Roon class armored cruisers (1904)

German Empire (1901): SMS Roon, Yorck

The Roon class: Standard confirmed

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)

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 Roon class in service

SMS Roon

Roon was ordered under the provisional name Ersatz Kaiser as a replacement for the ironclad Kaiser. The ship was built at the Imperial Dockyard in Kiel under construction number 28.[3] Her keel was laid down on 1 August 1902 and she was launched on 27 June 1903. At her launching ceremony, Field Marshal Alfred von Waldersee christened the ship Roon after Field Marshal Albrecht von Roon. Fitting-out work then commenced, which included provisions for the cruiser to be used as a flagship, and Roon was commissioned into the German fleet on 5 April 1906. Her first commander was Kapitän zur See (KzS—Captain at Sea) Fritz Hoffmann. The ship then began sea trials that lasted until 9 July; she joined I Scouting Group on 15 August, where she replaced the armored cruiser Friedrich Carl as the flagship of the deputy commander, KzS and Kommodore (Commodore) Raimund Winkler. Roon then participated in the annual fleet maneuvers held in late August and early September. Later that month, Hoffmann was replaced by Fregattenkapitän (FK—Frigate Captain) Oskar von Platen-Hallermund, who commanded the vessel for just a month before he was in turn relieved by KzS Karl Zimmermann. At the same time as Hoffmann’s departure, Winkler also left his post, being replaced by KzS and Kommodore Eugen Kalau vom Hofe, who transferred his flag to Friedrich Carl in October.[6]

SMS Brandenburg and Roon in 1906

She spent the following years participating in training exercises and cruises with the ships of I Scouting Group as well as the entire High Seas Fleet. This routine was interrupted in early 1907 when the ship was sent to the United States to participate in the Jamestown Exposition, which commemorated the 300th anniversary of the arrival of colonists in Chesapeake Bay. Kalau von Hofe returned to Roon to lead the German delegation, which also included the light cruiser Bremen; the two cruisers left Kiel on 8 April and crossed the Atlantic to Hampton Roads, Virginia, arriving on 24 April. Two days later, the international fleet, which also included contingents from Great Britain, Japan, Austria-Hungary, France, Italy, and several other nations, held a naval review as part of the exposition. Following the ceremonies, Bremen was detached to remain on station in the Americas while Roon returned to Germany, arriving back in Kiel on 17 May. On her return, Kalau von Hofe shifted back to Friedrich Carl.[7][8]
Roon sometime before 1914

From 11 September to 28 October, Roon briefly resumed her role as deputy flagship; Friedrich Carl was at that time serving as the group flagship while Roon’s sister Yorck was being overhauled. Also in October, FK Friedrich Schrader took command of the ship.[6] The ship went on a major cruise into the Atlantic Ocean from 7 to 28 February 1908 with the other ships of the scouting group. During the cruise, the ships conducted tactical exercises and experimented with using their wireless telegraphy equipment at long distances. They stopped in Vigo, Spain, to replenish their coal for the voyage home.[9] On 5 March, Roon returned to flagship duty, with now Konteradmiral (KAdm—Rear Admiral) Kalau von Hofe back aboard the ship.[7]

Another Atlantic cruise followed in July and August; this time, the cruise was made in company with the battleship squadrons of the High Seas Fleet. Prince Heinrich, the fleet commander, had pressed for such a cruise the previous year, arguing that it would prepare the fleet for overseas operations and would break up the monotony of training in German waters, though tensions with Britain over the developing Anglo-German naval arms race were high. The fleet departed Kiel on 17 July, passed through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal to the North Sea, and continued to the Atlantic. The fleet returned to Germany on 13 August. The autumn maneuvers followed from 27 August to 12 September.[10][11] On 23 September, KAdm Jacobsen replaced Kalau von Hofe, and the following month FK Georg Scheidt took command of Roon.[6]

SMS Roon photographed during an USN visit in 1907

The year 1909 saw two more cruises in the Atlantic, the first in February with just the ships of I Scouting Group and the second in July and August with the rest of the fleet. On the way back to Germany, the fleet stopped in Spithead, Britain, where it was received by the Royal Navy.[11][12] KzS Reinhard Koch relieved Jacobsen as the group deputy commander after the annual fleet maneuvers in September 1909 but on 1 October he transferred his flag to Yorck. The next two years passed uneventfully for Roon; apart from the typical training routine, she took part in a naval review for Kaiser Wilhelm II in September 1911, after which she was decommissioned on 22 September.[7]
World War I
Roon (left) steaming astern of the High Seas Fleet

Following the outbreak of World War I in July 1914, Roon was mobilized for wartime service on 2 August and was initially assigned to II Scouting Group as the flagship of KAdm Gisberth Jasper. The ship’s first wartime commander was KzS Johannes von Karpf. A series of reorganizations saw the ship transferred to IV Scouting Group to replace the armored cruiser Blücher and on 25 August IV Scouting Group was renamed III Scouting Group, Roon remaining as flagship. KAdm Hubert von Rebeur-Paschwitz replaced Jasper as the group commander. The following day, Roon and the rest of the group took part in a sortie into the eastern Baltic Sea in a failed attempt to rescue the light cruiser Magdeburg that had run aground in Russian territory. The operation was cancelled on 27 August when Rebeur-Paschwitz received word that Magdeburg had been scuttled to avoid capture by Russian forces.[6]

The group was stationed in the North Sea from 6 September to guard the German coast, interrupted by a short deployment to the Danish straits from 25 to 26 September after false reports of British warships attempting to pass through prompted the German command to send the cruisers on a patrol there. During their period in the North Sea, the cruisers were sent to escort the minelaying cruisers Nautilus and Albatross and the auxiliary minelayer Kaiser as they laid the “Alpha” defensive minefield in the North Sea. The ships then escorted the main body of the High Seas Fleet during the raid on Yarmouth on 2–3 November.[13]

Roon with the Hochseeflotte
Roon with the Hochseeflotte

A month later, on 15–16 December, she participated in the bombardment of Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby. Along with the armored cruiser Prinz Heinrich, Roon was assigned to the van of the High Seas Fleet, which was providing distant cover to Rear Admiral Franz von Hipper’s battlecruisers while they were conducting the bombardment.[14] During the operation, Roon and her attached destroyers encountered the British screening forces; Roon came in contact with the destroyers HMS Lynx and Unity, but no gunfire was exchanged and the ships turned away. Following reports of British destroyers from Roon as well as from Hamburg, Admiral von Ingenohl ordered the High Seas Fleet to disengage and head for Germany. At this point, Roon and her destroyers became the rearguard for the High Seas Fleet. Roon, by this time joined by the light cruisers Stuttgart and Hamburg, encountered Commander Loftus Jones’ destroyers. Jones shadowed Roon for about 45 minutes, at which point Stuttgart and Hamburg were detached to sink their pursuers. Twenty minutes later, Roon signaled the two light cruisers and ordered them to abandon the pursuit and retreat along with the rest of the High Seas Fleet. In the meantime, Vice Admiral David Beatty received word of Roon’s location, and in an attempt to intercept the German cruisers, detached the battlecruiser HMS New Zealand to hunt the German ships down, while his other three battlecruisers followed from a distance. While still pursuing the retreating Germans, Beatty had become aware that the German battlecruisers were shelling Hartlepool, so he decided to break off the pursuit of Roon and turn towards the German battlecruisers.[15]
Operations in the Baltic
Map of the North and Baltic Seas in 1911

The German naval command decided that because Roon and the other armored cruisers of the III Scouting Group were slow and lacked thick enough armor, they were unsuitable for service in the North Sea where they would risk contact with the powerful British Grand Fleet.[16] Therefore, on 15 April 1915, Roon and the rest of III Scouting Group were transferred to the Baltic, where they would face the significantly weaker Russian Baltic Fleet. The unit was dissolved and Roon and the other vessels were assigned to the Reconnaissance Forces of the Baltic, under the command of KAdm Albert Hopman. At the same time, FK Hans Gygas replaced Karpf, who in turn became the deputy commander of the unit and made Roon his flagship. On 30 April, the ship went into drydock in Kiel for an overhaul, returning to service for the attack on Libau on 7 May. On 11 May, the British submarine E9 spotted Roon and several other ships en route to Libau, which had been recently captured by the German army. E9 fired five torpedoes at the German flotilla, all of which missed; two passed closely astern of Roon.[17] Roon thereafter took part in a series of sorties into the central Baltic as far north as Gotska Sandön on 13–16 May, 23–26 May, 2–6 June, 11–13 June, and 20–22 June.[18]

Karpf transferred to the light cruiser Lübeck while Hopman relocated to Roon since the latter’s flagship, the armored cruiser Prinz Adalbert, was under repairs for a torpedo hit. Roon and Lübeck covered a minelaying operation with Albatross on 30 June that lasted through 2 July and resulted in the Battle of Åland Islands.[19] The light cruiser Augsburg and three destroyers were escorting Albatross when they were attacked by the armored cruisers Bayan, Admiral Makarov, and the light cruisers Bogatyr and Oleg. Augsburg escaped while the destroyers covered the retreat of Albatross, which was severely damaged and forced to seek refuge in neutral Swedish waters.[20] Roon joined Lübeck to relieve the beleaguered German destroyers. Upon arriving at the scene, Roon engaged Bayan, and Lübeck opened fire on Oleg.[20] Shortly thereafter, the Russian cruiser Rurik, along with a destroyer, arrived to reinforce the Russian flotilla. In the following artillery duel, Roon was hit several times, and the German ships were forced to retreat.[21]

Later in July, as the German Army began to push further north from Libau, the naval command reinforced the naval forces in the Baltic to support the advance. The pre-dreadnought battleships of the IV Battle Squadron were transferred to the eastern Baltic and its commander, Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) Ehrhard Schmidt, was placed in command of the naval forces in the area. In August, the German fleet attempted to clear the Gulf of Riga of Russian naval forces to aid the German Army advancing on the city. Elements of the High Seas Fleet were sent to strengthen the forces attempting to break into the gulf. The Germans made several attempts to force their way into the gulf during the Battle of the Gulf of Riga until reports of British submarines in the area prompted the Germans to call off the operation on 20 August.[22] During these attacks, Roon remained outside the gulf and on 10 August, Roon and Prinz Heinrich shelled Russian positions at Zerel on the Sworbe Peninsula. There were several Russian destroyers anchored off Zerel; the German cruisers caught them by surprise and damaged one of them.[19][23]
One of the two Roon-class cruisers

On 9 September, Hopman returned to Prinz Adalbert, allowing Roon to return to Kiel for an overhaul. Work was completed by mid-October and the ship returned to Libau on 18 October. Two days later, Hopman made her his flagship once again. The loss of Prinz Adalbert three days later to a British submarine convinced the German command that the threat of underwater weapons was too serious to continue to operate older vessels with insufficient protection, including Roon. Accordingly, on 15 January 1916, Hopman hauled down his flag, and two days later the ship left Libau to return to Kiel, where she was decommissioned on 4 February.[19]

In November 1916, Roon was disarmed and converted into a training and accommodation ship. Stationed at Kiel, she served in this capacity until 1918.[24] The German Navy had previously experimented with seaplane carriers, including the conversion of the old light cruiser Stuttgart early in 1918 for service with the fleet. Stuttgart could carry only two aircraft, which was deemed insufficient for fleet support. As a result, plans were drawn up to convert Roon into a seaplane carrier,[25] with a capacity for four aircraft. The ship’s main battery would have been removed and replaced with six 15 cm guns and six 8.8 cm anti-aircraft guns; the large hangar for the seaplanes was to have been installed aft of the main superstructure. The plan did not come to fruition, primarily because the German Navy relied on zeppelins for aerial reconnaissance, not seaplanes. Roon was struck from the naval register on 25 November 1920 and scrapped the following year in Kiel-Nordmole.[24][26]

SMS Yorck

Yorck was ordered under the provisional name Ersatz Deutschland and built at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg under construction number 167.[3] Her keel was laid down on 25 April 1903 and she was launched on 14 May 1904.[6] General Wilhelm von Hahnke gave a speech at the launching ceremony and the vessel was christened Yorck after Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg, a Prussian general during the Napoleonic Wars by Josephine Yorck von Wartenburg, one of his descendants. Fitting-out work was completed by late 1905, when the ship began builder’s trials, after which a shipyard crew transferred the vessel to Kiel, where she was commissioned into the fleet on 21 November. After her commissioning, Yorck served with the fleet in I Scouting Group, which she formally joined on 27 March 1906. On 2 April, she replaced the armored cruiser Friedrich Carl as the group flagship, under the command of Vizeadmiral (VAdm—Vice Admiral) Gustav Schmidt. Over the next several years, Yorck took part in the peacetime routine of training exercises with the fleet reconnaissance forces and with the entire High Seas Fleet, including major fleet exercises every autumn in late August and early September.[7]

On 29 September, Konteradmiral (KAdm—Rear Admiral) Hugo von Pohl replaced Schmidt as the group commander. After 1907’s autumn maneuvers, Yorck went into drydock for an extensive overhaul from 11 September to 28 October, during which time Friedrich Carl temporarily replaced her as the flagship. While she was out of service, Pohl was replaced by KAdm August von Heeringen, who raised his flag aboard Yorck upon her return from the shipyard. The ship went on a major cruise into the Atlantic Ocean from 7 to 28 February 1908 with the other ships of the scouting group. During the cruise, the ships conducted various tactical exercises and experimented with using their wireless telegraphy equipment at long distances. They stopped in Vigo, Spain, to replenish their coal for the voyage home. On 1 May, the new armored cruiser Scharnhorst joined I Scouting Group, replacing Yorck as the group flagship.[7]

Yorck through the Kiel Canal

Another Atlantic cruise followed in July and August; this time, the cruise was made in company with the battleship squadrons of the High Seas Fleet. Prince Heinrich had pressed for such a cruise the previous year, arguing that it would prepare the fleet for overseas operations and would break up the monotony of training in German waters, though tensions with Britain over the developing Anglo-German naval arms race were high. The fleet departed Kiel on 17 July, passed through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal to the North Sea, and continued to the Atlantic. Yorck stopped in Funchal in Madeira and A Coruña, Spain during the cruise. The fleet returned to Germany on 13 August. The autumn maneuvers followed from 27 August to 12 September. Yorck won the Kaiser’s Schießpreis (Shooting Prize) for excellent shooting among armored cruisers for the 1907–1908 training year.[8][9] During this period, Erich Raeder served as the ship’s navigation officer.[10] In October, Kapitän zur See (KzS—Captain at Sea) Arthur Tapken took command of the ship; he served as the ship’s commander until September 1909.[11]

In February 1909, I Scouting Group went on another training cruise in the Atlantic; Yorck again stopped in Vigo from 17 to 23 February. After the ships’ return to Germany, Scharnhorst was detached to the East Asia Squadron on 11 March, vacating the flagship role, which Yorck again filled. Heeringen and the command staff returned to the ship the same day. The cruisers joined the High Seas Fleet for another Atlantic cruise in July and August, and Yorck visited Vilagarcía de Arousa from 18 to 26 July. On the way back to Germany, the fleet stopped in Spithead, Britain, where it was received by the Royal Navy. By early 1910, the new armored cruiser Blücher was ready for service with the fleet, and so now-VAdm Heeringen hauled down his flag from Yorck on 25 April and transferred to the new vessel two days later. Yorck thereafter became the flagship of KAdm Reinhard Koch, the deputy commander of the group. Already on 16 May, Koch was replaced by KAdm Gustav Bachmann, who was in turn replaced by KAdm Maximilian von Spee on 15 September when Bachmann succeeded Heeringen as the group commander. Yorck won the Schießpreis for the 1909–1910 year.[9][12] KzS Ludwig von Reuter served as the ship’s commander from September 1910.[11]

SMS Yorck’s stern

While in the shipyard for maintenance on 31 March 1911, a benzene explosion in the ship’s aft-most boiler room killed one man and injured several, preventing Yorck from taking part in unit maneuvers. On 1 October, KzS and Kommodore (Commodore) Franz von Hipper replaced Spee, after which the ship joined a cruise to Norway and Sweden in November. She visited Uddevalla, Sweden from 3 to 6 November during the cruise. Yorck did not take part in the unit maneuvers conducted in February 1912. In March, Yorck and four light cruisers filled I Scouting Group’s role during fleet exercises, and during the maneuvers now-VAdm Bachmann came aboard Yorck to direct their participation. During the exercises, Hipper temporarily transferred his flag to the new battlecruiser Von der Tann, but returned thereafter until 28 August. In September, Fregattenkapitän (Frigate Captain) Max Köthner replaced Reuter as the ship’s captain, though he served in the role only briefly before departing in November. The ship suffered an accident on 2 November when one of her pinnaces accidentally detonated a naval mine, killing two men and injuring two more.[13]

Yorck was involved in another serious accident on 4 March 1913 during training exercises off Helgoland. The torpedo boat S178 attempted to pass in front of the ship but failed to clear her in time; Yorck’s bow tore a hole into S178 that flooded her engine and boiler rooms. S178 sank within a few minutes of the accident and 69 men were killed in the accident. Yorck, the battleship Oldenburg, and the torpedo boat S177 were only able to pull fifteen men from the sea. Yorck was only slightly damaged in the accident and continued with the maneuvers. KAdm Felix Funke and Bachmann alternated periods aboard Yorck, with Funke flying his flag from 7 to 14 March, followed by Bachmann from 14 March to 1 May, and finally Funke from 1 to 17 May. Yorck thereafter steamed to Kiel, where on 21 May she was decommissioned, the last armored cruiser to serve with I Scouting Group. She thereafter underwent an overhaul and was placed in reserve.[12] Most of her crew transferred to the newly completed battlecruiser Seydlitz.[14]
World War I
Yorck underway, c. 1914

Following the outbreak of World War I in July 1914, Yorck was mobilized for wartime service; she was recommissioned on 12 August. Initially assigned to IV Scouting Group, on 25 August she was transferred to III Scouting Group, under the command of KAdm Hubert von Rebeur-Paschwitz. Beginning on 20 September, she was tasked with guarding the German Bight. The ships of III Scouting Group transferred temporarily to the Baltic Sea two days later for a sortie into the central Baltic, as far north as Östergarn, from 22 to 29 September. They then returned to the North Sea and rejoined the High Seas Fleet.[15]

On 3 November, Yorck participated in the first offensive operation of the war conducted by the German fleet. I Scouting Group, by now commanded by RAdm Hipper, was to bombard Yarmouth on the British coast while the bulk of the High Seas Fleet sailed behind, providing distant support in the event that the raid provoked a British counterattack. Yorck and the rest of III Scouting Group provided the reconnaissance screen for the main fleet. Hipper’s ships inflicted little damage and minelayers laid minefields off the coast, which later sank the British submarine D5. Upon returning to Wilhelmshaven late that day, the German ships encountered heavy fog that prevented them from safely navigating the defensive minefields that had been laid outside the port. Instead, they anchored in the Schillig roadstead.[16][17]

Yorck’s commander, KzS Pieper, believed the fog to have cleared sufficiently to allow the vessel to return to port, so he ordered the ship to get underway. The pilot refused to take responsibility for maneuvering the ship owing to the great danger of trying to pass through the minefields under the foggy conditions. At 04:10, Yorck struck a mine and began to turn to exit the minefield, striking a second mine shortly thereafter. She quickly sank with heavy loss of life, though sources disagree on the number of fatalities. The naval historian V. E. Tarrant states that 127 out of a crew of 629 were rescued,[18] while Erich Gröner indicates that there were only 336 deaths.[19] The naval historians Hans Hildebrand, Albert Röhr, and Hans-Otto Steinmetz concur with Gröner on the number of fatalities and note that 381 men, including Pieper, were rescued by the coastal defense ship Hagen.[16]

For his reckless handling of the ship, Pieper was tried in a court-martial, convicted, and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for negligence, disobedience of orders, and homicide through negligence.[20] The wreck, located between Horumersiel and Hooksiel, was initially marked to allow vessels to pass safely. Beginning in 1926, the wreck was partially scrapped to reduce the navigational hazard to deeper-draft vessels. More work was done in 1936–1937 for the same reason. During a series of construction programs to expand the entrance to the Jade after World War II, the ship’s turrets were removed in 1969 and the remaining parts of the hull were demolished in 1983 to further clear the sea floor.[11]

SMS Von der Tann (1910)
Prinz Adalbert class armored cruisers (1901)

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