SMS Hela (1895)

The Kaiserliche Marine’s last Aviso

SMS Hela was surely the oldest active German cruiser in service when the war broke out in August 1914.
The SMS Hela was originally classified as “aviso”. In reality, by her tonnage and speed, she was comparable to a light cruiser and was named as such afterwards. Started in Weser (Bremen) in 1893 on the basis of the enlarged Jagd class (1887), she was also more powerful and fast, armored (25 mm deck) but lightly armed, retaining, however, their general appearance.
From the start of her service, she was considered very seaworthy and served overseas, frequently escorting the imperial yacht Hohenzollern. She actively took part in the 1900 boxer war in China and exercises with the Hochseeflotte. She was assigned as a training ship specialized in the training of light artillery gunners.

However during her career she had recurring boilers issues. Between 1903 and 1906 she was overhauled and modernized. In 1910, she sported new boilers and two funnels, new superstructures, and two less 88 mm guns. She suffered a collision with torpedo boat S121, and in 1914 was assigned to the IV group of scouts. She was torpedoed in by HMS E9 en route between Wilhelmshaven and Helgoland on 13 September 1914 and sank slowly (25 minutes) allowing all her crew to orderly evacuate.


The project was developed from armored avisos of the “Jagd” type. Foreign analogues of German avisos were minelayer cruisers or scouts. These ships were intended for reconnaissance and messenger service for squadrons. “Hela” stood out among the German cruisers of that time with a ram of considerable size, which was not typical for German shipbuilding. Despite her modest displacement, the cruiser’s seaworthiness was considered very good.


Hela had 2 triple expansion steam engines, which were powered by steam from six locomotive-type boilers. During the modernization, the boilers were replaced with eight new ones, and the appearance of the ship changed. The cruiser’s maximum speed during testing was 20.5 knots. The cruising range was 3,000 miles at 12 knots. Coal reserves were increased from 370 to 412 tons.


The cruiser’s armor turned out to be very weak. The armor deck had a thickness of 20 mm in the flat part, thickening at the bevels to 25 mm. The conning tower also had light armor protection.


The main caliber was limited to two 88-mm SK L/30 guns for and aft of the forecastle and poop. They fired 7 kg HE shells up to 6900 m, with an initial velocity of 590 m/s. The rate of fire, in favorable conditions, was up to 15 rounds per minute. The auxiliary caliber consisted of six 50 mm SK L/40 guns on the broadside. They fired 1.75 kg shells at a range of up to 6,200 m. Rate of fire was 10 rounds per minute, they were even slower than the main guns. She also had three fixed torpedo tubes, 450 mm (18 in): One forward, two on the broadside.

Career of SMS Hela

Hela was laid down in 1893 at Weser shipyard, Bremen, launched on March 28, 1895, commissioned on May 3, 1896. In 1900-1901 she acted off the coast of China, helping to suppress the Yihetuan uprising. In 1903-1906, she underwent repairs and modernization at the naval shipyard in Danzig. From 1910 it was used as a tender, then became a blockship. With the outbreak of the First World War, she was used as a patrol ship. She was sunk by torpedoes from British submarine E-9 on September 13, 1914, off the island of Heligoland, however, thanks to timely rescue efforts, almost the entire crew was picked up by German ships that arrived in time. Losses were only two.

Hela in Kingstown, 1900

hela 1910
Hela post-reconstructionn passing Grönningen, off Kristiansand

Despite some merits, Hela in operations showed the concept of aviso was less than ideal, even on her role. Underarmed, lightly protected, too slow, she was unable to conduct reconnaissance for the fleet or act as messenger (aviso). No other ship of that kind was ever built again.


Displacement: 2082 t – 2200 t FL
Dimensions: 104.6 x 11 x 4.6 m
Propulsion: 2 shaft TE steam engine fed by 4 standard boilers, 6,000 shp. 20 knots.
Protection: 25 mm (2.1 in) armoured deck
Crew: 195
Armament: 2x 88, 6x 50 mm, 3x 450 mm TTs.

Illustration of the Hela in 1914 awaited

Read More

Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1860—1905. — London: Conway Maritime Press, 1980.
Friedman N. Naval weapons of World War One. — Yorkshire: Seaforth Publishing, 2011. — 763 p.
Gröner, Erich. Die deutschen Kriegsschiffe 1815—1945. Kreuzer. Bernard & Graefe Verlag, 1982 SMS_Hela
Kaiserliches Marine

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