The Kaiserliche Marine (as the old German Imperial Navy was known) excelled in many areas of engineering, producing efficient types derived from other navies of the time. One area that Germany actually pioneered was the modern light cruiser. Protected cruisers -- unarmored hulls with a curved, internal protective deck -- had been popular since the early 1880s, but by the mid-1890s, as the pre-dreadnought battleship matured, cruiser development in Britain, France, and Russia emphasized the large armored cruiser type -- ships whose complexity rivaled a small battleship. Germany, too, built some formidable armored cruisers, but at the same time the Germans evolved a smaller, cheaper, faster instrument in the light cruiser. These economical vessels formed the backbone of Germany's empire in Africa and the Pacific. SMS Nymphe (above) of the seven-ship Gazelle class showed the way. Capable of 21 kts, the ship mounted ten 4.1" guns and two 450 mm torpedo tubes. Second of a class of seven, this ship commissioned in 1900. Later members of the class were completed through July 1901. The peculiar gunnery layout of two side-by-side shielded guns on forecastle and stern became an institution in the German cruiser fleet, a feature of all German light cruisers through 1914, its raison d'être being powerful straight-ahead/astern fire and the possibility of one mount surviving if the other were knocked out.
Specifications for the Gazelle class:
Dimensions: 328' x 39' x 17'6" Displacement: 2,650 tons standard. Hulls sheathed and Muntz metalled. Armament: (10) 4.1"/40 cal and (14) 1-pdr guns; 4 MG; and (2) 18" torpedo tubes (except Gazelle: (2) above water tubes on broadside; 1 submerged tube at bow.) Armor: 2"/1" deck; 3" conning tower; 3½" hatch coamings. Fuel capacity: 560 tons of coal maximum. Boilers: (9) Schulz-Thornycroft (except Gazelle, 8 Niclausse; Nymphe and Niobe, 5 and 4 Thornycroft, respectively.) Propulsion: 2 sets 4-cyl vertical triple expansion engines developing 8,500 hp, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 21-22 knots. Crew: 249. Completed: 1898-1901.
Ships in class: Gazelle · Nymphe · Niobe · Thetis · Ariadne · Amazone · Medusa
Dimensions: 100m x 12m x 5.24m. Displacement: 2,650 tons standard. Hulls sheathed and Muntz metalled. Armament: (10) 105 mm/40 cal. and (14) 1-pdr guns; 4 MG; and (2) 450 mm torpedo tubes (except Gazelle: (2) above water tubes on broadside; 1 submerged tube at bow.) Armor: 51/26 mm deck; 76 mm conn; 89 mm hatch coamings. Fuel capacity: 560 tons of coal maximum. Boilers: (9) Schulz-Thornycroft (except Gazelle, 8 Niclausse; Nymphe and Niobe, 5 and 4 Thornycroft, respectively.) Propulsion: 2 sets 4-cyl vertical triple expansion engines developing 6,338.5 kW, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 38.89 - 40.74 km/hr. Crew: 249. Completed: 1898-1901.
These ships were a new essay in the craft, and allowed German designers free rein to experiment with materials and processes; at left, the Amazone. The armored deck was constructed of three laminations of 0.6" (15 mm) Krupp steel. In addition, a cofferdam inside the hull was supplied, filled with cellulose to absorb water admitted by shell damage -- a common but ill-founded notion of the 1890s soon discarded when it was found to be impracticable (see cofferdam writeup for USS Olympia). The boiler arrangements were also somewhat experimental, the ships being built at four different yards. The Nymphe proved the fastest of the seven ships, clocking 22.3 kts on trials; but only the name ship failed to achieve the design speed of 21 kts on trials. The Schulz-Thornycroft boiler proved the hands-down winner for performance, efficiency, and ease of maintenance and was adopted for all the pre-WWI light cruiser clases going forward. Coal consumption in these ships was approximately 8¼ tons per hour at full power (21.5 kts).
Despite their richly mythologic names, cruisers of this type were utility vessels; their duties might be anything from intimidating rebellious natives in Germany's new colonies in Africa or the Pacific, to scouting for the High Seas battle fleet. The Gazelles featured two spindly stacks and an enormous plough ram. They formed the basis for evolution of later and larger cruiser classes through 1911; but members of the Gazelle class were still in service during WWI. Frauenlob (below), name ship of a class of 3 improved Gazelles completed 1902, had a glorious turn in the Battle of Heligoland Bight, only to be sunk outright during the night action following the Battle of Jutland.
SMS Frauenlob was in the thick of the fighting at the Battle of Heligoland Bight, Aug. 28, 1914, when she engaged Commodore Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt's flagship, the brand-new cruiser Arethusa, and practically disabled the British ship with dead-on fire in a furious engagement that left both ships ravaged. Repaired, the proud German cruiser rejoined the High Seas Fleet. Her luck ran out on the night of May 31, 1916, after the main action of the Battle of Jutland. Frauenlob was discovered while covering the escape of the German dreadnoughts through the rear of the British Grand Fleet around 10:15 p.m. At point-blank range, a 21" torpedo was fired from the Town class cruiser HMS Southampton. Traveling at 41 knots, it ripped the German ship in two, sinking her instantly with the loss of 320 men.
The gunboat Panther (above) played a leading role in the Agadir Crisis of 1911, when Germany attempted to force France to concede territory in French-controlled Morocco. Built in 1901, the 977-ton Panther was 211' long and mounted two 4.1"/40 guns, but her name entered the common speech with her exploit, labeled "The Panther's Leap" (Panthersprung in German). When a more imposing warship was called for, the light cruiser Berlin (below) anchored next to Panther and continued the game of diplomatic chicken. After the audacious first thrust, reality set in; France, backed by Britain, refused to give up her primacy in Morocco. In the end a desolate slice of land bordering Cameroon was ceded to Germany, more as a sop to German pride after a losing gambit than out of fear. Germany's State Secretary Alfred von Kiderlen had postured and issued dire threats and ultimately made himself ridiculous; his career did not survive the fiasco. Kiderlen's long-time heavy drinking caught up with him after this disgrace, costing him health, career, and life itself.
SMS Berlin of the Bremen class was quite new at the time of the Agadir crisis. The evolution of the light cruiser type was toward more speed, meaning more funnels, larger hulls, and smaller rams over time. One senses the greater confidence of the German shipbuilders in this class of eight, completed between 1904 and 1907. Sister ship Lübeck was the first German light cruiser to receive turbines, and proved the fastest of the class at over 24 kts (45 km/hr). With the Bremen hull shape the German designers hit a "sweet spot" of speed and performance. They displaced 3,250 tons and their engines developed 11,000 hp (11,580 for the Lübeck) with a tactical radius of 5,000nm at 12 kts, or 9,260 km @ 22.2 km/hr. Successive German light cruiser classes were modeled closely on the Bremens through 1910. Schematic
The lead ship is seen above in a 1914 photo by Walther Dobbertin in the Rufiji River delta where she met her fate. Named for the Baltic seaport and East Prussian capital (now Kaliningrad), she was stationed at Dar-es-Salaam, German East Africa in 1913-14.
When war broke out in Europe and immediately turned herself to commerce raiding, capturing one British freighter. On Sept. 20, 1914 she surprised HMS Pegasus, a 2,200-ton third-class cruiser launched in 1897, at anchor in Zanzibar Harbour. While the two were roughly equal on paper, the British ship was incapacitated with engine trouble and was no match for the Germans' brilliant gunnery. Pegasus struck her colours with 38 killed and 55 wounded (left); a British hospital ship rendered immediate assistance. Pegasus went to the bottom later that day.
But the Königsberg took some battle damage. She urgently needed engine repairs. Being possessed of a recent map of the mouths of the Rufiji, her skipper, Kommandant Max Looff, eased the ship upriver where the engine was dismantled and parts shipped overland by camel the 100 miles to Dar-es-Salaam for repairs. While this operation and the subsequent return of the repaired parts represented a logistical triumph, the process was time-consuming. By the time the ship was ready to steam again, British forces were blockading the river mouth and blindly bombarding the interior channels from HMS Albion. This was one time the British could have used an observation balloon to see beyond the treetops, but they had none. With his better knowledge of the geography, Looff played cat-and-mouse with the British units, scoring some telling hits on the his tormentors with his 4.1" guns elevated to extreme range. But eventually, after several months, shallow draft monitors carrying 6" guns arrived and fixed-wing aircraft commenced reconnaissance and spotting flights, using a makeshift strip on one of the delta islands. The German cruiser was trapped and severely damaged on July 11, 1915. In a hopeless situation, Looff and LTC Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, the colonial C-in-C, opted to scuttle the ship. Splattered with machine-gun bullets and shrapnel fragments, missing one funnel and pockmarked with shell holes, Königsberg was beached in the river. Her ten guns were removed and mounted on improvised carriages to assist in the defense of German East -- which continued right through Nov. 23, 1918, despite the Germans' being vastly outnumbered. The claims of the gunboat Königin Luise notwithstanding, her 6-pounder was not the biggest gun in East Africa. The Battle of Zanzibar may have been re-fought by proxy, since the British salvaged six of the Pegasus' 4" guns and used them also in the land campaign.
SMS Nürnberg was a Königsberg class cruiser, completed in 1908. You can see she was virtually identical to the Berlin except in the placement of the mast and uneven spacing of the funnels. The funnel position resulted from one of the members of her class being outfitted with turbine engines (Stettin). In the Battle of the Falklands, Nürnburg was hunted down and sunk by the armored cruiser HMS Kent, December 8, 1914.
Specifications for the Nürnberg:
Dimensions: 378'4" OA x 43'4" x 17'3" Displacement: 3,390 tons standard; 3,990 tons deep laden. Armament: (10) 4.1"/40 cal. and (8) 2"/55 cal. guns; (2) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: 2.5"/0.75" deck; 4" conning tower; 2" gun shields. Fuel capacity: 400 tons of coal normal; 850 tons maximum. Propulsion: 11 coal-fired Shulz-Thornycroft boilers; (2) 4-cyl vertical triple expansion engines developing 13,200 ihp, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 23.4 knots. Crew: 322.
Ships in class: Königsberg · Nürnberg · Stuttgart · Stettin
Dimensions: 115.3m OA x 13.2m x 5.24m. Displacement: 3,390 tons standard; 3,990 tons deep laden. Armament: (10) 105mm/40 cal. and (8) 51 mm/55 cal. guns; (2) 45 cm torpedo tubes. Armor: 63.5/12.7 mm deck; 51 mm gun shields. Fuel capacity: 400 tons of coal normal; 850 tons maximum. Propulsion: 11 coal-fired Shulz-Thornycroft boilers; (2) 4-cyl vertical triple expansion engines developing 9,843 kW, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 43.34 km/hr. Crew: 322.
It is easy to see why Emden was known as the "Swan of the East." In the beginning, the Dresden class cruiser was called Ersatz Pfiel ("Replacement for the Arrow") as she gradually took shape at the Danzig yard; she was one of many projects for which the Reich Navy League was seeking patronage. Then the proud and patriotic seaport on the Ems came to the rescue. Citizens subscribed some 6.8 million gold marks to hasten the cruiser's completion (equivalent to £319,000 in 1909 currency), and received "naming rights" in return. Her design made cautious, incremental improvements to the Königsberg class design. The last piston-engined cruiser built for the German navy, she was sister to SMS Dresden, which had turbine engines; had one more boiler than the Nürnburg, and could obtain 25.1 kts. Both vessels were developed for colonial service and were posted to Qingdao, China -- the East Asia Squadron under Count Maximilian von Spee. Dresden had a rather lackluster record with the Squadron, but Emden became one of the most famous and successful commerce raiders of all time. Curious readers will find all the stats and specs on these ships at worldwar1.co.uk -- and all the pictures here!
A colourised photo of SMS Strassburg, one of a new and more powerful class of German light cruisers premiered in 1912: the 4-ship Magdeburg class. The Magdeburgs pulled their hull model about 75 feet longer, filling much of the additional length with additional boilers to drive their turbine engines. Schematic Unfortunately, in arming the ships the Admiralty was unimaginative, choosing merely an additional pair of 4.1" guns and no larger sizes. The British had already begun arming their light cruisers (Town class onwards) with 6" quick-firing guns to which the Magdeburgs were unequal. Magdeburg and her sisters did have a bow-to-stern 2.5" (64 mm) waterline armor belt, a protective deck of the same weight, and some capability to burn oil. The bows were tall and authoritative, with a clipper stem, abandoning the ram that had been so prominent a part of German cruiser identity. Though these were great-looking ships, they were little loved by their crews. The engine rooms were non-ergonomic and cramped and the ships tended to vibrate hideously at speed. The name ship unintentionally caused grave harm to the German cause: in the first days of hostilities, she ran hard aground in the Baltic in dense fog. During a hasty evacuation before Russian warships turned up, two copies of the Germans' secret naval cipher were somehow overlooked. A clean copy made its way to the Admiralty in London, where it became the conerstone of a very successful codebreaking operation in Room 40 of the eighteenth-century Ripley Building, overseen by Sir Alfred Ewing. From Dec. 1914 on, whenever the loquacious Germans (seduced by the excellent quality of their transmitters) planned an attack, their chit-chat was read by the British -- and a British force was usually waiting to intercept.
Specifications for the Magdeburg class:
Dimensions: 455' OA x 41' x 14' Displacement: 3,900 tons standard; 4,550 tons deep laden. Armament: (12) 4.1"/40 cal. guns, (2) 19.7" torpedo tubes . Armor: 2.5" deck; 3"/2.5" belt. Fuel: 750 tons of coal, 130 tons No. 2 bunker oil; maximum 1,200 tons coal. Propulsion: 20 Schulz-Thornycroft boilers (16 coal-fired, 4 oil-fired); 4 shaft AEG-Vulkan (Curtis type) turbines developing 25,000 shp. Speed: 27.5 knots. Range: 5,820nm @ 12 kts. Crew: 355.
Ships in class: Magdeburg · Straßburg · Stralsund · Breslau
Dimensions: 123.4m OA x 12.5m x 4.3m. Displacement: 3,900 tons standard; 4,550 tons deep laden. Armament: (12) 105 mm/40 cal. guns, (2) 501 mm torpedo tubes. Armor: 63.5 mm deck; 76.2/63.5 mm belt. Fuel: 750 tons of coal, 130 tons No. 2 bunker oil; maximum 1200 tons coal. Propulsion: 20 Schulz-Thornycroft boilers (16 coal-fired, 4 oil-fired); 4 shaft AEG-Vulkan (Curtis type) turbines developing 18,643 kW. Speed: 51 km/hr. Range: 10.779 km @ 22.2 km/hr. Crew: 355.
NOTE: No two ships in this class had the same power plant. Magdeburg and Stralsund had 3-shaft Bergmann turbines, while the Straßburg was twin screw driven by Parsons type turbines. However, all could make at least 27 kts.
SMS Breslau before the War, one of the Magdeburg class laid down in 1911. The ship's armor belt can be plainly seen along the waterline. It was so narrow it was patrially or completely submerged when the ship was fully loaded. Breslau was the companion to the battlecruiser Goeben (below) on her epic journey to the East. Caught in the Mediterranean as the War began, the two shook off British pursuit and, under the wily leadership of R. Adm. Wilhelm Souchon, transited the Straits to Constantinople. Once there, they offered themselves for Turkish service if only Turkey would join the War on Germany's side. This was an "offer they couldn't refuse," since Goeben's 11" guns could easily train on the Sublime Porte or any other site in the Turkish capital.
These two ships thus changed history in a way few others could or did. In Turkish service, Breslau, now known as Midilli, operated with Sultan Yavuz Selim (as Goeben was renamed), as virtually the only modern units in the Turkish fleet. Adm. Souchon became C-in-C of the Turkish fleet, and both ships were operated by their original German crews wearing fezzes; the shipboard day of worship was changed to Friday, but the Lutheran and Catholic liturgy remained unchanged! On October 29, 1914 the two ex-Germans, together with units of the Turkish navy under Souchon's command, bombarded Russian cities in the Black Sea to get Turkey embroiled in the War: the admiral wrote his wife, "I have thrown the Turks into the powder keg and kindled war betwen Russia and Turkey." Later that year, the two ex-German ships encountered stiff resistance from 5 Russian pre-dreadnoughts at once and had to run from their deadly fire; they engaged in two long-range artillery duels with the Russian dreadnought Imperatritsa Yekaterina in 1917 -- the Goeben's only bouts with another dreadnought in a long career. Breslau was nicknamed Plaemyannik (the nephew) by the Russian gunners.
Late in January 1918, the two vessels stood down the Bosporus to attack the British base on the island of Imbros, just off Gallipoli. They did not find the British battleships at Imbros, but they did find and sink two monitors used for offshore bombardment. Allied destroyers and aircraft launched a blistering counterattack, and in retreat the Germans stumbled into a minefield. Breslau eventually sank on Jan. 20, 1918 after hitting no fewer than five mines and losing 330 crewmen. Also damaged by mines, Yavuz beached herself inside the Dardanelles. In repeated bombing runs by Imbros-based aircraft, the British failed to hit the ship as she lay bows-up on a sandbar, undergoing emergency repairs. After a several days' ordeal, Yavuz limped back to Constantinople and was refitted, continuing in Turkish service until 1965. At the end of her long career, she was offered to Germany for use as a naval museum but tragically, the offer was rejected. The old ship was finally cut up commencing in 1973 -- the second longest-lived of all WWI dreadnoughts. Fun fact: future Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz served as an ensign aboard the Breslau from 1913-1916 before volunteering for the submarine service. Click for a detailed history of the Midilli's adventures, and here for a biogrpahy of Dönitz.
Quarter view of the Midilli, ex-Breslau.
Other members of the class survived the War. A veteran of the Battle of Jutland, Straßburg was taken over by Italy as reparations, becoming the RN Taranto. Although twice modernized, the ship was obsolete when war broke out again in 1939. After fighting for Italy for three years around Corfu and Albania, she was eventually scuttled to avoid capture. The remaining sister, Stralsund, a veteran of Dogger Bank, was ceded to France as reparations under the Versailles Treaty. She sailed under the Tricolor for more than a decade, to be sold for scrap just as Hitler was seizing power in Germany.
A very slight improvement on the preceding Magdeburg class, the two Karlsrühe class cruisers were 16 feet longer and about 450 tons larger than the Magdeburgs. From the first, Karlsrühe acted primarily as a commerce raider, capturing or sinking a total of 17 ships before suffering a fatal accidental explosion in November 1914. She sank off Barbados after her bows were blown off in what was described as an ammunition handling accident; her crew was picked up by German tenders thoughtfully stationed in the West Indies to supply her.
As one of the newest cruisers available when war commenced, Rostock was present at many of the North Sea actions: the raids on Yarmouth, Scarborough, and Whitby; the Battle of Dogger Bank; and the big blow-up at Jutland. The Rostock was sunk at the Battle of Jutland. As the High Seas Fleet edged through the rear of the British formation in the small hours of June 1, 1916, she was torpedoed by HMS Achates and gradually sank, part of the detritus of war bobbing on the surface and, all too soon, littering the sandy sea bed.
Specifications for the Karlsrühe class:
Dimensions: 466'6" x 44'11" x 19' Displacement: 4,900 tons standard; 6,191 deep laden. Armament: (12) 4.1"/45 cal guns; 4 MG; and (2) 19.7" torpedo tubes. Armor: 2½"/½" belt; 2½"/1" deck. Later in WWI, modified to carry 121 mines; five 4.1" guns removed; (2) 88 mm AA added. Propulsion: Coal-fired boilers; (2) Navy turbines developing 26,000 shp, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 27.8 knots. Crew: 385. Completed: 1914-15.
Ships in class: Karslrühe · Rostock
Dimensions: 142.2m x 13.7m x 5.8m Displacement: 4,900 tons standard; 6,191 deep laden. Armament: (12) 105 mm/45 cal guns; 4 MG; and (2) 50 cm torpedo tubes. Armor: 64/13 mm belt; 64/25 mm deck. Later in WWI, modified to carry 121 mines; five 105 mm guns removed; (2) 88 mm AA added. Propulsion: Coal-fired boilers; (2) Navy turbines developing 19,388 kW, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 50.9 km/hr. Crew: 385. Completed: 1914-15.
Building on the nearly identical Magdeburg and Karlsrühe classes, the Graudenzes were the last light cruisers completed during the Great War, and so were utilized in nearly all the actions of the High Seas Fleet. Graudenz fought at Dogger Bank in Adm. Hipper's cruiser screen. Regensburg fought at Jutland, coming home unscathed. The same size as their predecessors, Graudenz and her sister adopted a three-funnel configuration rather than four, providing immediate visual distinction.
During 1915 both ships were outfitted for minelaying, with a hold containing up to 121 contact mines and a transom stern with a window for deploying them. After the Armistice, many of the the remaining ships were allocated to the Allies as reparations. The Regensburg became the French Strasbourg all through the Roaring Twenties and the Depression years. She then had the novel experience of being recaptured by the Germans in Brest, 1940, and was scrapped four years afterwards. The Graudenz went to the Italians. After sixteen years serving il Duce's navy as the Ancona, she was decommissioned in 1937 and scrapped the following year.
Specifications for the Graudenz class:
Dimensions: 466'6" x 44'11" x 19' Displacement: 4,900 tons standard; 6,191 deep laden. Armament: (12) 4.1"/45 cal guns; 4 MG; and (2) 19.7" torpedo tubes. Armor: 2½"/½" belt; 2½"/1" deck. Later in WWI, modified to carry 121 mines; five 4.1" guns removed; (2) 88 mm AA added. Propulsion: Coal-fired boilers; (2) Navy turbines developing 26,000 shp, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 27.5 knots. Crew: 385. Completed: 1914.
Ships in class: Graudenz · Regensburg
Dimensions: 142.2m x 13.7m x 5.8m Displacement: 4,900 tons standard; 6,191 deep laden. Armament: (12) 105 mm/45 cal guns; 4 MG; and (2) 50 cm torpedo tubes. Armor: 64/13 mm belt; 64/25 mm deck. Later in WWI, modified to carry 121 mines; five 105 mm guns removed; (2) 88 mm AA added. Propulsion: Coal-fired boilers; (2) Navy turbines developing 19,388 kW, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 50.9 km/hr. Crew: 385. Completed: 1914.
The Gazelle class cruiser Ariadne was sunk at the Battle of the Bight, Aug. 28, 1914. Emerging from a fog bank suicidally close to Adm. David Beatty's battlecruiser squadron, she attempted to make off zigzag fashion and hide in the mist; but her luck had run out. Beatty ordered his gunnery control to sink the target "before she could torpedo us." Three 13.5" salvos from HMS Lion and Princess Royal set the cruiser afire and disabled her; she staggered from the fray. Her crew escaped from the flames and stood on the forecastle, singing "Deutschland Über Alles" as they awaited rescue; SMS Danzig put out to assist them. Ariadne's skipper had hopes of saving the ship, but she capsized and sank with her ensign still flying.