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SMS Magdeburg

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Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2007-0221, Kleiner Kreuzer Magdeburg.jpg
Magdeburg in 1911.
German Empire
Name: Magdeburg
Namesake: Magdeburg
Builder: AG Weser, Bremen
Cost: 8,058,000 mark
Yard number: 171
Laid down: 1910
Launched: 13 May 1911
Commissioned: 20 August 1912
Fate: Ran aground and sunk on 26 August 1914 in the Gulf of Finland
General characteristics
Class and type: Magdeburg-class cruiser
Length: 138.7 m (455 ft 1 in)
Beam: 13.5 m (44 ft 3 in)
Draft: 4.4 m (14 ft 5 in)
Installed power:
Speed: 27.6 knots (51.1 km/h; 31.8 mph)
Range: 5,820 nmi (10,780 km; 6,700 mi) at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)
  • 18 officers
  • 336 enlisted

SMS Magdeburg ("His Majesty's Ship Magdeburg")[a] was a lead ship of the Magdeburg class of light cruisers in the German Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial Navy). Her class included three other ships: Breslau, Strassburg, and Stralsund. Magdeburg was built at the AG Weser shipyard in Bremen from 1910 to August 1912, when she was commissioned into the High Seas Fleet. The ship was armed with a main battery of twelve 10.5 cm SK L/45 guns and had a top speed of 27.5 knots (50.9 km/h; 31.6 mph). Magdeburg was used as a torpedo test ship after her commissioning until the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, when she was brought to active service and deployed to the Baltic.

In the Baltic, Magdeburg fired the first shots of the war against the Russians on 2 August, when she shelled the port of Libau. She participated in a series of bombardments of Russian positions until late August. On the 26th, she participated in a sweep of the entrance to the Gulf of Finland; while steaming off the Estonian coast, she ran aground off the island of Odensholm and could not be freed. A pair of Russian cruisers appeared and seized the ship. Fifteen crew members were killed in the brief engagement. They recovered three intact German code books, one of which they passed to the British. The ability to decrypt German wireless signals provided the British with the ability to ambush German units on several occasions during the war, including the Battle of Jutland. The Russians partially scrapped Magdeburg while she remained grounded before completely destroying the wreck.


Magdeburg was 138.7 meters (455 ft) long overall and had a beam of 13.5 m (44 ft) and a draft of 4.4 m (14 ft) forward.[1] She displaced 4,535 t (4,463 long tons) normally and up to 4,570 t (4,500 long tons) at full load.[2] Her propulsion system consisted of three sets of Bergmann steam turbines driving three screw propellers. They were designed to give 25,000 shaft horsepower (19,000 kW), but reached 29,904 shp (22,299 kW) in service. These were powered by sixteen coal-fired Marine-type water-tube boilers, although they were later altered to use fuel oil that was sprayed on the coal to increase its burn rate. These gave the ship a top speed of 27.6 knots (51.1 km/h; 31.8 mph). Magdeburg carried 1,200 t (1,200 long tons) of coal, and an additional 106 t (104 long tons) of oil that gave her a range of approximately 5,820 nautical miles (10,780 km; 6,700 mi) at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph). She had a crew of 18 officers and 336 enlisted men.[3]

The ship was armed with a main battery of twelve 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK L/45 guns in single pedestal mounts. Two were placed side by side forward on the forecastle, eight were located amidships, four on either side, and two were side by side aft. The guns had a maximum elevation of 30 degrees, which allowed them to engage targets out to 12,700 m (41,700 ft).[4] They were supplied with 1,800 rounds of ammunition, for 150 shells per gun. She was also equipped with a pair of 50 cm (19.7 in) torpedo tubes with five torpedoes; the tubes were submerged in the hull on the broadside. She could also carry 120 mines. The ship was protected by a waterline armored belt that was 60 mm (2.4 in) thick amidships. The conning tower had 100 mm (3.9 in) thick sides, and the deck was covered with up to 60 mm thick armor plate.[5]

Service history[edit]

Magdeburg was ordered under the contract name "Ersatz Bussard"[b] and was laid down at the AG Weser shipyard in Bremen in 1910 and launched on 13 May 1911, after which fitting-out work commenced. She was commissioned into the High Seas Fleet on 20 August 1912. After her commissioning, Magdeburg was used as a torpedo test ship.[5]

World War I[edit]

Following the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, she was assigned to the Baltic Sea,[5] under the command of Rear Admiral Robert Mischke. Magdeburg fired the first shots of the war with Russia on 2 August when she shelled the Russian port of Libau while Augsburg laid a minefield outside the harbor. The Russians had in fact already left Libau, which was seized by the German Army. The minefield laid by Augsburg was poorly marked and hindered German operations more than Russian efforts. Magdeburg and the rest of the Baltic forces then conducted a series of bombardments of Russian positions, including one ten days later, on 12 August, where Magdeburg shelled the Dagerort lighthouse. On 17 August, Magdeburg, Augsburg, three destroyers, and the minelayer Deutschland encountered a pair of powerful Russian armored cruisers, Admiral Makarov and Gromoboi. The Russian commander, under the mistaken assumption that the German armored cruisers Roon and Prinz Heinrich were present, did not attack and both forces withdrew.[6]

Magdeburg aground off Odensholm

Prince Heinrich, the overall commander of the Baltic naval forces, replaced Mischke with Rear Admiral Behring. Behring ordered another operation for 26 August to sweep for Russian reconnaissance forces in the entrance to the Gulf of Finland. Early that morning, Magdeburg ran aground off the lighthouse at Odensholm on the Estonian coast. Her escorting destroyer, V26, attempted to pull her free but was unable to do so and began taking off part of Magdeburg's crew. While the evacuation was going on, the Russian cruisers Bogatyr and Pallada appeared and shelled the stranded cruiser. The Germans destroyed the forward section of the ship, but could not complete her destruction before the Russians reached the ship.[7] Fifteen crew members from Magdeburg were killed in the attack.[5] The German code books were also not destroyed; the Russians were able to recover three of the books along with the current encryption key. They passed one copy to the British Royal Navy via a pair of Russian couriers on 13 October.[8] The Russian Navy partially scrapped the ship in situ and eventually destroyed the wreck.[5]

The capture of the code books proved to provide a significant advantage for the Royal Navy. The Admiralty had recently created a deciphering department known as Room 40 to process intercepted German wireless signals. With the code books and cipher key, the British were able to track the movements of most German warships; this information could be passed on to the Admiral John Jellicoe, the commander of the Grand Fleet. This allowed the British to ambush parts of or the entire German fleet on several occasions, most successfully at the Battles of Dogger Bank in January 1915 and Jutland in May 1916.[9]



  1. ^ "SMS" stands for "Seiner Majestät Schiff" (German: His Majesty's Ship).
  2. ^ German warships were ordered under provisional names. For new additions to the fleet, they were given a single letter; for those ships intended to replace older or lost vessels, they were ordered as "Ersatz (name of the ship to be replaced)".


  1. ^ Gröner, p. 108.
  2. ^ Gardiner & Gray, p. 159.
  3. ^ Gröner, pp. 107–108.
  4. ^ Gardiner & Gray, pp. 140, 159.
  5. ^ a b c d e Gröner, p. 107.
  6. ^ Halpern, p. 184.
  7. ^ Halpern, pp. 184–185.
  8. ^ Halpern, p. 36.
  9. ^ Herwig, pp. 150–151, 178.


  • Gardiner, Robert & Gray, Randal, eds. (1985). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1906–1921. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-907-8.
  • Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. I: Major Surface Vessels. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-790-6.
  • Halpern, Paul G. (1995). A Naval History of World War I. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-55750-352-7.
  • Herwig, Holger (1980). "Luxury" Fleet: The Imperial German Navy 1888–1918. Amherst: Humanity Books. ISBN 978-1-57392-286-9.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mäkelä, Matti E. (1984). Das Geheimnis der "Magdeburg" : die Geschichte des Kleinen Kreuzers und die Bedeutung seiner Signalbücher im Ersten Weltkrieg (in German). Koblenz: Bernard & Graefe Verlag.

Coordinates: 59°18′N 23°21′E / 59.300°N 23.350°E / 59.300; 23.350