The Dresden class, part of the 1905/1906 program was derived from the previous Königsberg class and shared most of its characteristics, their design merely constituted an improvement. These cruisers were built at Blohm & Voss (Dresden) and Kaiserliche Werft, Danzig yards (Emden) and launched in 1907-1908, entering service in 1908-1909. Larger by one meter, wider by 30 cm and heavier by 200 tonnes, they were slightly faster (23.5 and 24 knots compared to 23), but possessed the same firepower. However, their destinies were among the most interesting, the most adventurous. (See Emden's Odyssey).
SMS Dresden through the Kiel Canal
Both ships had this characteristic three-funnels silhouette, and its ten 105 mm (4.1 in) guns were placed as follows: Two side by side on the prow and bow, and the others six on the sides, each with its own mask. Propulsion relied on two propellers, and they possessed three 4-cylinder engines, 12 standard boilers, for a total of 13,500 hp, and top speed of 23.5 knots. Their armour was slightly improved, with the deck and turrets protected by 30-50 mm, the hull belt about 30 mm, casemate and conning tower 100 mm. The crew comprised 361 officers and sailors.
Jane's 1914 Dresden class diagrams and drawing
Although the subject would by widely covered in an article, in short, the cruiser was stationed in Tsingtao (Kiautschou Bay concession), China, when the war broke out in 1914. Part of the German East Asia Squadron in 1913, she came under the command of Karl von Müller.
In 1914, Emden captured a Russian steamer and converted her into the commerce raider Cormoran, then joined the East Asia Squadron, and detached for independent raiding in the Indian Ocean (also as a diversion).
In two months she captured nearly two dozen ships and late October 1914, she attacked on Penang, sinking the Russian cruiser Zhemchug and the French destroyer Mousquet, blazing the oil supplies. Then she raided the Cocos Islands, landing a contingent to destroy British facilities and radio.
But here she was soon attacked by the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney which seriously damage her. To avoid sinking, she was ran aground as 133 of the crew has been killed in action. Most of the survivors were taken prisoner but escaped, captured an old schooner and eventually returned to Germany after an epic trip through the desert...
SMS Emden in its white colonial livery
Dresden was in fact part of the international force deployed during the Mexican Revolution in 1910. When war broke out, she made a hasty retreat in the eastern Indian Ocean.
Passing by the Cape of Good Hope, dhe descended on the southern Atlantic in search of preys to hunt. It was one of the "raiders" deployed as privateers against the allied merchant shipping. Being part of Admiral Von Spee squadron, she made her mark in combat during the first Falklands battle, opposed to the units of admiral Sir Cradock.
Venturing into the Pacific after the battle, she was pursued by the cruisers Kent and Glasgow and took refuge off the Chilean island of Mas a Fuera. Refusing to surrender, she scuttled herself on March 14, 1915.