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.

overview

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.

Armament

-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.

Links/Sources

overview

Books

Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921.
Historical Dictionary of Naval Intelligence By Nigel West
Bennett, Geoffrey (2005). Naval Battles of the First World War. Barnsley: Pen & Sword
Brooks, John (2005). Dreadnought Gunnery and the Battle of Jutland. London
Butler, Daniel Allen (2006). Distant Victory. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Dodson, Aidan (2016). The Kaiser’s Battlefleet: German Capital Ships 1871–1918. Seaforth Publishing.
Goldrick, James (1984). The King’s Ships Were at Sea: The War in the North Sea August 1914 – February 1915.
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.
Hawkins, Nigel (2002). Starvation Blockade: The Naval Blockades of WWI.
Herwig, Holger (1998) [1980]. “Luxury” Fleet: The Imperial German Navy 1888–1918.
Hildebrand, Hans H.; Röhr, Albert & Steinmetz, Hans-Otto (1993). Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe: Biographien: ein Spiegel der Marinegeschichte von 1815 bis zur Gegenwart (Band 8)
Massie, Robert K. (2003). Castles of Steel. New York City: Ballantine Books
Philbin, Tobias R. III (1982). Admiral von Hipper: The Inconvenient Hero
Reuter, Ludwig von (1921). Scapa Flow: Das Grab Der Deutschen Flotte
Scheer, Reinhard (1920). Germany’s High Seas Fleet in the World War. Cassell and Co
Staff, Gary (2006). German Battlecruisers: 1914–1918. Oxford: Osprey Books.
Tarrant, V. E. (2001) [1995]. Jutland: The German Perspective.
Thomas, Lowell (1928). Raiders of the Deep.
Tucker, Spencer E. (2005). The Encyclopedia of World War I.
Van der Vat, Dan (1986). The Grand Scuttle. Worcester
Weir, Gary E. (1992). Building the Kaiser’s Navy. Annapolis
Breyer, Siegfried (1997). Die Kaiserliche Marine und ihre Großen Kreuzer
Campbell, N. J. M. (1978). Battle Cruisers. Warship Special. 1.
Dodson, Aidan; Cant, Serena (2020). Spoils of War: The Fate of Enemy Fleets after the Two World Wars.
Staff, Gary (2014). German Battlecruisers of World War One: Their Design, Construction and Operations.

Links

https://www.fr.naval-encyclopedia.com/1ere-guerre-mondiale/Kaiserliche-Marine.php#crois
https://www.deutsche-schutzgebiete.de/kaiserliche-marine.htm
http://www.navweaps.com/Weapons/WNGER_11-45_skc07.php
https://www.sms-navy.com/

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.


Postcard

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.

SMS Seydlitz (1912)
Roon class armored cruisers (1904)

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