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SMS Yorck

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SMS Yorck NH 45198.jpg
German Empire
Name: Yorck
Namesake: Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg
Builder: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Laid down: February 1903
Launched: 14 May 1904
Commissioned: November 1905
Fate: Sunk accidentally by German mines, 4 November 1914
General characteristics
Class and type: Roon-class armored cruiser
  • 9,533 t (9,382 long tons) normal
  • 10,266 t (10,104 long tons) full load
Length: 127.80 m (419 ft 3 in)
Beam: 20.20 m (66 ft 3 in)
Draft: 7.76 m (25.5 ft)
Propulsion: 19,000 ihp (14,000 kW), three shafts
Speed: 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Range: 4,200 nmi (7,800 km; 4,800 mi) at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)
  • 35 officers
  • 598 enlisted men
  • Belt: 80–100 mm (3.1–3.9 in)
  • Turrets: 150 mm (5.9 in)
  • Deck: 40–60 mm (1.6–2.4 in)

SMS Yorck ("His Majesty's Ship Yorck")[Note 1] was the second and final ship of the Roon class of armored cruisers built for the German Imperial Navy. Yorck was named for Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg, a Prussian field marshal. She was laid down in 1903 at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg, and finished in November 1905, at the cost of 16,241,000 marks. She displaced up to 9,875 metric tons (9,719 long tons; 10,885 short tons) and was armed with a main battery of four 21 cm (8.3 in) guns. Her top speed was 20.4 knots (37.8 km/h; 23.5 mph).

The ship had a short career; she served with the fleet for the first seven years, after which she was decommissioned and placed in reserve. After the outbreak of World War I, she was reactivated and returned to front-line service. After returning from the raid on Yarmouth on 3–4 November 1914, the ship made a navigational error in heavy fog and accidentally sailed into a German defensive minefield. The ship sank quickly with heavy loss of life, though sources disagree on the exact number of fatalities. Her commander was court-martialled and imprisoned for disobedience and negligent homicide. Yorck was broken up incrementally, with work occurring in 1929–30, 1965, and finally completed in 1982.


Plan and elevation of the Roon class

Yorck was ordered under the provisional name Ersatz Deutschland and built at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg under construction number 167.[1][Note 2] Her keel was laid in 1902 and she was launched on 14 May 1904. Fitting-out work was completed by 21 November 1905, being commissioned into the Imperial German Navy the same day.[2] She had cost the Imperial German Government 16,241,000 Goldmarks.[1]

Yorck displaced 9,087 t (8,943 long tons) as built and 9,875 t (9,719 long tons) fully loaded, with a length of 126.50 m (415 ft 0 in), a beam of 19.60 m (64 ft 4 in) and a draft of 7.43 m (24 ft 5 in) forward. She was powered by three vertical triple expansion engines, which developed a total of 17,272 indicated horsepower (12,880 kW) and yielded a maximum speed of 20.4 knots (37.8 km/h; 23.5 mph) on trials. She carried up to 1,630 t (1,600 long tons) of coal, which enabled a maximum range of up to 5,080 nautical miles (9,410 km; 5,850 mi) at a cruising speed of 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph).[1]

She was armed with four 21 cm (8.3 in) guns arranged in two twin gun turrets, one on either end of the superstructure. Her secondary armament consisted of ten 15 cm (5.9 in) SK L/40 guns, four in single turrets arranged two each on either side, the rest in casemates amidships, fourteen 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/30 guns and four 45 cm (18 in) underwater torpedo tubes, one in the bow, one in the stern, and one on both beams.[1]

Service history[edit]


Yorck was launched on 14 May 1904,[3] and commissioned into the German navy on 21 November 1905.[4] At the commissioning Field Marshal Wilhelm von Hahnke spoke, saying, "old wisdom, si vis pacem, para bellum—he who wants peace shall be prepared for war...may the guns and machines of the Yorck be operated only by men with iron hearts and an iron will, men who know no other order than to put their lives at risk when the might, the greatness and honor of the German people are being fought for."[3] After her commissioning, Yorck served with the fleet in the cruiser squadron.[4] In 1908–1909, Erich Raeder served aboard the ship as Yorck's navigation officer.[5] From 1 October 1911 to 26 January 1912, Franz von Hipper, later commander-in-chief of the German navy, served as the ship's commanding officer.[6]

In early March 1913, the fleet conducted maneuvers off the island of Helgoland in the North Sea. Early on 4 March, the destroyer S178 fell out of formation in heavy seas and attempted to cross in front of Yorck. The destroyer was caught by a large wave and thrown into Yorck, which cut S178 in half. Out of a crew of 83 men, only 13 were pulled from the stormy sea.[7] Yorck was decommissioned and laid up in the reserve fleet in May 1913 with most of her crew transferring to the newly completed battlecruiser Seydlitz.[8] Hipper, by now the deputy commander of the battlecruiser squadron, stated that "the Seydlitz has a fine spirit and high morale, having carried over the spirit of the old Yorck crew."[9] On 12 August 1914 Yorck was recommissioned and assigned to III Scouting Group.

First World War[edit]

An unidentified Roon-class cruiser

On 3 November, Yorck participated in the first offensive operation of the war conducted by the German fleet. She augmented the forces assigned to the I Scouting Group, which primarily consisted of the battlecruisers Seydlitz, Moltke, and Von der Tann and the large armored cruiser Blücher. The I Scouting Group, commanded by Rear Admiral Hipper, was ordered to bombard Great Yarmouth on the English coast. The four large cruisers bombarded the port but inflicted little damage; minelayers laid minefields off the coast, which sank British submarine D5.[10] Upon returning to the Heligoland Bight late that day, Hipper's forces encountered heavy fog.[11] The fog prevented the ships from entering Wilhelmshaven; instead, they anchored for the night in the Schillig roadstead. Yorck attempted to enter Wilhelmshaven early on the 4th,[12] but her crew made a navigational error which led the ship into a German defensive minefield. She struck two mines, and capsized and sank with heavy loss of life.[11]

Sources disagree on the exact figures; V. E. Tarrant's Jutland: The German Perspective, states that 127 men out of a crew of 629 were rescued,[11] while Erich Gröner's German Warships 1815–1945 indicates that there were only 336 fatalities.[4] Daniel Butler's Distant Victory states that "some 235" men perished in the sinking.[12] The Norddeutsche Volksblatt reported "the loss of over 300 men" at the time of the court-martial on the sinking; this report was echoed around the world.[Note 3][13]

Yorck's commanding officer, Captain Piper, was among those rescued. In December 1914 he was court-martialled and sentenced to two years' imprisonment for negligence, disobedience of orders, and homicide through negligence.[13] The ship's wreck was partially scrapped in 1929–30; more work was done in 1965, though the ship was not completely removed until work resumed in 1982.[4]



  1. ^ "SMS" is the abbreviation of "Seiner Majestät Schiff" ("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]
  3. ^ The figure of 300 men was reported by the Norddeutsche Volksblatt; this was picked up by the Hamburger Echo, from there by The Times, and from there by The New York Times.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d e Gröner, p. 51
  2. ^ Gardiner & Chesneau, p. 255
  3. ^ a b Rüger, p. 237.
  4. ^ a b c d Gröner, p. 52
  5. ^ Bird, p. 50
  6. ^ Philbin, p. 183.
  7. ^ The Sinking of Torpedo-boat "S-178", p. 848
  8. ^ Staff, p. 22.
  9. ^ Philbin, p. 24
  10. ^ Halpern, p. 39
  11. ^ a b c Tarrant, p. 30
  12. ^ a b Butler, p. 110
  13. ^ a b c "Prison for Yorck's Captain". New York Times. 28 December 1914. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 


  • Bird, Keith W. (2006). Erich Raeder: Admiral of the Third Reich. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-047-9. 
  • Butler, Daniel Allen (2006). Distant Victory. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International. ISBN 0-275-99073-7. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Chesneau, Roger; Kolesnik, Eugene M., eds. (1979). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1860–1905. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-133-5. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Gray, Randal; Budzbon, Przemyslaw (1984). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1906–1922. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-907-3. 
  • Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-790-9. 
  • Halpern, Paul G. (1995). A Naval History of World War I. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-352-4. 
  • Philbin, Tobias R. III (1982). Admiral Hipper:The Inconvenient Hero. John Benjamins Publishing Company. ISBN 90-6032-200-2. 
  • Rüger, Jan (2007). The Great Naval Game. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-87576-5. 
  • Staff, Gary (2006). German Battlecruisers: 1914–1918. Oxford: Osprey Books. ISBN 978-1-84603-009-3. 
  • Tarrant, V. E. (1995). Jutland: The German Perspective. Cassell Military Paperbacks. ISBN 0-304-35848-7. 
  • "The Sinking of Torpedo-boat "S-178"". Proceedings. Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute. 39: 847–848. 1913. 

Coordinates: 53°40′N 8°5′E / 53.667°N 8.083°E / 53.667; 8.083