Prinz heinrich (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.

Author: dreadnaughtz

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