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SMS Arminius

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SMS Arminius
Norddeutsches Panzerschiff SMS ARMINIUS im Gefecht mit französischen Panzerschiffen vor der Wesermündung 24. August 1870 Illustrirte Zeitung vom Februar 1871.jpg
Illustration of SMS Arminius engaging French warships during the Franco-Prussian War
Class overview
Operators:  Kaiserliche Marine
Preceded by: None
Succeeded by: Prinz Adalbert
Built: 1863–1865
In commission: 1865–1875
Completed: 1
Scrapped: 1
German Empire
Name: SMS Arminius
Namesake: Arminius
Builder: Samuda Brothers, Cubitt Town, London
Laid down: 1863
Launched: 20 August 1864
Commissioned: 22 April 1865
Decommissioned: 1875
Struck: 2 March 1901
Fate: Scrapped, 1902
General characteristics
Type: Turret ironclad
Displacement: 1,829 t (1,800 long tons)
Length: 63.21 m (207 ft 5 in)
Beam: 10.90 m (35 ft 9 in)
Draft: 7.60 m (24 ft 11 in)
Installed power: 10,000 ihp (7,500 kW)
Sail plan: Schooner-rigged
Speed: 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Range: 2,000 nmi (3,700 km; 2,300 mi) at 8 kn (15 km/h; 9.2 mph)
  • 10 officers
  • 122 enlisted men
Armament: 4 × 21 cm (8.3 in) Krupp guns

SMS Arminius[a] was an ironclad warship of the Prussian Navy, later the Imperial German Navy. The ship was designed by the British Royal Navy Captain Cowper Coles and built by the Samuda Brothers shipyard in Cubitt Town, London as a speculative effort; Prussia purchased the ship during the Second Schleswig War against Denmark, though the vessel was not delivered until after the war. The ship was armed with four 21 cm (8.3 in) guns in a pair of revolving gun turrets amidships. She was named for Arminius, the victor of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.

Arminius served as a coastal defense ship for the first six years of her service with the Prussian Navy. She saw extensive service in the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars during the process of German unification. The vessel was the primary challenge to the French blockade of German ports during the latter conflict. After the wars, Arminius was withdrawn from front-line service and used in a variety of secondary roles, including as a training ship for engine-room crews and as a tender for the school ship Blücher. The ship was eventually sold in 1901 and broken up for scrap the following year.


General characteristics and machinery[edit]

The warship that came to be SMS Arminius was designed by Captain Cowper Coles,[1] a British Royal Navy officer and advocate of turret-armed ironclad warships.[2] Arminius was nearly identical to the Danish ironclad Rolf Krake, also designed by Captain Coles.[3] The vessel was constructed with transverse frames and constructed with an iron hull, which contained eight watertight compartments. The ship was 61.60 meters (202 ft 1 in) long at the waterline and 63.21 m (207 ft 5 in) long overall. The ship had a beam of 10.90 m (35 ft 9 in) and a draft of 4.32 m (14 ft 2 in) forward and 4.55 m (14 ft 11 in) aft. She was designed to displace 1,653 metric tons (1,627 long tons) but at combat load, Arminius displaced up to 1,829 t (1,800 long tons).[1]

The ship's crew consisted of ten officers and 122 enlisted men. She carried a number of smaller boats, including two pinnaces, two cutters, and one dinghy.[3] Arminius was not a particularly successful design; she suffered from severe, fast rolling, especially in heavier seas. She also shipped a great deal of water over the bow and was unbalanced in steering. The ship turned rapidly to starboard but was sluggish in turning to port. Indeed, the ship was required to have the rudder at 15 degrees to port in order to remain on a straight course. It was also impossible to control the ship with only sail power.[3]

The ship was powered by a single two-cylinder single expansion engine built by J. Penn & Sons, Greenwich. The engine drove a single two-bladed screw that was 3.96 m (13 ft 0 in) in diameter. Four transverse trunk boilers, each of which had four fireboxes apiece, supplied steam to the engine. The boilers were also built by J Penn & Sons, Greenwich, and were arranged in a single boiler room. Limited electrical power was provided by a single generator, which supplied 1.9 kilowatts at 55 volts. The ship was equipped with a schooner rig with a surface area of 540 square meters.[3] The propulsion system was rated at 1,200 indicated horsepower (890 kW) and a top speed of 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph), though on trials, Arminius reached 1,440 ihp (1,070 kW) and 11.2 kn (20.7 km/h; 12.9 mph). The ship carried 171 t (168 long tons; 188 short tons) of coal, which enabled a range of 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km; 2,300 mi) at a cruising speed of 8 kn (15 km/h; 9.2 mph).[1]

Armament and armor[edit]

As built, Arminius was equipped with a main battery of four rifled, bronze 72-pounder cannon, but after delivery to the Prussian Navy, they were replaced with four 21 cm (8.3 in) L/19 guns. These guns were supplied with a total of 332 rounds, and could elevate to 12 degrees. At maximum elevation, the guns could engage targets out to 2,800 m (9,200 ft). After 1881, four machine guns were installed, along with a single 35 cm (14 in) torpedo tube mounted in the bow above the waterline.[3]

Arminius's armor consisted of wrought iron backed with teak plating. The conning tower was protected by 114 mm (4.5 in) of wrought iron on 229 mm (9.0 in) of teak. The armored belt ranged in thickness from 76 mm (3.0 in) of iron on the bow and stern to 114 mm amidships, the entire length of which was backed by 229 mm of teak. The two turrets were armored with 114 mm of iron on 406 mm (16.0 in) of timber.[1]

Service history[edit]

Illustration of one of Arminius' 4 guns

She was built by the Samuda Brothers shipyard in London as a speculative project, possibly to sell to the Confederate Navy.[4] The ship was laid down in 1863 and launched on 20 August 1864.[5] Prussia instead purchased the ship on 20 August 1864, and commissioned her on 22 April 1865 as SMS Arminius.[4] Delivery was delayed by the British government; the British were sympathetic to Denmark, which was then engaged in a war with Prussia and Austria.[6] The British therefore prevented the ship from being delivered until after the war was concluded. The cost of the ship, which amounted to some 1,887,000 gold marks, was paid in part by public donations.[5] Arminius served as a harbor defense ship for six years, through 1871.[7] Along with the ironclad ram Prinz Adalbert, Arminius was the first armored warship acquired by the Prussian Navy.[8]

At the outbreak of the Austro-Prussian War in mid-1866, Arminius was mobilized along with Prinz Adalbert, the only other Prussian ironclad. The ships were initially based in Kiel, but in the opening days of the war, Arminius raced to Hamburg via the Skagerrak and the Kattegat, a distance of some 940 nautical miles (1,740 km; 1,080 mi), in 100 hours, an impressive feat for an early ironclad warship.[9] Without a naval threat from Austria, the Prussian navy therefore concentrated its effort against the Kingdom of Hanover. For the remainder of the conflict, Arminius operated out of Geestemünde, under the command of Reinhold Werner, and the mere appearance of Arminius caused several Hanoverian coastal batteries to surrender.[10] On 15 June, Arminius and a pair of gunboats, Tiger and Cyclop, covered the crossing of the Elbe river by General Edwin von Manteuffel and some 13,500 soldiers to attack the city of Hanover.[10][11] By the end of the month, the Prussian army had decisively defeated the Austrians at Königgrätz and ended the war.[10] On 3 October 1866, the ship raced the US Navy's monitor USS Miantonomoh in Kiel; Arminius was two knots faster than the American vessel.[6] In 1870, the ship had her sailing rig removed.[12]

At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871, the Prussian Navy concentrated Arminius and the armored frigates Kronprinz, Friedrich Carl, and König Wilhelm in the North Sea naval base Wilhelmshaven.[13] Arminius was stationed in Kiel at the outbreak of war, but managed to break through the French blockade by hugging the Swedish coast, which her shallow draft permitted. Her passage through Swedish territorial waters also protected the ship from French attack.[14] Despite the great French naval superiority, the French had conducted insufficient pre-war planning for an assault on the Prussian naval installations, and concluded that it would only be possible with Danish assistance, which was not forthcoming.[13] The four ships, under the command of Vice Admiral Jachmann, made an offensive sortie in early August 1870 out to the Dogger Bank, though they encountered no French warships. The three armored frigates thereafter suffered from chronic engine trouble, which left Arminius alone to conduct operations.[15]

Captain Otto Livonius commanded the ship during the war. In the course of the war, she sortied from the port over forty times; these also failed to result in major combat, though she occasionally traded shots with the blockading French warships.[16] For the majority of the war, Arminius was stationed in the mouth of the Elbe along with the ironclad ram Prinz Adalbert and three small gunboats. The three armored frigates remained off the island of Wangerooge.[17] On 11 September, the three frigates were again ready for action; they joined Arminius for another major operation, though it too did not encounter French opposition. The French Navy had by this time returned to France.[15]

After being removed from front-line service in 1872, she was used as a training vessel for naval engineers.[3] The ship was decommissioned in 1875 and placed in reserve.[7] Her ram bow allowed her to be used as an ice-breaker in Kiel in the 1880s. In 1882, she was used as a tender for the cadet training vessel Blücher. The ship was rebuilt in 1888; during the refit the propulsion system was overhauled and replaced with German-built equipment and two searchlights were installed. The ship was ultimately stricken from the naval register on 2 March 1901 and sold to shipbreakers for 72,000 gold marks. Arminius was broken up for scrap the following year.[3]


  1. ^ "SMS" stands for "Seiner Majestät Schiff", or "His Majesty's Ship".
  1. ^ a b c d Gröner, p. 1.
  2. ^ Sondhaus Naval Warfare, p. 80.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Gröner, p. 2.
  4. ^ a b Sullivan, p. 17.
  5. ^ a b Gröner, pp. 1–2.
  6. ^ a b Greene & Massignani, p. 199.
  7. ^ a b Sullivan, p. 18.
  8. ^ Sondhaus Naval Warfare, p. 93.
  9. ^ Sondhaus Weltpolitik, pp. 83–84.
  10. ^ a b c Sondhaus Weltpolitik, p. 84.
  11. ^ Greene & Massignani, p. 219.
  12. ^ Gardiner, p. 242.
  13. ^ a b Sondhaus Naval Warfare, p. 101.
  14. ^ Wilson, p. 277.
  15. ^ a b Sondhaus Naval Warfare, p. 102.
  16. ^ Sondhaus Weltpolitik, p. 95.
  17. ^ Wilson, p. 278.


  • Gardiner, Robert, ed. (1979). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1860–1905. Greenwich: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 978-0-8317-0302-8. 
  • Greene, Jack; Massignani, Alessandro (1998). Ironclads at War: The Origin and Development of the Armored Warship, 1854–1891. Pennsylvania: Combined Publishing. ISBN 978-0-938289-58-6. 
  • Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-790-6. OCLC 22101769. 
  • Sondhaus, Lawrence (2001). Naval Warfare, 1815–1914. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-21478-0. 
  • Sondhaus, Lawrence (1997). Preparing for Weltpolitik: German Sea Power Before the Tirpitz Era. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-55750-745-7. 
  • Sullivan, David M. (1987). "Phantom Fleet: The Confederacy's Unclaimed European Warships". Warship International. Toledo, Ohio: Naval Records Club. 24 (1): 13–32. 
  • Wilson, Herbert Wrigley (1896). Ironclads in Action: A Sketch of Naval Warfare from 1855 to 1895. London: S. Low, Marston and company.