoured cruiser intended for the north and baltic sea, and to operate with the Kaiserliches Marine (and the future Hochseeflotte).

The design staff did not started from scratch though, but elaborated their design on the Fürst Bismarck. Budget restrictions meant they even had to curtail her size from 1,500 metric tons, achieved by thinning her armor layout, and thanks to advances in steel manufacturing, which thanks to the new cemented armour by Krupp, strength was still equivalent. In fact, due to this new plating and better layout arguably, her armoyur scheme was even significantly more effective. Krupp cemented armor was indeed considerably stronger than Harvey armor and became quickly popular around the world, many ships of that era being ordered with German plating. Prinz Heinrich therefore on paper had a weaker armor, but made with a stronger steel, whereas this reduced weight meant engineers were able to extended the belt up to the main deck level. Her deck armor was also better sloped down on both sides where as connected to the lower edge of the belt, so creating in affect another armor layer to penetrate for any incoming shell.

Line drawing, Brassey's 1906
Line drawing, Brassey’s 1906

The armament was also hit by this cost rationale: Only two single turrets were kept, rather than the two twin turrets of the former Bismarck. The secondary artillery was also reduced but instead of spreading it in casemated positions along the hull (or sponsons) engineers had it concentrated in a single battery amidships, further reducing the amount of armor protection needed, saving weight and enabling thicker armor in that area. Adopting a smaller superstructure was another step to further cut back spending and weight whereas the heavy military masts were eliminated. Lighter pole masts were chosen, futher reducing weight and cost, and improving the ship’s metacentric height and stability overall. The machinery was improved however, up to 2,000 metric horsepower more powerful, which combined with the lesser weight made for a faster vessel.

All in all with all the meticulous details and thoughts which went into it, SMS Prinz Heinrich became a truly influential design, not only in Germany, for which all subsequent German armored cruisers were derived from her, but also she attracted interest abroad. Her armor layout even provided the basis for all future German capital ships, and for about forty years. Vizeadmiral Albert Hopman at the time however was not so full of praise, seeing her as “cheap, but bad” in his memoirs but this was denegated by German naval historians like Hans Hildebrand, Albert Röhr or Hans-Otto Steinmetz, pointing out her design at least equal if not superior to the French Desaix, Russian Bayan or Italian Garibaldi at the time, though still beneath British standards. Despite her innovative nature, her prewar career was quiet and her wartime career short, but she showed the way.

Hull & general characteristics

prinz heinrich
Reconstruction attempt (origin unknown, there was no conway’s profile done), from

SMS Prinz Heinrich measured 124.9 meters (410 ft) -at the waterline- and 126.5 m (415 ft) overall, still with the trademark German “clipper-ram” bow, and 19.6 m (64 ft) wide with 7.65 m (25.1 ft) of draught forward, up to 8.07 m (26.5 ft) aft. Her nominal displacement was 8,887 metric tons (9,796 short tons), standard and up to 9,806 t fully laden. Construction of her hull called for transverse and longitudinal steel frames. Below the waterline, she was divided into thirteen watertight compartments with a double bottom over 57% of the hull. Tested in basin, the hull proven sound on trials, showing the behaviour of a good sea boat, stable with a gentle motion, but still severe roll with a transverse metacentric height of .731 m (2 ft 4.8 in).

Her crew comprised 35 officers and 532 ratings, and she served for most of her career as second command flagship for her Cruiser Division, the crew augmented by nine officers and 44 enlisted men in support. Her provision of small boats included two picket boats, a launch, a pinnace, two cutters, two yawls, and two dinghies. They were stored in two rows between funnels and behind the aft funnel, served by two goose cranes on either side, also use to trans-board supplies, coals and other payloads from the berth.

Engraving of the Prinz Heinrich
Engraving of the Prinz Heinrich


The Prinz Henrich was propelled by three vertical, four cylinder, triple expansion engines: There was a center one driving a shaft ending with a four-bladed screw, 4.28 m (14 ft) in diameter, use for cruising, and for top speed and manoeuvering, two outer shafts each ending with 4.65-meter (15.3 ft) wide four-bladed propellers. In total, these three VTE engines were fed by fourteen Dürr water-tube boilers from Düsseldorf-Ratinger Röhrenkesselfabrik. Thir working pressure was to 15 standard atmospheres (1,500 kPa). They were were ducted into two funnels amidships. In total, this powerplant was rated for 15,000 indicated horsepower (11,000 kW), enabling a top speed of 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph), not confirmed on sea trials though: Prinz Heinrich only reached 19.9 kn (36.9 km/h; 22.9 mph) based on 15,694 ihp (11,703 kW). Autonomy was function of her 900 tons of coal stored in peacetime, extended in wartime to 1,590 t using all available compartments. Her nominal range was 2,290 nautical miles (4,240 km; 2,640 miles) at 18 knots, up to 4,580 nmi (8,480 km; 5,270 miles) at 10 knots.

Armament of Prinz Heinrich


-Two 24 cm (9.4 in) SK L/40 quick-firing guns, single turrets fore and aft.
-Depression −4°, elevation 30°, max. range 16,900 m (18,500 yd)
-Muzzle velocity 835 m (2,740 ft) per second
-75 rounds each, 140 kg (310 lb)


Ten 15 cm (5.9 in) SK L/40 quick-firing guns, 6 mounted in amidships casemates, four in turrets above the casemates.
-Elevation 25°, maximum range 13,700 m (15,000 yd), muzzle velocity of 800 mps (2,600 fts)
-120 rounds each, 40 kg (88 lb) AP shells.


Ten 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/30 quick-firing guns, for close defense.
-Elevation 20°, range of 7,300 m (8,000 yd), muzzle velocity 670 mps (2,200 fts)
-Each supplied by 250 shells, 7 kg (15 lb) HE shells.
Four autocannons, 37 mm, also used as saluting guns and removable for landing parties, later removed.
Four 45 cm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes: One mounted on the stern (swiveling), one submerged in the bow, one submerged broadside abreast of the forward gun turret.


SMS Prinz Heinrich as said above was protected by the brand new and revolutionary Krupp armor.
-Armor belt 100 mm (3.9 in), central portion, above the ammunition magazines, machinery spaces and vitals. It was backed by 80 mm teak planks.
-Outer belt 80 mm (3.1 in) until the bow and stern, unarmored.
-Armored decks 35-40 mm (1.4 to 1.6 in), connected by 50 mm slopes to the belt.
-Forward conning tower: 150 mm (5.9 in) walls, 30 mm (1.2 in) roof.
-Aft conning tower: 12 mm (0.47 in) walls.
-Main turrets: 150 mm sides, 30 mm roof.
-15 cm gun turrets: 100 mm sides and front
-15 cm casemates: 100 mm plating and 70 mm (2.8 in) shields.

profile Prinz Heinrich
Old author’s Profile of Prinz Heinrich

Prinz Heinrich Specifications

Dimensions 127 x 20.4 x 7.8 m (416 oa x 66 x 25 ft)
Displacement 10,690 t standard, 11,461 FL
Crew 36 officers, 585 ratings
Propulsion 3 shafts, 12 boilers, 3 VTE engines 13,500 ihp (10,100 kW)
Speed 18.7 knots (34.6 km/h; 21.5 mph), Range: 3,230 nm (5,980 km)/12kts
Armament 2×2 24 cm (9.4 in), 12 × 15 cm (5.9 in), 10 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/30, 6 × 45 cm (18 in) TTs
Armor Belt: 20 cm (7.9 in), Turrets: 20 cm (7.9 in), Deck: 3 cm (1.2 in)

Read More:

Extra photos on

The Model Corner:
Navis Neptun 34N SMS Prinz Heinrich, Armoured Cruiser, 1910 1/1250
A nice model in silver of the cruiser in auction

The Prinz Heinrich in service

A photo of Prinz Heinrich from Page’s Magazine, 1902

Interwar career

Seiner Majestät Schiffe Prinz Heinrich was laid down on 1 December 1898 at Kaiserliche Werft (the Imperial Shipyard), Kiel. Launched on 22 March 1900 her namesake Prince Heinrich of Prussia was attending at the launching ceremony as well as Generalinspekteur der Marine Admiral Hans von Koester, which gave a speech at this occasion. Completed was done two years later on 11 March 1902 and she started sea trials until June, commissioned and affected to reconnaissance forces, Ist Squadron as flagship. Training exercize and her first shakedown cruise in Norwegian waters brought her to 20 July and by Augus she escorted the yacht Hohenzollern in Russia, meeting Czar Nicholas II in Reval. SMS Prinz Heinrich in September became flagship of 2nd Scouting Group (also cruisers Niobe, Nymphe) and from 18 September as Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm was in maintenance she took her place as flagship hoisting the mark of counter-admiral Curt von Prittwitz und Gaffron, later replaced by KAdm Ludwig Borckenhagen in October. During her winter training cruise she attempted to pull SMS Wittelsbach free on 17 December after running aground in the Great Belt. The new Commander of Scouting Forces became Ludwig Borckenhagen and Prinz Heinrich remained her flagship on 1 March 1903.

She commanded a squadron also comprising the protected cruiser Victoria Louise, and light cruisers Amazone and Ariadne and from 12 April, SMS Medusa, in May Frauenlob and Niobe. After autumn fleet maneuvers (August-September) Borckenhagen was replaced by KAdm Gustav Schmidt and this was followed by various fleet training activities, and a visit to Spain in May-August. Upon returning hom took place the annual training exercises until 22 September. On 25 January 1904, SMS Prinz Heinrich sent a land party to help the Norwegian town of Ålesund after a massive fire. In mid-1904, SMS Friedrich Carl joined the Reconnaissance Force and after the autumn maneuvers in which Prinz Heinrich won the Schiesspreis (Shooting Prize) for accuracy, in December, Schmidt transferred his flag to Friedrich Carl, a more modern armoured cruiser.

Prinz Heinrich coaling from the collier Hermann Sauber
Prinz Heinrich coaling from the collier Hermann Sauber

1905 was a quiet year without incident of note, but on 20 June, Prinz Heinrich became flagship again, Friedrich Carl escorting the Hohenzollern abroad. by July, SMS Prinz Heinrich experimented a new coaling apparatus and tests went on until February 1906. She was flagship again in August (as Friedrich Carl was drdocked in maintenance). On 1st October, the post of Deputy Commander of Scouting Forces was created. By that time, SMS Prinz Heinrich Kapitän zur See Raimund Winkler was nominated and replaced. In March 1906, she left the reconnaissance sqn., replaced by Friedrich Carl, and later Yorck, and she was sent in reserve for two years. Reactivated on 15 May 1908 she replaced the gunnery training ship SMS Mars, based in Sonderburg from 22 June, for the Naval Artillery Inspectorate. She served in this guise four years, always static in port, until replaced by the armored cruiser Prinz Adalbert in October 1912. By that time she was was decommissioned on 31 October 1912 and reactivated in November 1913, as the admiralty wanted to converter her as a dedicated training vessel, but with an easy conversion plan for wartime, back as operational cruiser. By early 1914, the plans were ready and approved, and she was drydocked for this conversion at the Kaiserliche Werft. The searchlights’s positions and model was altered, the superstructure deck bulwark removed, masts modernized and other details. This was over in July 1914.

Prinz Heinrich passing through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal
Prinz Heinrich passing through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal

WW1 career

SMS Prinz Heinrich was reactivated for wartime service and returned, just barely out, to Kiel’s shipyard for preparation work back to fully operational cruiser. Once over, she was assigned to the defense of Kiel, expecting a British attack on 25–26 September. The armoured cruiser was assigned to III Scouting Group of the Hochseeflotte. Starting on 8 November 1914, and until 14 April 1915, she was basically a guard ship, patrolling the Jade Bay and river Ems. She participated however in the shelling of Hartlepool, 15–16 December 1914. Along with Roon TBs she was to the van of the High Seas Fleet under command of Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, providing distant cover for von Hipper’s battlecruisers. On the 15 during the night, they came about 10 nmi (19 km; 12 mi) of a British squadron of six battleships and skirmishes too place between their destroyer screens. Von Ingenohl thought it was the entire Grand Fleet and was recalled by Kaiser Wilhelm II to avoid risking his fleet.

In April 1915 the admiralty decided Prinz Heinrich was too old to take part in future operations with the Hochseeflotte and on 12 April 1915, and followed the III Scouting Group to the Baltic Sea, in the quieter sector against the Russian Fleet. On 15 April they arrived in Kiel, and KAdm Hopman, took command.He planned an attack on Libau to cover the German Army approaching, and it started on 7 May. Outside Prinz Heinrich, the Roon, Prinz Adalbert, and the old coast guard Beowulf, plus the light cruisers Augsburg, Thetis, and Lübeck participated in the attack. With them, was a flotilla of destroyers, torpedo boats and minesweepers which tried to clean up the access to Libau. The IV Scouting Group provided cover for it and the shelling commenced, the only casualty being the destroyer V107, hit by a mine in the harbor. The army eventually took the city as planned.

Prinz Heinrich steaming at high speed
Prinz Heinrich steaming at high speed

Prinz Heinrich next was sent to support a minelaying operation off the coast of Finland. It happen soon after, in 23–26 May 1915. On 3-5 June, she made a swoop in the Gulf of Finland and covered another minelaying operation in 20-23 June. On 1st July, following a sortie of the minelayer SMS Albatross north of Bogskär, the force split and Augsburg and Albatross were intercepted by a Russian squadron (Rear Admiral Bakhirev) with three armored crusier, two light. Johannes von Karpf ordered Albatross to reach neutral Swedish waters and Roon and Lübeck recalled. SMS Albatross eventually was grounded off Gotland while Roon exchanged fire briefly before leaving. Hopman rushed out with Prinz Heinrich and Prinz Adalbert to try to locate Albatross and cover her, possibly tow her to safety. En route they were ambushed by the submarine E9, which torpedoed Prinz Adalbert and the operation was cancelled. The intelligence provided by Albatros proved invaluable for the entente.

On 11-12 July, Prinz Heinrich was part of the raid on Gotska Sandön, but no encounter with the Russians was made. Next this was in the central Baltic between Libau and Gotland, 1-2 August for the same result. Some ships from the Hochseeflotte joined them during the Battle of the Gulf of Riga in August 1915, over the laying of defensive minefields blocking any Russian sortie there. Battleships of the Ist Battle Squadron were covered by Prinz Heinrich and other cruisers. On 10 August, Prinz Heinrich and Roon shelled Zerel at the southernmost tip of the Sworbe Peninsula (Ösel island). Several Rissian destroyers there were damaged. But both a tenacious Russian coastal defense and British submarine reports following the torpdeoing of the battlecruiser Moltke on 19 August cancelled the ongoing operation.

SMS Prinz Heinrich in port

Prinz Heinrich wasn sent in drydock to have her worn out boiler tubes replaceed in Kiel, from 11 August to September, arriving in Libau on the 22th. She covered a minelaying sortie towards Östergarn on 5–6 October, but severe crew shortages pushed the Reichsmarineamt to decommission older ships, and this fell on 10 November on Prinz Heinrich. She was ordered to Kiel, and after her crew was curtailed, she was assigned to the “Readiness Division”, along with the pre-dreadnought, SMS Wittelsbach. She remained there until 27 March 1916 befote full decommission and disarmament. Her guns were badly needed on the western front. She served as a floating headquarters, Barrack ships and tender, hositing the mark of her namesake Prince Heinrich, promoted as commander in chief of Baltic naval forces. In 1918, she became an U-Boat tender, for the U-Kreuzer Flotilla (large long range cruiser submarines). She was stricken on 25 January 1920, sold in 1921 to Audorf-Rendsburg and scrapped.

Königsberg class cruisers (1905)

Königsberg class cruisers (1905)

Königsberg, Nürnberg, Stuttgart, Stettin

The Königsberg class were a continuation of the 1902 Bremen class, inaugurating the “cities” serie, followed by the Dresden and Kolberg class, all relatively similar. Gradual improvements were made, and the four ships participated in WWI with various fortunes, also reflecting the German far-flung colonial Empire of the time: SMS Königsberg was scuttled in July 1915 after being damaged by British monitors in an east african river. Nürnberg was sunk in the Falkland battles in December 1914. Stuttgart and Stettin had more “cushy” positions in the home fleet and survived the war, although the first was converted as a seaplane carrier in 1918.

SMS Nuernberg

A continuation of the Bremen class

In Germany, the path towards light cruisers has been a rocky one. The 1880s saw unprotected cruisers that were just glorified gunboats, until the “cruiser-corvettes” and “aviso-cruisers” that tried various concepts of colonial vessels for peacetime and scouts in wartime. However the roots of German ligt cruisers (and the Königsberg class) could be found with certainty in the German Navy ambitious naval program which saw the construction order of eleven cruisers in 1896 (Gazelle class) and seven in 1901. They were considered “IVth class” cruisers, in the 3,000-3,700 tonnes range, the “mythologic” serie being smaller than the “city” serie, but both based on the same general model and armament. They were in general slightly larger and faster than the Bremen.

The 1898 Naval Law authorized in total thirty new light cruisers, to be completed in 1904. The third class, the Königsberg design, was to receive significant improvements in size and speed. Fittin the Königsberg class with turbines was just a move identical to the previous Lübeck of the Bremen class fitted with steam turbines for evaluation. The same was done for dreadnoughts later. SMS Königsberg, was authorized in 1904 and her sister-ships under FY1905 all included an additional boiler to increase top speed.

SMS Bremen Stettin Moltke HamptonRoads 1912

SMS Stettin, Bremen and Moltke in the Background, at Hampton Roads, 1912, the first and last deployment of a German capital ship in the US

The next iteration was still in the 3,000 tonnes range, with the same armament, ten 10,5 cm artillery pieces and 5,7 cm dual purpose rapid-fire guns. The next Dresden were close copies, but faster and larger: They reached 4,468 tonnes fully loaded versus 3,814 for the Königsberg class. The first ship was ordered as part of the 1903-04 programme and the next three as part of the 1904-05 programme. Stettin diverged from the others in many details, notably inaugurating turbine propulsion, but not enough to qualify as a sub-class, and both Nürnberg and Stuttgart diverged from Königsberg. This made these far more diverse compared to the homogenous Bremen class that preceded them, and semi-experimental. Experience with the Stuttgart motivated the adoption of turbines on the next Dresden.

As construction was not started yet, in December 1904, Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz (state secretary of the Reichsmarineamt) issued a report to Kaiser Wilhelm II. In it he warned that the new class should be delayed to make a comprehensive assessemnt of the Russo-Japanese War lessons, and incorporating them in the new design, which was possible even after the keel were laid down, to such extent. For example, it was shown that enhanced protection against naval mines for example was badly needed. The German design staff made several reunions after which they ordered alterations to the Königsberg class design:
-They added an additional watertight bulkhead (aft boiler rooms)
-Rearrangement from thirteen to fifteen Underwater compartments.
-Rearrangement of the coal storage bunkers
They thought to have seriously mitigated the risk of massive flooding, and the failure of multiple boilers. Although it was too late to alter the Königsberg scheduled to start in January, it was refined for the postponed three 1905 cruisers, which hull had to be lengthened by two meters (6 ft 7 in).

In the end, SMS Königsberg was started on 12 January 1905 (launched at Kiel on 12 December) while SMS Nürnberg was started (also at Kiel) on 28 August 1906, so considerably later, Stuttgart earlier by late 1905 at Danzig and launched in September, and Stettin in 1906 (Vulcan, Stettin, her namesake city). She was commissioned just after königsberg in October 1907. The last commissioned were SMS Stuttgart and Nürnberg, in February and April 1908 respectively.

About the name: Three successive cruiser classes were named “Königsberg” in the German Navy: The present one, the 1915 class, and the 1935 class, also called “K-class”.

SMS Stettin on a postcard prewar

Design of the Königsberg class

Hull & Gneral characteristics

As said above, the Königsberg were slightly larger compared to the Bremen, although they kept the general same apperance, with a forecastle and poop, main battery deck with broadside sponson and masked artillery, three funnels, two masts, and a bow, which was there far less pronounced. For the first time, engineers went to the new “clipper bow” already experimented in earlier ships. The plough bow proved indeed problematic in heavy weather. The hull dimensions were increased: 114.8 m or 376 feets 8 inches in overall lenght, compared to 110.6 meters at the waterline and 111,1 meters overall (363-364 feets) for the Bremen class. The next three were even longer at 116.8 meters or 383 feets 2 inches at the waterline.

Königsberg was in fact slightly narrower at 13.20 meters versus 13.30 meters on the Bremen, but in order to improved ASW protection, this was increased to 13.30 m (43 feets 8 inches) again on her sister-ships. Koenigsberg’s draught was also less, at 5,2 meters (17 feets), versus her sister’s 5.3 m or 17 feets 5 inches. This allowed them to navigate in shallower waters compared to the Bremen class, with their 5.61 m draft (18 feets 5 inches). This helped Königsberg to hide in the Rufiji river in 1915.

Construction called for transverse and longitudinal steel frames. The steel outer hull was constructed above it, but there was no proper double hull but a double bottom for 50% of the total lenght. The underwater section, below the waterline, was divided into thirteen or fourteen watertight compartments (Königsberg 13, the other three 14). The crew comprised fourteen officers and 308 enlisted men. They had a number of small boats; A single steam-powered picket boat, a barge (used for coaling), a cutter, two yawls (used for training and liaison to the shore), and two dinghies. When all used, they can bring ashore a 80+ men landing party in one go.


Armour Protection

Armor protection was limited, as these ships were light cruisers: The belt had two layers of standard hardenened steel with backed by a layer of Krupp armor (thickness unknown, probably about 20 mm). In addition they had an armored deck 80 millimeters (3.1 in) thick amidships. It was tapered down to 20 mm (0.79 in) aft. It was linked to the belt by a sloped armor making a turtleback 45 mm (1.8 in) thick. The conning tower had walls 100 mm (3.9 in) thick, enclosed by a 20 mm thick roof. The main guns were protected by 50 mm (2.0 in) thick gun shields. Lighter guns were protected by steel wall lightly armoured (8-10 mm) to stop shrapnels only. The superstructures were unarmored.


The first three Königsberg-class has a standard set of two 3-cylinder, triple expansion engines. They were rated at 13,200 indicated horsepower (9,800 kW). To speed as a result was 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph) as designed. SMS Stettin however tested a pair of British-provided Parsons steam turbines. They were rated at 13,500 indicated shaft horsepower (10,100 kW) allowing a better top speed at 24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph). However on trials, all cruisers exceeded their design speed, by at least 0.5 knots. Steam was provided by eleven coal-fired Marine-type boilers trunked into three funnels. Only Königsberg had them heavenly spaced, the other three had a larger gap between the aft funnel and the two others. As usual they were tall and raked.

The Königsberg class cruisers carried 400 tons of coal (390 long tons; 440 short tons) in peacetime.
In wartime this could be pushed to 880 tons (870 long tons; 970 short tons), allowing for a calculated 5,750 nautical miles (10,650 km; 6,620 mi) at 12 knots. This was true for the lead ship only however: Nürnberg and Stuttgart could only cover 4,120 nmi and Stettin 4,170 nmi. SMS Königsberg also diverged with the rest of the pack by having two electricity generators, the others three generators each. Total output produced was rated for 90 and 135 kilowatts/100 volts respectively.

For manoeuvers, the ship had a single, large rectangular rudder. On trials, they were reputed to be good sea boats, with a picth and roll up to 20° however, and they became very wet at high speeds. They also suffered from a slight weather helm, in particular for SMS Stuttgart. Their metacentric height was .54 to .65 m (1 ft 9 in to 2 ft 2 in) depending of the ship.

Diagram on Janes, 1914


-Ten 10.5 cm SK L/40 guns in single mounts: 2 in tandem on the forecastle, six amidships, two in tandem on the poop. Maximum elevation was 30 degrees, range 12,700 m (13,900 yd). Total 1,500 rounds in store, 150 per gun.

-Two 8.8 cm (3.5 in) guns for SMS Königsberg

-Eight 5.2 cm SK L/55 guns for the three others, behind casemate deck walls.

4,000 rounds of ammunition were carried.

-Two 45 cm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes submerged broaside. They were provided five torpedoes in reserve.

This was reiniscent of the Bremen class and adopted also by the Dresden class. As proven by the duel between SMS Emden and Sydney, the lack of heavy guns (6 inches) proved fatal. However these guns were rapid-fire capable and can pour six high explosive shells at each volley on any ship and put it ablaze quite rapidly.

illustration of the Koenigsberg

Author’s illustration of the Koenigsberg

Conway’s illustration of the Koenigsberg 1914

Conway’s illustration of the Stuttgart as converted as a seaplane tender 1918

⚙ Specifications

Displacement 9,767 long tons (9,924 t standard, 12,207 long tons FL
Dimensions 185 m oa x 19m x 7m (606 x 62 x 23 feets)
Propulsion 4 shafts Parsons geared turbines, 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, 100,000 shp (74,570 kW)
Speed 32.5 knots (60.2 km/h; 37.4 mph)
Range 10,000 nmi (19,000 km; 12,000 mi) at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)
Armament 5×3 × 6 in (152 mm)/47, 8x 5 in (127 mm)/25, 8 .50 cal.HMG, 4 floatplanes
Armor Belt 2in (51 mm)-5 in (127 mm), turrets 1.25-6 in (152mm), CT 5 in (127mm), deck 2in (40 mm)
Crew 868


The Königsberg class in action

SMS Königsberg

Konigsberg prewar

Peacetime service

Königsberg was ordered as “Ersatz Meteor” in the Imperial Dockyard in Kiel, launched and baptised by the Oberbürgermeister (mayor) of Königsberg, Siegfried Körte. She started her sea trials on 6 April 1907, interrupted when she was tasked to escort Kaiser Wilhelm II’s yacht Hohenzollern during the Kiel Week. In August she was present when Wilhelm II met Czar Nicholas II met. After her trials were completed on 9 September, she visited her namesake city and departed to join the scouting forces, replacing Medusa on 5 November 1907. She escorted Wilhelm II’s yacht again, with Scharnhorst and Sleipner in UK. They were visited by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands as well. On 17 December, she escorted Prince Heinrich and a delegation to Malmö in Sweden, meeting King Oscar II. She spent 1908 in training routine and started at the end of the year a long training cruise in the Baltic, North Sea and Atlantic ending in December. Placed in drydock in 1908–09 for maintenance she was back in action by February 1909. A routine followed that year and 1910, but she suffered a collision with Dresden on 16 February in the Kiel Bay while escorting the Kaiser. Both had significant damage but none was injured. After repairs in Kiel, SMS Königsberg won the Kaiser’s Schießpreis (Shooting Prize) for gunnery marskmanship. Until September 1910, Fregattenkapitän Adolf von Trotha became captain.

Könisberg sailed to the Mediterranean from 8 March to 22 May 1911, ecorting Wilhelm II’s Hohenzollern. On 10 June she was relieved by Kolberg and transferred to Danzig, and drydocked on 14 June for modernization. On 22 January 1913 she was recommissione, replacing Mainz. She also served with the training squadron in April. By early 1914, a critical decision was made: The high command decided to send SMS Königsberg to defend German East Africa, replacing the old unprotected cruiser Geier used as station ship.

On 1 April 1914, she greeted a new captain, Fregattenkapitän Max Looff and departed Kiel on 25 April 1914, stopping en route in Wilhelmshaven. Her mission was a two-year deployment to German East Africa, but none thought at that tie this was also her last. She passed through the Mediterranean Sea, stopping in Spanish and Italian ports en route before crossing the Suez Canal. SMS Königsberg stopped in Aden and eventually reached Dar es Salaam, her main base and capital of German East Africa. It 5 June 1914. She arrived just in time to take part in the anniversary parade of the Schutztruppe (Protection Force). Königsberg’s captain started to sturdy the surrounding and organize a defense at Bagamoyo. For the locals, the new cruiser was nickname “Manowari na bomba tatu” translated by “the man of war with three pipes”.

After the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, Captain Looff decided to leave Mabamoyo and return to Dar es Salaam on 24 July, to take as much coal her could onboard in prevision of action. He set in place a coast watch network, report any approaching enemy ships. He also set in place a plan to protect local German shipping. On 27 July 1914 he was warned by the Admiralstab about the rising tension and they were informed that the British Cape Squadron from The Cape in South Africa was prepared for blockading SMS Königsberg. It comprised the crisers HMS Astraea, Hyacinth, and Pegasus. Looff prepared his cruiser for combat, ready to sail out at any short notice. On the afternoon of 31 July 1914, that’s what he did, and he soon was spotted and shadowed by the slower British cruisers. Loof managed to steer his ship in a welcomed rain squall and broke contact the following day. He arrived off Aden on 5 August as news of hostilities came out.

Wartime raiding, in search of coal

Koenisberg’s artillerie was partly relocated in various land casemates along the river’s banks.

SMS Königsberg was ordered to attack British trade lines close and in the Red Sea. However short of coal, Looff could do little: His collier, the Koenig was blockaded in Dar es Salaam. The British also purchased all the coal in Portuguese East Africa, denying it to Königsberg. Looff also radioed Zieten to prevent her taking the Suez Canal. He also warned the German freighter Goldenfels, which mistook her at first for a British cruiser. Königsberg eventually fired a bow warning to force her to stop and warn captain about the situation. On 6 August, SMS Königsberg captured the freighter City of Winchester off Omani coast, leaving a prize crew. Both later met Zieten and sailed in the isolated Khuriya Muriya Islands. There, SMS Königsberg loaded all the coal from City of Winchester, and the latter was sunk while the British crew ended onboard Zieten, which sailed to Mozambique. SMS Königsberg later spotted the German steamer Somali (Korvettenkapitän Zimmer) from Dar es Salaam with 1,200 t of coal onboard. When meetig Somali, SMS Königsberg had just 14 t of coal left !. 850 t were tansferred, after which the cruiser could now reach Madagascar. No ships were encountered en route, so the cruiser coaled once again from Somali on 23 August.

The British meantime shelled Dar es Salaam, destroying the German wireless station. At that point however, SMS Königsberg’s engines were worn out and badly needed an overhaul. Captain Loof found a suitable place to proceed, the Rufiji Delta recently surveyed by Möwe. On 3 September 1914 he entered at high tide, passed the the bar and made her way up the river. Meannwhile Loof had his Coast watchers stationed at the mouth of the river with telegraph lines to warn him of approaching British ships. Zimmer (Somali) sent small coastal steamers to resupply Königsberg. One spotted HMS Pegasus patrolling the coast. Loof looked a map and deduced the British crioser would probably coal at Zanzibar on Sunday. He decided to attack Pegasus in port, even before starting his overhaul.

The Battle of Zanzibar

SMS Konigsberg in Bagamoyo

On 19 September, SMS Königsberg left the Rufiji river, arriving off Zanzibar as planned the following morning, spotted the British cruiser and started to open fire at 7,000 meters (23,000 ft) at noon, 05:10. This became the little-known “Battle of Zanzibar”. During 45 minutes, a completely surprised HMS Pegasus was hammered by 105 mm rounds, until she rapidly caught fire. After all her guns were silenced, her hull and superstrctures crippled by shrapnel, she rolled over to port and sank. Although well before this, Crewmen raised a white flag, it could not be seen from Königsberg between heavy smoke and water plumes. The British had 38 dead and 55 wounded. SMS Königsberg then avenged Dar-Es-Salaam by pounding the wireless station. He ingeniously disguised as mines with barrels filled with sand, dumped into the harbor entrance before leaving the harbor. SMS Königsberg en route lso spotted the picket ship Helmut, quickly sank by just three shells. She returned to the Rufiji River to resume overhaul. Parts were transported overland to the shipyard in Dar es Salaam, which was quite an expedition in itself. While moored off the town of Salale captain Loof ordered his cruiser to be heavily camouflaged, with a set of defensive arrangements: Soldiers and field guns defending the approaches, extended network of coast watchers and telegraph lines, improvised minefield in the delta. This took weeks of preparations.

Meanwhile the British learnt about the sinking of the Pegasus and wholesale destruction at Zanzibar. The admiralty ordered troop to be sent from India, and a new flotilla mmounted to search for the German raider under command of Captain Sidney R. Drury-Lowe. On 19 October 1914 HMS Chatham spotted and captured the German East Africa Line “Präsident”, off Lindi. The boarding party found documents about her supply to Königsberg in the Rufiji in September. This was quite a find, and on 30 October, HMS Dartmouth eventually spotted both Königsberg and Somali in the Rufiji delta. Soon after, HMS Chatham, Dartmouth and Weymouth blockaded Delta.

Blockade of the Rufiji River

On 3 November 1914, the squadron started a long range shelling, trying to hit Königsberg and Somali, but she was difficult to located, well blanketed by vegetation in a thick mangrove swamps which concealed them. British fire indeed was done from outside the river. The collier Newbridge was eventually converted as a blockship and sunk in the main channel, on 10 November, despue German fire from the rover’s banks. Looff decided to move upriver, escaping a possible Britush lucky hit. He also hoped to distract many British vessels from other areas (and the chase of Von Spee’s squadron). Soon indeed, the British added the cruiser HMS Pyramus and HMAS Pioneer to the squadron.

Port bow of the German cruiser

Denis Cutler of Durban a South African civilian convinced the admiralty to commissio his private plane into the Royal Marines. The Royal Navy also requisitioned the passenger ship Kinfauns Castle as tender for Cutler’s aircraft. Cutler however had no compass and went missing at his first flight, forced to land on a desert island. Her however located Königsberg during his second attempt, the third flight being made by a passenger, a Royal Navy observer, which noted the positon on the map. However he was shot down and grounded, could not be repaired until parts arrived from Mombasa. Two Royal Naval Air Service Sopwiths were also brought in the meantime, but they were soon wrecked by tropical conditions. Three Short seaplanes at least made a few flights before being grounded for the same reasons. There was still the 12-inch (305 mm) from HMS Goliath available to sink SMS Königsberg with the right range, but shallow waters prevented this. In December 1914 Oberstleutnant Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, C-in-C in german east africa, requested crew members for his campaign and only 220 men were left on the cruiser to maintain its fighting capabilitie, but not to sail out. Königsberg again changed location up river on 18 December and the the 23 two shallow-draft ships went after her. They found and hit Somali but were forced back by defensive fire.

Captain loof was concerned however of his shortage of coal, but also ammunition, food, and medical supplies, with a crew ravaged notably by malaria and a low morale. However soon, the captured British Rubens, renamed Kronborg with a Danish flag and false papers was prepared to sail to relieved Könisgberg with a selected crew chosen for their ability to speak Danish. The ship was packed with coal, field guns and ammunition, small arms and supplies. Königsberg prepared to sail out and met her, then sail home if possible. However HMS Hyacinth spotted Kronborg, and she was chased off to Manza Bay, trapped and forced aground, put ablaze. The crews salvaged much of her cargo which was latted transport to German East Africa.

Bundesarchiv – Koenigsberg in east africa

1st Battle of Rufiji Delta

By April 1915, British Admiralty approved Drury-Lowe’s plan he wrote back in November. He planned to use shallow-draft monitors, and these were HMS Mersey and Severn, armed with two 6-in guns each, coming from home. SMS Königsberg meanwhile was moved further upriver and by 6 July 1915, the two monitors crossed the outer sandbar, answering as they went up river, to the heavy Germa nriver banks fire. When both spotted the cruiser and went 10,000 yd (9,100 m) close, in range for teir own guns, but not from Königsberg’s own, they opened fire. Aircraft were used for artillery spotting. However the monitors’ captains mismanaged their distance and were found at range from the German cruiser, which quickly answered: Mersey was hit twice, disabling her forward 6-inch gun. Königsberg was hit four times, partly flooded. The battle went on for three hours, but eventually SMS Königsberg’s rapid fire and marksmanship drove both monitors off.

2nd Battle of Rufiji Delta

Both monitors were back on 11 July, repaired and with better preparations, with the same plan. When in place, they started a five-hour bombardment, but Königsberg answered first with with four guns, then three guns remaining, two and down to just the last around 12:53. The anchored monitors knocked out all guns and started a major fire at Königsberg’s stern, plus heavy casualties. At 13:40, Königsberg was low on ammunition and on valid personal. Looff decided to call it off. Her ordered his crew to abandon ship, and drop the breech blocks plus detonate two torpedo warheads at the bow for a proper scuttling. The ship rolled slowly to starboard and sank up to the upper deck.

The cruiser now scuttled in the river, as spotted by RAF planes.

Close view of the cruiser, scuttled.

Koenigsberg artillerie went on fighting with Lettow-Vorbeck in the east african campaign until 1917

The register listed 19 kills and 45 wounded, including Captain Looff. The British retired and at the end of the day, the crew returned to retrieve the flag, and salvage gns and other equipment. The guns were converted into field artillery pieces or placed into coastal positions. They all saw service in the East African campaign. All ten guns were later repaired in Dar es Salaam and saw service late into the war in various places. Eventually the remaining crew company, Königsberg-Abteilung surrendered on 26 November 1917, interned in Egypt. In 1919, they were celebrated as heroes at the Brandenburg gate. Hence ended an episode which inspired Hollywood’s “The African Queen” with Humprey Bogart in 1951.

SMS Nürnberg

Ordered as “Ersatz Blitz” in the Imperial Dockyard, Kiel SMS Nürnberg launching on 28 August 1906 was headed by the mayor of her namesake city, Dr. Georg von Schuh. After fitting-out and sea trials she was commissioned n 10 April 1908. Her serice in German waters went on between training and limited cruises until she was sent overseas in 1910, assigned to the East Asia Station at Tsingtao (Maximilian von Spee). She was sent off the Mexican coast during the revolution to safeguard german interest and personel there. The rest of her peactime career was uneventful.

Wartime Operations

Before the war broke out, she was releived by SMS Leipzig off Mexico and returned to Tsingtao. On 6 August 1914, Nürnberg eventually met the East Asia Squadron already en route back home in Ponape. Spee decided to gather all his forced forces off Pagan Island, northern Marianas, by then a German possession with coal depots and wireless transmission bases. The available colliers, supply ships, and passenger liners received a signal to sail there and meet the East Asia Squadron. On 11 August, the squadon arrived and soon a few supply ships arrived as well as SMS Emden and the AMC Prinz Eitel Friedrich.

The four cruisers headed for Chile. On 13 August Commodore Karl von Müller (Emden) convinced Spee to detach his ship for commerce raiding, drawing attention to him and creating a diversion. This was accepted. The rest is a fantastic story, the stuff of legend. The squadron coaled at Enewetok Atoll (Marshall Islands) on 20 August and by 6 September, Spee detached this time to send Nürnberg assisted by the tender Titania to Fanning Island, cutting the communication cable there. To confuse British observers, the cruiser was flying a French ensign and approached enough to open fire, destroying the station. This happen at noon on 7 September. SMS Nürnberg then headed for Christmas Island where the squadron waited. Spee sent Nürnberg on 8 September to Honolulu, to send news from his intentions to the German High Command via neutral countries. Nürnberg was chosen because the British only knew she left Mexican waters, and her presence in Hawaii would have been normal. Her captain contacted German agents there, instructing them to prepare coal stocks in South America. Nürnberg departed soon, with news of fall of German Samoa.

On 14 September, Spee sent his two armored cruisers to raid the British base at Apia and Nürnberg meanwhile was ordered to escort the squadron’s colliers and join them here later; The Battle of Papeete took place on 22 September, Nürnberg with the rest of the squadron Squadron bombarding the French colony. and sinking the gunboat Zélée. Fear of mines however prevented von Spee from seizing the coal there. On 12 October, the squadron arrived off Easter Island, joined by Dresden and Leipzig, coming from American waters. A week after, coaling, they departed for Chile. There, Nürnberg would take part in two major naval battles, sealing her fate to Von Spee’s squadron.

Battle of Coronel

At last, the British HQ learned about the German squadron off South America, and decided to gather all their available forces in the area under command of Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock: The armored cruisers HMS Good Hope and Monmouth, light cruiser Glasgow, auxiliary cruiser Otranto, the old battleship Canopus, and the armored cruiser Defence (steaming as fast as possible, but which arrived too late to take part in the batte). Canopus was too slow and Cradock ddcided to left her behind and by the evening of 26 October, the East Asia Squadron was off Mas a Fuera (Chile), learning that HMS Glasgow was previously in Coronel. On 1st November, Spee fell upon Good Hope, Monmouth, Otranto and Glasgow. At 17:00, Glasgow spotted the Germans in turn and Cradock formed a line. Spee however hold off until the sun set more to have the British ships silhouetted by the sun. Nürnberg was bishing but rushed forward. Arriving as it was over, Nürnberg however spotted drifting HMS Monmouth, finishing her off, down to 550 to 900 meters.

On 3 November, Nürnberg and her squadron steamed to Valparaiso to resupply in 24 hours as per international law. Leipzig and Dresden meanwnhile, due to the same limitation, coaled at Mas a Fuera. Spee ordered the while squadron to Mas a Fuera. Now with free hands, that was raiding season. On 21 November, the East Asia Squadron coaled again at St. Quentin Bay and headed for Santa Elena, where they would meet colliers from Montevideo and rpepared to fall on the now unprotected south american trade lines.

Battle of the Falkland Islands

When ready, the squadron sailed to Port Stanley, in order to rampage the entire island, notably its wireless station, coal stocks and installations. However in between, the British sent two battlecruisers, Invincible and Inflexible, plus four cruisers (Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee) and they waited for them. On 8 December, Nürnberg spotted the island, but she was drove off by the old battleship Canopus. Spee decided to retreatand steamed away at 22 knots with Nürnberg second ship in the line, framed by the two armoured cruisers. Sturdee’s battlecruisers caught up and the battle commenced at 12:50; Spee chivalrously decided to fight off the battlecruisers with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, allow all three light cruisers to flee, but themselves were soon chased by Sturdee’s own light cruisiers. The hunt for Nürnberg, Dresden, and Leipzig started.

HMS Kent was tasked to hunt Nürnberg down and at 17:00, Nürnberg’s own worn out machinery made her unable to distance the British cruiser so she turned and open fire at around 11,000 m (12,000 yd). Kent only replied about 6,400 m (7,000 yd) away, and Nürnberg turned to port to present her broadside. Both ships pounded themselves on parralel courses, distance dropping down to 2,700 m (3,000 yd). Nürnberg was hit by heavier caliver rounds and was soon devastated, in fire around 18:02. By 18:35, she was silent and Kent ceased fire to approach, but when noticing she was still flying her colors, she resumed fire, until Nürnberg struck her colors. Ken stopped and lowered her lifeboats to pick up survivors, only getting 12 out of the water. The German cruiser sans at 19:26. Among the dead were Otto von Spee, following his father in his watery grave. Nürnberg however hit Kent 38 times, with little effect however.

SMS Stuttgart

After her commission on 1 February 1908, SMS Stuttgart spent a few years in the Baltib and North sea, alternating the routine of seasonal training. In August 1914, she was tasked with patrol duties in the Heligoland Bight. Like other cruisers, she led torpedo boat flotillas, rotating through nightly patrols and roaming the North Sea. Stuttgart made her first on 15 August, with SMS Cöln leading respectively the I and II Torpedo-boat Flotillas.
On 15–16 December, Stuttgart was part of the raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby, shelling the towns. Next she was assigned to the cruiser screen of the Hochseeflotte, and providing distant cover to Franz von Hipper conducting hos batlecruiser in another raid. British destroyers were spotted by the screen so Admiral von Ingenohl ordered the Hochseeflotte to depart. At 06:59, SMS Stuttgart and Roon, and Hamburg spotted Jones’ destroyers, which started shadowing them until 07:40 were both cruiser turned to fight them. At 08:02, Roon spotted two light cruisers and ordered a retreat towards the High Seas Fleet.

On 7 May 1915, the IVth Scouting Group, was costituted with the Stuttgart, Stettin, München, and Danzig leading twenty-one torpedo boats. They were sent east in the Baltic Sea to support a German attack on the Russian port of Libau. under orders of Rear Admiral Hopman, at the head of the reconnaissance forces. They were ordered to screen northwards in order to spot and intercept any Russian naval forces exiting the Gulf of Finland. The rest of the fleet would shell the harbor. The Russians indeed soon sailed out with Admiral Makarov, Bayan, Oleg, and Bogatyr. SMS München was engaged but not too long. Libau eventually fell to the German army. Stuttgart sailed west, towards the High Seas Fleet. Nothing much happened afterwards, between maintenance, fleet exercizes and patrols, until May the next year.

SMS Stuttgart indeed was by then still in the IV Scouting Group (Commodore Ludwig von Reuter), when she departed Wilhelmshaven at 03:30 on 31 May, to join the rest of the Hochseeflotte. As usual her unit was tasked of screening and she was posted with the torpedo boat V71 at the rear of the fleet, close to the II Battle Squadron. Stuttgart missed therefore the early battle when the battlecruisers and their own screens were engaged. However as the day was ending, soon before dark at around 21:30, she spotted the British 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron. L.Von Reuter back then was posted south of the High Seas Fleet, far from the Grand Fleet. Poor visibility ensured only München and Stettin could engage at long range British cruisers, Stuttgart being the fourth ship in the line. At some point however, her spotters saw a British ship in the haze, but since she was already under fire, to not complicate the other spotters’s work, the captain ordered to hold fire. There was a tur hard to starboard, trying to draw the cruisers towards the Hochseeflotte, but the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron refused and disengaged.

The following night fighting up to the 1st June saw the Hochseeflotte engaging the British rear, and the IV Scouting Group met by chance this time the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron. It happened at projector light, at close range: First illuminated was HMS Southampton and HMS Dublin, which took a beating. Stuttgart and Elbing then concentrated on HMS Dublin, hit eight times, probably from Stuttgart, but damage was limited. On fire however, both cruisers retreated, while the Germans were bating them towards the battlecruisers Moltke and Seydlitz. SMS Frauenlob was hit and sunk by Southampton dueing this brawl. SMS Stuttgart was on her starboard until she lost contact with the IV Scouting Group and ended with the I Battle Squadron. Around midnight she saw another fight, concealed in the darkness when the I Battle Squadron dreadnoughts repulse British destroyers. Stuttgart was found when they turned away to avoid torpedoes, between Nassau and Posen. At around 02:30, Stuttgart was now at the head of the German line, in front of SMS Westfalen, leading I Battle Squadron home. She then screen III Battle Squadron and SMS Friedrich der Grosse, leading the pack. Her ammo stores were 64 rounds lighter but this was little in comparison to the rest of the fleet, and she has not even a scar to prove her engagement.

After Jutland, the fleet was mainly inactive. At some point the admiralty toyed with the idea of seaplane tenders and it was clear that converted civilian steamers were too slow for the fleet. Like for the British, it wa clear that converting a cruiser was the right direction. In 1918, Stuttgart was chosen for conversion. Plans were ready and constrcution started in February 1918 at the Imperial Dockyard, Wilhelmshaven. It was over in May 1918. For this, she lost her aft 10.5 cm guns, two forward broadside guns, leaving four broadside guns only. Two 8.8 cm SK L/45 AA guns were installed instead on the forecastle and the torpedo tubes were kept. The aft was completedly flattened and two large hangars were mounted aft of the funnels. They were designed to house two seaplanes, with a third seaplane carried on top of them. This number soon appeared insufficient for porper support so the plans were quickly modified for a full conversion as seaplane carrier, but this was never carried out and as a seaplane tender, SMS Stuttgard was never operational again. Stricken on 5 November 1919 she was surrendered on 20 July 1920, became war prize “S” to UK but was BU.

SMS Stettin

Stettin cossing the Kiel canal

Stettin was ordered as “Ersatz Wacht” in AG Vulcan shipyard (Stettin) in 1906, launched on 7 March 1907, and commissioned after her sea trials on 29 October 1907. She served the first years in German waters, alteranting between the baltic and North sea. In early 1912, she was part of a goodwill cruise to the USA with Bremen and SMS Moltke, the only German capital ship in the US ever. She arrived off Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 30 May, greeted by President William Taft, onboard USS Mayflower. She toured East Coast cities for two weeks before going back to Kiel on 24 June. Nothing much happened until the summer of 1914.

Stettin in Hampton Roads, 1912

In August 1914, Stettin was patrolling the North Sea, screening the High Seas Fleet. On 6 August wich SMS Hamburg she escorted U-boats into the North Sea. They were posted in a way to ambush the British fleet after she was drawn out. The cruisers were back on 11 August. On the 28, SMS Stettin participated in the Battle of Heligoland Bight. With Frauenlob and Hela she supported torpedo boats patrolling the bight and Stettin was at anchor, posted northeast of the island under overall command of Rear Admiral Franz von Hipper. When the attack started, Hipper dispatched Stettin and Frauenlob in support and at 08:32, Stettin departed in support of the beleaguered TBs. 36 minutes later, she fell on British destroyers at around 8.5 km (5.3 mi). The British DDs immediately brok off. At 9:10, Stettin stopped the chase and fell back to Heligoland, but she had been hit once, on the starboard No. 4 gun. She had saved the torpedo boats V1 and S13 and at around 10:00 at top speed she was back, spotted and engaging eight British destroyers. They were dispersed and sent fleeing. At 10:13, visibility was so poor she broke off this second chase. She took several light caliber ht without much damage but a few men wounded and killed. Around 13:40 she met SMS Ariadne, which just engaged and fled British battlecruisers. Stettin was engaged herself at 14:05 but in the haze accuracy was very poor and she escaped. At 14:20, she was now near SMS Danzig when Von der Tann and Moltke arrived five minutes afterwards and Hipper himself behind onboard Seydlitz. It was all over now and Stettin was back to Wilhelmshaven by 21:30.

First phase of the Battle of Heligoland bight, 1914

On 15 December 1914, I Scouting Group’s battlecruisers raided Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby while High Seas Fleet (Friedrich von Ingenohl) stood in distant support, and Stettin, leading two flotillas of torpedo boats screened their rear. Skirmishes between rival screens in falling darkness convinced Ingenohl he faced the the Grand Fleet and Kaiser himself odered him back. There was no occasion for Stettin to fire that day and night. Nothing much happened until the 7 May 1915, when the IV Scouting Group (Stettin, Stuttgart, München, Danzig, 21 TBs) was rushed to Baltic Sea in support a of the attack of Libau (see above). On year was spent in between maintenance and exercises but nithing much to notice. In late May 1916 however, Stettin became flagship of Commodore Ludwig von Reuter, commander of IV Scouting Group when it sailed out in screening support. They missed the early British and German battlecruiser squadron’s battle, and Stettin later steamed ahead of battleship König, the rest of IV Group dispersed in search of posssible British submarines.


SMS Stettin in 1914

Around 21:30, HMS Falmouth was spotted and engaged by Stettin and München, before turning into the haze. Around 23:30, Moltke and Seydlitz almost collided with Stettin which had to slow down in order to let them pass. IV Scouting Group became disorganized and soon after, was caught by the British 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron. A fight started, soon joined by Hamburg, Elbing, and Rostock. Stettin was hit twice and soon set on fire, her steam pipe pierced, engulfing her in smoke and disabling her spotting abilities; This foiled the captain’s attempt to launch torpedoes. HMS Southampton was hit by Stettin also during the fight, but Frauenlob was sunk. München was the only cruiser close to Stettin until they were both engaged by accident by the G11, V1, and V3 at around 23:55. By 04:00 on 1 June, the German fleet was back to Horns Reef, close to to port. Stettin had 8 killed, 28 wounded, her superstrctures damaged by splinters and burnt. She fired 81 rounds oat Jutland. Unfortunately the battle was the last serious engagement for a fleet mostly inactive, leaving U-Boats a free hand.

In 1917, Stettin left front line service, keeping a smaller crew as a training ship, for the U-boat school until the end of the war. The Treaty of Versailles had her listed to be surrendered and stricken on 5 November 1919, attributed to Great Britain as a war prize in September 1920 (“T”), sold to shipbreakers in Copenhagen, BU 1921–1923.



Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906–1921.
Bennett, Geoffrey (2005). Naval Battles of the First World War. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military Classics.
Campbell, John (1998). Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting. London: Conway Maritime Press.
Farwell, Byron (1989). The Great War in Africa, 1914–1918. New York: Norton
Gray, J.A.C. (1960). Amerika Samoa, A History of American Samoa and its United States Naval Administration.
Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. I: Major Surface Vessels. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Halpern, Paul G. (1995). A Naval History of World War I. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Herwig, Holger (1980). “Luxury” Fleet: The Imperial German Navy 1888–1918. Amherst: Humanity Books.
Hoyt, Edwin P. (1969). The Germans Who Never Lost. London: Frewin. ISBN 0-09-096400-4.
Nottelmann, Dirk (2020). “The Development of the Small Cruiser in the Imperial German Navy”. In Jordan, John (ed.). Warship 2020.
Staff, Gary (2011). Battle on the Seven Seas. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime.
Tarrant, V. E. (1995). Jutland: The German Perspective. London: Cassell Military Paperbacks.
Dodson, Aidan; Cant, Serena (2020). Spoils of War: The Fate of Enemy Fleets after the Two World Wars. Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing.1.
Koop, Gerhard & Schmolke, Klaus-Peter (2004). Kleine Kreuzer 1903–1918: Bremen bis Cöln-Klasse. München: Bernard & Graefe Verlag.

cc photos

3D models

On turbosquid
Blueridge model 1/700
Arno 1:700 Emden (for conversions)
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Fürst Bismarck (1897)

Fürst Bismarck (1897)

German Empire (1897) Heavy cruiser

The Kaiser’s first heavy cruiser:
The Fürst Bismarck (“Prince Bismarck”) named after the Chancellor and statesman which unified Germany in 1870, was also the name of the first “Großer Kreuzer, 2nd Klasse”, the first German heavy cruiser. Why “heavy” and not “armoured cruiser” ? Previous denominations of German cruisers had been hectic, notably the “aviso-cruisers” or “cruiser-corvettes” of the 1880-90s. It came from a lineage started in the Frigates and corvettes of the late 1870s, masted aviso-cruisers of the 1880s and the first modern armoured cruiser, SMS Kaiserin Augusta, followed by the five ships of the Victoria Luise class. See the complete lineage of German cruisers in WW1. She should have been the lead ship of a class of five more armoured cruisers but another direction was taken, towards far larger cruisers, and thus individual ships, the Fürst Bismarck launched in 1897, and the Prinz Heinrich in 1900, before settling on relatively close series of armoured cruisers, the Prinz Adalbert, Roon, and ultimatey Scharnhorst class. So the F.Bismarck was basically a transitional vessel, testing innovations.

German colonial Empire in 1914


Fürst Bismarck was designed before the naval arms race between Germany and the United Kingdom. Admiral Hollmann, State Secretary of the Naval Office was perfectly aware of the total dominance of the British Royal Navy and it was just assumed impossible to compete. Hollmann instead looked towards asymmetric naval warfare and vowed for a fleet of torpedo boats and coastal defense ships to defend German waters. A complement of cruisers needed to be provided for overseas duties and trade protection. However after Frederick III succeeded him, to die shortly after, a young Wilhelm II started his long reign. He had a more liberal political course in mind. Before competing with the RN he wanted at least a colonial empire and a fleet capable to defend it. Cruisers, which had long range and and a good armament to face anything that was lower than a battleline, seemed ideal.

SMS Kaiserin Augusta
SMS Kaiserin Augusta (1890)

Efforts were made in the 1880s to transition from what was basically glorified masted gunboats to real cruisers. The year 1897 was important, as Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz came onboard as state secretary of the German Imperial Naval Office. He devised a rather practical, but still ambitious plan naval plan. He theorized this new force, albeit not capable of facing the RN, at least its existence would force Great Britain to agree to diplomatic compromises. Tirpitz started in 1898 with full support of Kaiser Wilhelm.

But the Fürst Bismarck was designed before these reforms and was the last of its kind and can be seen now largely as a transitional vessel. As the first “true” armored cruiser to be designed by the German navy, Fürst Bismarck was largely based on the previous Victoria Louise-class cruisers. It had a forecastle for seakeeping in the north sea, nearly twice the displacement, better range, speed, armour, and a more powerful armament. This was the first cruiser specifically design to stand-guard and defend German colonies in the Asia-Pacific theater. There was heavy political opposition nevertheless, linked to the idea of a colonial empire as well, but the new ship was approved by the Reichstag 1896.

Victoria Luise class.


Compared to the Victoria Luise class, built at the same time, the new cruiser displaced double, at 10,690 t and 11,461 t fully loaded versus 5,660-5,885 t. standard. This traduced by larger dimensions of course, less in length a 127 m versus 110, but in beam at 20.40 m versus 17 m. The draft was also sensibly deeper. Power-wise, more generous dimensions helped to stack 12 water-tube boilers of a larger type, for an increase from 10,000 to 13,500 shp, still on three shafts. Top speed was about the same, some of the Luise class were even faster, 19.7 knots versus 18.7. On range, the previous ships were limited to 3,412 nmi (6,319 km; 3,926 mi) at 12 knots, better than the Fürst Bismarck’s 3,230 nmi (5,980 km). Cruise speed was thus reduced to 10 knots. Overall, the larger dimensions mostly help getting a better armament and protection.
Her hull comprised transverse and longitudinal steel frame, but the internal construction comprised a single layer of wooden planks, covered by a Muntz metal sheath. It extended 0.95 m (3.1 ft) above the waterline while lower portions, from stem to stern were covered with bronze plating.


Fürst Bismarck’s powerplant was rather traditional, and on three shafts. Each was driven by a vertical four-cylinder, triple-expansion engine, and each was fed by four Thornycroft boilers built under license by Germaniawerft, for a part, and the remainder eight had cylindrical boilers. The Thornycroft boilers were divided each into two fire boxes, and the cylindrical boilers had four making for a grand total of 32 boilers. The shafts passed this power to three-bladed screw propeller, the centerline 4.40 m (14.4 ft) in diameter, and outer ones 4.80 m (15.7 ft). Total output as indicated was 13,500 indicated horsepower (10,100 kW), procuring 18.7 knots (34.6 km/h; 21.5 mph) as designed, but on trials, output reached 13,622 ihp but for the same speed. Electrical power came from five generators for a total of 325 kilowatts at 110 volts. In general, SMS Fürst Bismarck was an excellent ood sea-boat due to its elegant clipper-ram bow, and very responsive to commands from the helm. She was taller however and therefore, with a 0.72 m (2 ft 4 in) metacentric height she had important roll problems plus heavy vibration at top speed.


SMS Fürst Bismarck’s comprised main, secondary and light guns, plus torpedo tubes; a classic combination. Main armament comprised four 24 cm (9.4 in) SK L/40 guns in twin turrets fore and aft of the superstructure, mounted in Drh.L. C/98 turrets. Elevation ranged from -5° tos 30°, achieving a range of 16,900 meters (18,500 yd). Sheels carried weighted 140-kilogram (310 lb), exiting the barrels at 835 meters per second (2,740 ft/s). 312 rounds in all were stored, 78 shells per gun.
The secondary armament comprised twelve 15 cm (5.9 in) SK L/40 quick-firing guns. They were placed in MPL type broadside casemates. They fired an armor-piercing shell, at an average rate of 4 to 5 per minute. 2,160 shells were carried in all, 120 per gun. Depression coul be as low as −7°, elevation +20° and best range 13,700 m (14,990 yd). Not a large difference with the main guns.
These AP shells weighted 51 kg (112 lb) and their muzzle velocity was 735 m/s (2,410 ft/s), control manual (mechanical) whereas it was of course assisted for the heavy 9.4 in guns.

Launch of Fürst-Bismarck in 1897, unlucky she was repaired, delaying her commission

Also ten 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/30 guns were installed for some in individual casemates and the rest on decks, placed on pivot mounts. They fired 7.04 kg (15.5 lb) shells at 590 m/s (1,900 ft/s) and their rate of fire was 15 shells a minute, with a range of 6,890 m (7,530 yd), with manual operation.
To complete this, the Fürst Bismarck was given six 45 cm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes, with 16 torpedoes in reserve. One of these tube was placed on a swivel mount at the stern of the ship and could be reloaded from there, while the four others were fixed and submerged on the broadside. The sixth one at the bow, was submerged.

Armour protection

SMS Fürst Bismarck was given Krupp armor for all her platings, and thicker than on the Victoria Luise class.
-Armor belt: 20 cm (7.9 in) beteween barbettes, tapered down to 10 cm (3.9 in) on the ends.
-Additional plating: 10 cm (3.9 in) over critical areas.
-Main armored deck: 3 cm (1.2 in), 5 cm (2.0 in) slopes.
-Forward conning tower: 20 cm walls, 4 cm (1.6 in) roof
-Aft conning tower: 10 cm walls, 3 cm roof.
-Main battery turret: Front and sides: 20 cm, roof 4 cm.
-15 cm turrets: 10 cm front and sides
-Gun shields: 7 cm (2.8 in).
-Casemates: 10 cm shields.
The following Prinz Heinrich was faster, but this was paid by a much thinner armour scheme, and this went on until the Blücher.
To help disseminate and contain ASW blasts, from torpedo and mines, the lower hull was divided into 13 watertight compartments, and completed by a double bottom running on 60% of the length.

Fürst Bismarck Specifications

Dimensions 127 x 20.4 x 7.8 m (416 oa x 66 x 25 ft)
Displacement 10,690 t standard, 11,461 FL
Crew 36 officers, 585 ratings
Propulsion 3 shafts, 12 boilers, 3 VTE engines 13,500 ihp (10,100 kW)
Speed 18.7 knots (34.6 km/h; 21.5 mph), Range: 3,230 nm (5,980 km)/12kts
Armament 2×2 24 cm (9.4 in), 12 × 15 cm (5.9 in), 10 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/30, 6 × 45 cm (18 in) TTs
Armor Belt: 20 cm (7.9 in), Turrets: 20 cm (7.9 in), Deck: 3 cm (1.2 in)

Read More:
Friedman, Norman (2011). Naval Weapons of World War One: Guns, Torpedoes, Mines and ASW Weapons of All Nations, Seaforth Publishing.
Gardiner, Robert & Gray, Randal, eds. (1985). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906–1921.
Grießmer, Axel (1999). Die Linienschiffe der Kaiserlichen Marine: 1906–1918; Bernard & Graefe Verlag.
Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Vol. I: Major Surface Vessels. Naval Institute Press.
Hildebrand, Hans H.; Röhr, Albert & Steinmetz, Hans-Otto (1993). Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe (Band 3) Ratingen: Mundus Verlag.
Padfield, Peter (1974). The Great Naval Race. Edinburg: West Newington House.

The Model Corner:
At least one: By NNT Modell+Buch of the cruiser in 1906, 1:700

The Fürst Bismarck in service

1900: The Boxer Rebellion
Launched at Kaiserliche Werft on 25 September 1897, the new cruiser was completed on 2 March 1900. However at that stage, the ironclad Sachsen accidentally collided with her, and her stern was damaged, imposing repairs. Sea trials only started from 19 March, revealing alterations were needed, but the Boxer Rebellion in China prevented this, and Fürst Bismarck was sent to the East Asia Squadron, departing Kiel on 30 June, refuelling at Gibraltar, Port Said, Port Tewfik, souther Suez Canal, Perim (Red Sea) and went through the Indian Ocean, Colombo, Ceylon and at last Singapore on 4 August. This was the crew’s own inaugural training cruise.
She escorted there the troop transport steamers Frankfurt and Wittekind, up north to Tsingtao, the main German naval base in the Kiautschou Bay concession, arriving on 13 August. Vizeadmiral Emil Felix von Bendemann took command of the East Asia Squadron and left SMS Hertha for Fürst Bismarck. He had under command also the cruisers Hansa, Kaiserin Augusta, and Irene, plus the unprotected Gefion and Seeadler. At Hong Kong, the Detached Division consisted in the four Brandenburg class battleships and the aviso Hela used as troop ships; and later reinforcements arrived, the Geier, Schwalbe, and Bussard plus the gunboats Luchs and Tiger, three torpedo boats of the S90 class and a hospital ship, Gera. In total the German Navy sent 24 warships and 17,000 soldiers, about a tenth of the massive 250 warships and 70,000 soldiers from the combined eight nations force. The commander, Bendemann, decided to blockade the Yangtze, and Fürst Bismarck, Gefion, Irene, and Iltis made the line. After the seizure of Peitsang and other harbors, Bendemann attacked Shanhaiguan and Qinhuangdao which surrendered. On 5 October, Fürst Bismarck arrived off Taku with SMS Hertha, Hela, Brandenburg, and Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm.

East Asia Squadron 1901-1904
In February 1901, the fight was nearly over and the East Asia Squadron resume normal duties. Fürst Bismarck visited Japanese ports with SMS Geier and two TBs by mid-1901. In September she visited Port Arthur and later returned in Japan for a shipyard maintenance in Nagasaki. Reports said then her stern was frequently leaking. The German army and navy gained quite an experience from this far away massive projection of power, underlying the need for logistics and an important network. As Germany did not hold many ports or colonies there, a maritime transport department was created in the Reichsmarineamt in 1902. Fürst Bismarck departed Japan on 15 January 1902, meeting the next month Hertha and Bussard in Singapore. Bendemann was replaced as squadron commander by Vice-Admiral Richard Geissler. Thetis joined the squadron later, but Kaiserin Augusta left with two TBs. In April, Schwalbe, Geier, and Luchs were sent to Ning Po, protecting Europeans. Fürst Bismarck was kept the flagship of the squadron which toured East Asian ports goind west to the Dutch East Indies, with training exercises in between. Tsingtao and Japan were main maintenance portas. Schwalbe left for Germany September, replaced by Geier and on 25 December, the Schießpreis (Shooting Prize) was awarded for excellent gunnery to Fürst Bismarck, representing the squadron. In early 1903, Fürst Bismarck was based in the Yangtze with Hansa and Thetis before returning to Tingtao in April, doing exercises until May, and touring Japan, hosting at one occasion the Emperor Meiji and his staff. She visited the Russian Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok by August and in November, the squadron had a new commander, Counter-Admiral Curt von Prittwitz und Gaffron.

The Russo-Japanese war
After her maintenance, Fürst Bismarck went on with ports visits and exercizes in 1904, while tensions grew between Russia and Japan over Korea. On 7 January, the Admiralstab instructed Prittwitz und Gaffron to observe a strict neutrality in the area. SMS Hansa evacuated German speaking citizens from Port Arthur and Dalny as a precaution. Japan eventually severed diplomatic relations with Russia on 5 February, and so the Russo-Japanese started. On 12 February, Hansa returned to Port Arthur to evacuate the last civilians. After the Battle of the Yellow Sea on 10 August 1904, Some damaged Russian ships ended in Tsingtao, like Tsesarevich and Novik, interned until the end of the war while Fürst Bismarck and the East Asia Squadron enforced this internment, destroying Russian naval mines in between, as some could migrate into German commercial lanes. By early 1905, riots erupted in China so the squadron remained in Tsingtao until March. The Russian Second Pacific Squadron passed the colony to be later destroyed in the Battle of Tsushima. By the summer, Seeadler and Thetis left the squadron to reinforce the German East Africa and suppress a rebellion. In August Tsing Tao’s floating dry dock helped repair Fürst Bismarck in October. By November, Alfred Breusing became the new squadron commander, and in December the latter departed for a goodwill tour of southern East Asia, before heading to Shanghai to safeguard Europeans interests there as a new riot started. She even sent a landing party ashore, amalgamated with those of Jaguar, Tiger, and Vaterland. They patrolled the city cente and guarded the German consulate.

Fürst Bismarck in Manila
Fürst Bismarck in Manila

1906-1908 East Asia Sqn Service
In January 1906, Fürst Bismarck sailed for Indonesia, and Hong Kong before returning in March to the squadron Shanghai, which departed. Fürst Bismarck and Hansa were the only ships left in the squadron at that time. They toured Japan in May, and return to Taku, and entered the Yangtse for a cruiser up to Peking. Naval officers visited the Guangxu Emperor and Empress Dowager Cixi. Later Hansa returned to Germany on 4 July, replaced by the light cruiser Niobe. In November, Leipzig also arrived to give the squadron a three cruisers force. Fürst Bismarck and Tiger made another tour of Indonesia and Japan in 1907 and a new commander arrived, Counter-Admiral Carl von Coerper. Nothing much happened and Fürst Bismarck was awarded again a prize for marksmanship in gunnery exercises. Arcona joined the squadron on 23 October, for a total strenght of four cruisers. By January 1908, Fürst Bismarck made a state visit to Siam, hosting the King at this occasion. By early 1909 at last, the heavy cruiser was ordered to proceed to Germany for a complete overhaul after nine years of intense service that a floating drydock could not procure. On 8 April, departed and met en route the new flagship, the armored cruiser Scharnhorst in Colombo. Fürst Bismarck arrived in Kiel on 13 June.

SMS Furst Bismarck in the Kiel Canal
SMS Furst Bismarck in the Kiel Canal

WW1 years
In 1910, Fürst Bismarck entered Kaiserliche Werft, Kiel after an extensive modernization. The naval staff knew the ship was ageing in its role and wanter to convert her as a torpedo training ship, replacing the old ironclad Württemberg. The heavy fighting masts were replaced by light poles, the two aft-most 15 cm casemate guns removed, along many other modifications. This did not have full priority, so this work lasted for four years. She was completed indeed in July 1914. On 28 November 1914 she was recommissioned, her last captain being Ferdinand Bertram, former head of the artillery school. She made her post-refit sea trials, but by the staff not assigned her to a semi-reserve status: She was allocated to the Ist Marine Inspectorate in Kiel, with a skeleton crew, use as training ship. On 6 September 1916 she was disarmed but still operated as training ship in 1917 for commanders of the large U-Kreuzer and zeppelins for coordination. She was eventually decommissioned for good 31 December 1918 but not stricken before mid-1919. A floating office until May, stricken on 17 June she was sent to the Reichswerft in Kiel, sold to a Dortmund company, BU 1919–1920 in Rendsburg-Audorf.