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SMS Wittelsbach

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Bundesarchiv DVM 10 Bild-23-61-16, Linienschiff "SMS Wittelsbach".jpg
SMS Wittlesbach
German Empire
Name: Wittlesbach
Namesake: House of Wittelsbach
Builder: Kaiserliche Werft Wilhelmshaven
Laid down: September 1899
Launched: 3 July 1900
Commissioned: 15 October 1902
Fate: Scrapped in 1921
General characteristics
Class and type: Wittelsbach-class pre-dreadnought battleship
Displacement: 12,798 t (12,596 long tons)
Length: 126.8 m (416 ft 0 in)
Beam: 22.8 m (74 ft 10 in)
Draft: 7.95 m (26 ft 1 in)
Installed power:
Propulsion: 3 shafts, triple-expansion steam engines
Speed: 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)
Range: 5,000 nautical miles (9,300 km; 5,800 mi); 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
  • 30 officers
  • 650 enlisted men
  • 4 × 24 cm (9.4 in) guns (40 cal.)
  • 18 × 15 cm (5.9 in) guns
  • 12 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) guns
  • 6 × 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes
  • Belt: 100 to 225 mm (3.9 to 8.9 in)
  • Turrets: 250 mm (9.8 in)
  • Deck: 50 mm (2.0 in)

SMS Wittelsbach ("His Majesty's Ship Wittelsbach") was the lead ship of the Wittelsbach class of pre-dreadnought battleships of the Kaiserliche Marine. Wittelsbach was built at Wilhelmshaven Navy Dockyard. She was laid down in 1899 and completed in October 1902, at the cost of 22,740,000 marks. Wittelsbach was the first capital ship built under the Navy Law of 1898, brought about by Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz.

The ship served in the I Squadron of the German fleet for the majority of her career. Wittelsbach was rapidly superseded by new "all-big-gun" warships, and as a result served for less than eight years before being decommissioned on 20 September 1910. After the start of World War I in August 1914, Wittelsbach was brought back to active duty in the IV Battle Squadron. The ship saw limited duty in the Baltic Sea against Russian forces, though the threat from British submarines forced the ship to withdraw by 1916. The ship then saw service in a number of auxiliary roles, ultimately as a tender for minesweepers after 1919. In July 1921, however, the ship was sold and broken up for scrap metal.


Line-drawing of the Wittelsbach class

Wittelsbach was 126.8 m (416 ft 0 in) long overall and had a beam of 22.8 m (74 ft 10 in) and a draft of 7.95 m (26 ft 1 in) forward. The ship was powered by three 3-cylinder vertical triple expansion engines that drove three screws. Steam was provided by six cylindrical and six water-tube boilers, all coal-fired. Wittelsbach's powerplant was rated at 14,000 metric horsepower (13,808 ihp; 10,297 kW), which generated a top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). She had a crew of 30 officers and 650 enlisted men.[1]

Wittelsbach's armament consisted of a main battery of four 24 cm (9.4 in) SK L/40 guns in twin gun turrets,[a] one fore and one aft of the central superstructure.[2] Her secondary armament consisted of eighteen 15 cm (5.9 inch) SK L/40 guns and twelve 8.8 cm (3.45 in) SK L/30 quick-firing guns. The armament suite was rounded out with six 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes, all in above-water swivel mounts. Her armored belt was 225 millimeters (8.9 in) thick in the central portion that protected her magazines and machinery spaces, and the deck was 50 mm (2.0 in) thick. The main battery turrets had 250 mm (9.8 in) of armor plating.[3]

Service history[edit]

Wittelsbach c. 1910

Wittelsbach's keel was laid in 1899, at the Kaiserliche Werft in Wilhelmshaven, under construction number 25. She was ordered under the contract name "C", as a new unit for the fleet.[3] The vessel was the first battleship built under the direction of State Secretary Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, according to the terms of the Navy Law of 1898.[4] Wittelsbach was launched on 3 July 1900 and commissioned on 15 October 1902.[5]

Upon commissioning in 1902, Wittelsbach was assigned to the I Squadron of the Active Battle Fleet.[6] In 1905 the German fleet was reorganized into two squadrons of battleships. Wittelsbach was assigned to the I Division of I Squadron. The ship was joined by her sisters Wettin and Zähringen. The German fleet consisted of another three-ship division in the I Squadron and 2 three-ship divisions in the II Squadron. This was supported by a cruiser division, composed of two armored cruisers and six protected cruisers.[7] That year, Kapitän zur See Maximilian von Spee, who would go on to command the East Asia Squadron at the outbreak of World War I, took command of the ship.[8]

In 1907, the newest Deutschland-class battleships were beginning to enter service. This provided the Navy with enough ships to form two full battle squadrons of eight ships each. The fleet was then renamed the Hochseeflotte (High Seas Fleet).[6] Wittelsbach served in the I Division until 20 September 1910. The ship was then decommissioned and placed in reserve; her crew was then sent to man the newly commissioned dreadnought Posen.[9]

World War I[edit]

Map of the North and Baltic Seas in 1911

At the start of World War I, Wittelsbach was mobilized as part of the IV Battle Squadron, under the command of Vice Admiral Ehrhard Schmidt.[10] Starting on 3 September, the IV Squadron, assisted by the armored cruiser Blücher, conducted a sweep into the Baltic. The operation lasted until 9 September and failed to bring Russian naval units to battle.[11] In May 1915, Wittelsbach and the rest of IV Squadron was transferred to support the German Army in the Baltic Sea area.[12] Wittelsbach and her sisters were then based in Kiel. On 6 May, the IV Squadron ships were tasked with providing support to the assault on Libau. Wittelsbach and the other ships were stationed off Gotland to intercept any Russian cruisers that might attempt to intervene in the landings; the Russians, however, did not do so. On 10 May, after the invasion force had entered Libau, the British submarines HMS E1 and HMS E9 spotted the IV Squadron, but were too far away to attack them.[13]

By 1916, the threat from submarines in the Baltic convinced the German navy to withdraw the elderly Wittelsbach-class ships from active service.[14] Wittelsbach was initially used as a training ship based in Kiel. The ship was then transferred to Wilhelmshaven for use as a fleet tender. Wittelsbach was converted into a depot ship in 1919 for minesweepers in the newly constituted Reichsmarine.[5] She carried 12 of these shallow draft vessels.[2] The ship served in this capacity for little more than a year; on 8 March 1921, Wittelsbach was stricken from the Navy List and sold four months later, on 7 July, for 3,561,000 Marks. The ship was then broken up for scrap in Wilhelmshaven.[5]



  1. ^ In Imperial German Navy gun nomenclature, "SK" (Schnelladekanone) denotes that the gun is quick firing, while the L/40 denotes the length of the gun. In this case, the L/40 gun is 40 caliber, meaning that the gun is 40 times as long as it is in diameter. See: Grießmer, p. 177.


  1. ^ Gröner, pp. 16–17.
  2. ^ a b Hore, p. 67.
  3. ^ a b Gröner, p. 16.
  4. ^ Herwig, p. 43.
  5. ^ a b c Gröner, p. 17.
  6. ^ a b Herwig, p. 45.
  7. ^ The British and German Fleets, p. 335.
  8. ^ Hough, pp. 7–8.
  9. ^ Staff, p. 32.
  10. ^ Scheer, p. 15.
  11. ^ Halpern, p. 185.
  12. ^ Scheer, pp. 90–91.
  13. ^ Halpern, p. 192.
  14. ^ Herwig, p. 168.



  • Grießmer, Axel (1999). Die Linienschiffe der Kaiserlichen Marine (in German). Bonn: Bernard & Graefe Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7637-5985-9. 
  • Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. 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 (1998) [1980]. "Luxury" Fleet: The Imperial German Navy 1888–1918. Amherst: Humanity Books. ISBN 978-1-57392-286-9. 
  • Hildebrand, Hans H.; Röhr, Albert; Steinmetz, Hans-Otto (1993). Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe (Volume 8) [The German Warships] (in German). Ratingen: Mundus Verlag. ASIN B003VHSRKE. 
  • Hore, Peter (2006). The Ironclads. London: Southwater Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84476-299-6. 
  • Hough, Richard (1980). Falklands 1914: The Pursuit of Admiral Von Spee. Penzance: Periscope Publishing. ISBN 978-1-904381-12-9. 
  • Scheer, Reinhard (1920). Germany's High Seas Fleet in the World War. London: Cassell and Company. OCLC 2765294. 
  • Staff, Gary (2010). German Battleships: 1914–1918. 1. Oxford: Osprey Books. ISBN 978-1-84603-467-1. 


  • "The British and German Fleets". The United Service. New York: Lewis R. Hamersly & Co. 7: 328–340. 1905.