German dreadnought battleship Friedrich der Grosse, completed 1912, was Germany's first dreadnought equipped with 12-in guns, and served as Reinhard Scheer's flagship at the Battle of Jutland. She mounted ten 12" guns in twin turrets, in a layout similar to the German battlecruisers: One turret forward, wing turrets on the beams, and a pair of superfiring turrets aft. The most modern German battleships at the Battle of Jutland were the König class -- the "Four Kings" -- which carried the same artillery in an all-centerline configuration and performed admirably in the battle.
After Jutland the history of the High Seas Fleet was less than inspiring, as all capital ships were confined to port by the Kaiser's edict. Discontent simmered aboard the idle ships; the more adventurous crewmen transferred into submarines to be "where the action was." Enduring forced idleness and increasingly poor food (like the rest of Germany), the fleet turned into a cauldron of revolution, unbeknownst to the officer class; as in Russia the year before, radical sailors spearheaded the revolution that brought the Kaiser down in November 1918. Brought to the British base at Scapa Flow as hostages to the eventual peace treaty, the core of the High Seas Fleet (including the entire 4-ship König class) were interned indefinitely. On the command of Adm. Reuter, all four ended up scuttled by their own crews (below), among the 52 German warships defiantly sunk in the cold waters of Scapa Flow, June 21, 1919.
12 x 11"
Helgoland, Ostfriesland, Thüringen, Oldenburg
12 x 12"/50
Kaiser, Friedrich der Grosse, Kaiserin, König Albert, Prinzregent Luitpold
10 x 12"/50
Mostly scrapped, 1920s.
König, Grosser Kurfürst, Markgraf, Krönprinz Wilhelm
10 x 12"/50
All scuttled at
8 x 15"/45
8 x 11"/45
10 x 11"/50
10 x 11"/50
8 x 12"/50
Lützow damaged &
8 x 12"/50
Total Cost of Dreadnought Arms Race, German Side:
1.1 billion GM
Helped to cause war.
Germany's entrance into the dreadnought race was unexpected. Her Nassau class was already building when the British prototype made its thunderclap debut. Construction was stopped for more than a year while the design was reworked and new mountings ordered. The Nassaus and the following Heligoland class of German dreadnought were shackled to the inefficient "hex" gun layout because they were powered by reciprocating engines. They needed the additional space below decks for the three big piston engines to drive their three screws. Germany's industrial capacity was equal to supplying large turbines in the number desired by 1911; the Kaiser class came out entirely turbine powered. An interesting note on the engineering of later German dreadnoughts was the development of a diesel cruising engine. Originally the Prinzregent Luitpold was designed with steam turbines driving the wing screws and a diesel on the center screw. However, delays in the development of the diesel meant the ship operated through her entire service life as a twin-screw vessel, with a top speed of 20 kts (her sisters, each with three engines, could make 22). The later König class were originally supposed to have a center diesel cruising engine and two turbines as well, but the new diesel could not be perfected in time for the "Four Kings" either. As completed, all the Königs were driven by direct-acting steam turbines on all three shafts. Germany's most advanced battleships of the war, the Baden class, had all geared turbines, a forward-looking technical feature that compensated for the inefficiency of turbines at low revs. However, the Badens remained coal-fired ships, whereas the competing Queen Elizabeths and "R" class ships in the Royal Navy used oil fuel.
For a detailed analysis of how German expenditure on dreadnoughts compared to that in England, consult our article on the cost of the pre-WWI arms race.
Sources & Suggestions
For complete statistics on the ships, with no pictures, consult World Battleships List.
Sources for financial data: Brassey's Annual, 1882-1920; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1906 and 1914 eds.; Web article by Barry Slemmings (Warspite), How Much Did a Warship Cost?, and statistics quoted on worldwar1.co.uk Costs quoted are for an entire class. For average cost per ship, divide gross amount by the number of ships in the class. In actuality costs varied significantly from ship to ship even within a class; our numbers are sums of the actual numbers where available. GM indicates gold mark (Imperial German currency). All costs are quoted at 1914 valuation. Of course, the cost of new capital ships was not the entire cost of the naval arms race; but especially as the dreadnought competition hotted up, they were a driver of increased spending across the board. Watch this site for further analyses on the costs of cruisers and auxiliary vessels as our boys with the green eye-shades and slide rules crunch the numbers for BBB's top command.
Battlecruiser SMS Hindenburg, completed 1917, was the most advanced of the German battlecruisers -- still armed with eight 12" guns. The German battlecruisers, with 12-13" belt and turret armor, proved much more robust under fire than their British counterparts, able to survive a dozen or more large-calibre hits and remain afloat. Despite their heavier armor, they could still produce 26 kts, about 2 kts slower than the British battlecruisers. All German dreadnoughts received improved anti-flash protection after the 1915 Battle of Dogger Bank, when they nearly lost the Seydlitz to explosive gases bursting (flashing) down the barbette after a hit on the turret, threatening the magazines. Though she never saw action, Hindenburg became one of the vessels defiantly scuttled at Scapa after the Armistice.
A sister ship Mackensen was launched in 1917 but never completed.
Almost as impressive as the dreadnought fleet conjured up by Admiral von Tirpitz and the Kaiser was the infrastructure constructed to support it. In 1854 the Duke of Oldenburg agreed to lease a vast acreage on the Jade Bay, near the border with the Netherlands, to Prince Adalbert, "navy nut" cousin of King Wilhelm of Prussia. By the time Wilhelm became the first Kaiser of the new German Empire in 1871, Adalbert had fortified and built up the position into a flourishing naval base, its waters stocked with half a dozen ironclads -- the latest of them, the British-built König Wilhlem, a powerful, oceangoing armored ship. In addition, there were a number of sailing warships and ironclad gunboats. Gradually the original marshy site was improved by driving pilings into he banks, and the aproaches to the base on the coast and Jade Bay were heavily fortified. Cupola-mounted guns up to 9.4" commanded the bay from both sides where it narrowed to receive the Jade River.
Above is an aerial view of Wilhelmshaven near the end of the First World War. A system of locks (three sets, including one double set for the largest ships) kept the water level constant inside the base no matter what the state of the tide; a pair of dredgers worked full time to keep the channel into Jade Bay from silting up. At Wilhelmshaven's heart was a man-made deep-water port, nearly equal to British facilities in capacity, and more modern. A sizable town lay all around the sprawling base. This 1910 map will give you an idea of the layout. Giving a sense of scale to the aerial view, a 700-foot Baden class battleship, gleaming white in the sunshine, is visible docked at the 8:00 position in the central basin. Never touched in either world war, the complex is still in use, in modernized form, as Germany's principal naval base on the North Sea.
In addition to Wilhelmshaven, the German Navy maintained a Baltic base at Kiel and a small East Prussian base and shipyard at Danzig (present-day Gdánsk, Poland). Communication between the Baltic and North Sea was maintained by means of the Kiel Canal, completed in 1895 and widened just before WWI to accommodate the Kaiser's gigantic new dreadnoughts.
A view of flat Wilhelmshaven from the harbor, featuring one of the new Nassau class dreadnoughts at right. Watercolor by Willy Stöwer for a calendar of German seaports, 1910.
Relevant Web Resources
- The Imperial German Navy, 1868-1919: BBB's Photo History
- The Adventurous Career of the Battlecruiser Goeben - Turkish Flagship 1914-1950
- Our Listing of British Dreadnought Battleships
- Our List of British Battlecruisers
- On the Cost of the Arms Race
- Meticulous Analysis of German Naval Spending, 1891-1916
- Rigorous Analysis of British Naval Spending, 1891-1916
- Official Hochseeflotte (High Seas Fleet) Website - Invaluable Source of Plans, Photos, Stats
- WWI: The Maritime War - the Great War website's article, by Bill Schleihauf
- The Dreadnought Project - Plans, Weapons, Valuable Lore
- Haze Gray's World Battleships List
- Battleships Class by Class with Plans: World War 1.co.uk
- Surrender of the High Seas Fleet, 11/21/1918
- Scuttling of the High Seas Fleet, 6/21/1919
- The Scapa Flow Wrecks Today
- The Jutland Wrecks Today
- Big Bad Battleships Site Nav
- Top of Page