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SMS Zieten

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SMS Zieten in port.jpg
Zieten in port
German Empire
Name: Zieten
Builder: Thames Iron Works, Blackwall, London
Laid down: 1875
Launched: 9 March 1876
Completed: 15 July 1876
Commissioned: 1 August 1876
  • As fishery protection vessel, 1899
  • As coast guard ship, 1914
Struck: 6 December 1919
Fate: Sold for scrap, 18 April 1921
General characteristics (as built)
Type: Aviso
Displacement: 1,170 metric tons (1,150 long tons; 1,290 short tons)
Length: 79.4 m (260 ft 6 in) overall
Beam: 8.56 m (28 ft 1 in)
Draft: 3.8 m (12 ft 6 in)
Installed power:
Speed: 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph)
Range: 1,770 nmi (3,280 km; 2,040 mi) at 9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph)
  • 6 officers
  • 88 enlisted

SMS Zieten was the first torpedo-armed aviso built for the Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine). She was built in Britain in 1875–1876, and was the last major warship built for Germany by a foreign shipyard. Ordered as a testbed for the new Whitehead torpedo, Zieten was armed with a pair of 38 cm (15 in) torpedo tubes, and was capable of a top speed of 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph), making her the fastest ship in the German fleet at the time. Zieten proved to be the first torpedo-armed vessel in a series of avisos that ultimately developed into the first light cruisers. In addition to her impact in German warship design, Zieten also influenced numerous other navies, who built dozens of similar avisos and torpedo vessels of their own.

Zieten served for the first two decades of her career with the torpedo boat flotilla. In 1878–1880, she was captained by Alfred von Tirpitz, the future architect of the High Seas Fleet. In 1882, she cruised the Mediterranean Sea with several other German warships, and was present during the British bombardment of Alexandria, where she protected German interests. Zieten was used as a fishery protection ship from 1899 until 1914, when the outbreak of World War I necessitated her mobilization as a coastal patrol ship. She served in this capacity for the duration of the war, and was stricken from the naval register in December 1919. The ship was finally sold for scrapping in August 1921, after forty-five years of service.


In 1869, the Prussian Navy sent then-Korvettenkapitän Alexander von Monts to Austria to examine the new Whitehead torpedoes then being developed there. Albrecht von Stosch, the commander in chief of the new Imperial German Navy, approved a plan to develop a torpedo arm for the German fleet, and placed Monts in charge of the program in 1873. That year, Stosch's naval construction program called for a tender for the new torpedo boats.[1] The tender was ordered from the British firm the Thames Iron Works, and named Zieten.[2] She was to be the last major warship purchased by the German navy from a foreign shipyard.[3]

In addition to the planned role as a tender for torpedo boats, she was also intended to serve as a test platform for the new self-propelled torpedo. Up to the mid-1870s, the German navy had only experimented with a handful of torpedo ships, all of which were equipped with the old spar torpedo.[4] The ship's design provided the basis for both later German avisos—the Blitz class—and all subsequent light cruisers,[5] but also to numerous foreign designs, such as several classes of French, Italian, and Austrian avisos and torpedo craft.[6]

General characteristics[edit]

Zieten was 69.5 meters (228 ft) long at the waterline and 79.4 m (260 ft) long overall. She had a beam of 8.56 m (28.1 ft) and a draft of 3.8 m (12 ft) forward. She displaced 1,001 metric tons (985 long tons; 1,103 short tons) as designed and up to 1,170 t (1,150 long tons; 1,290 short tons) at full combat load. The hull was constructed with transverse iron frames and contained eight watertight compartments. Initially, Zieten had only a small bridge forward, but in 1899, a new superstructure was built; it included a conning tower with a compass platform. A chart house was also added forward of the funnel.[7]

Zieten was a good sea boat with a gentle motion, but she was very crank. She was very maneuverable, but she handled poorly in a head sea. In bad weather, she took on considerable amounts of water and was very dangerous. The ship had a crew of 6 officers and 88 enlisted men, though later in her career the figure rose to 7 and 99, respectively. During her career as a fishery protection ship, it rose further, to 7 officers and 104 sailors. Zieten carried a number of smaller boats: one picket boat, one cutter, two yawls, and one dinghy. Later in her career, the picket boat was removed and two barges were added.[8]


The ships propulsion system consisted of two horizontal 2-cylinder double expansion engines manufactured by John Penn and Sons. The engines drove two 3-bladed propellers that were 3.05 m (10.0 ft) wide in diameter. Steam was provided by six coal-fired cylindrical boilers, also manufactured by John Penn and Sons, which were trunked into a single funnel amidships. The boilers were replaced with new models in 1891 during a refit at the Kaiserliche Werft shipyard in Kiel. As built, Zieten was fitted with a schooner rig with a sail area of 355 square meters (3,820 sq ft) to supplement her steam engines, but this was later reduced to only an auxiliary gaff sail.[8]

The engines were rated at 2,000 indicated horsepower (1,500 kW), but only managed to reach 1,807 ihp (1,347 kW) at maximum power. With the new boilers, the engines reached 2,376 ihp (1,772 kW). Her top speed as designed was to have been 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph), but with her original boilers, she could make 15.9 knots (29.4 km/h; 18.3 mph) at full power.[8] This speed nevertheless made Zieten the fastest ship in the German fleet.[4] With the new boilers, she could steam at up to 16.3 knots (30.2 km/h; 18.8 mph). Zieten could carry up to 130 t (130 long tons; 140 short tons) of coal, which allowed her to steam for 1,770 nautical miles (3,280 km; 2,040 mi) at a cruising speed of 9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph).[9] During the refit, she also had one electricity generator, with an output of 10 kilowatts (13 hp) at 67 volts, installed.[8]


Zieten's primary armament consisted of a pair of 38-centimeter (15 in) torpedo tubes. Both were submerged in the hull, one in the bow and one in the stern. They were supplied with a total of ten Whitehead torpedoes.[8] These powerful weapons, coupled with the ship's high speed and maneuverability, made her a formidable vessel for the period.[2] In 1878, the forward torpedo tube was relocated to a swivel launched mounted on the deck, and two 12 cm (4.7 in) guns were installed.[10] She was also equipped with six machine guns. Later in her career, the torpedo tubes were removed, due to their obsolescence, and she was rearmed with six 5 cm (1.97 in) SK L/40 guns, though two were later removed. The guns were supplied with a total of 864 rounds of ammunition, and could engage targets out to 6,200 m (20,300 ft). She was also equipped to lay naval mines, and she could carry 49 of them.[8]

Service history[edit]

Zieten was built by the Thames Iron Works in London. She was laid down in 1875 and was launched on 9 March 1876. She was completed on 15 July 1876,[2] and commissioned into the German fleet on 1 August. She was thereafter used in experiments with early torpedoes and as a tender for torpedo boats.[8] In 1876, Otto von Diederichs served aboard the ship as her executive officer in her first crew. In August, the ship conducted sea trials in the North Sea, before arriving in Wilhelmshaven on 11 August for fitting-out work. Diederichs supervised the installation of the ship's torpedo tubes, along with the magazine for storing the torpedoes. The work lasted until September, which prevented Zieten from participating in the annual August–September fleet exercises. As a result, she was placed in reserve on 17 September for the winter. In March 1877, Diederichs returned to the ship and prepared her for service in the training season that year.[11] The ship was ready for active duty by 11 June, and thereafter conducted further sea trials and torpedo training.[12]

After Zieten entered service in June 1877, Diederichs was replaced by Alfred von Tirpitz, who took over torpedo testing while he was assigned to the Torpedo School at Kiel. Diederichs meanwhile readied the old gunboat Scorpion as a tender for Zieten. On 18 September, Zieten and Scorpion participated in the first major test of the new Whitehead torpedoes in the German navy. During the exercises, Zieten scored three hits on a stationary target, which was deemed a great success. After the conclusion of the maneuvers, Zieten was placed in reserve on 2 October for the winter.[13] The analysis of the testing showed that the bow-mounted torpedo tube was not satisfactory, and so Diederichs was tasked with redesigning her armament in January 1878. Diederichs moved the bow tube to a swivel mount on her deck, and added two 12 cm guns to improve her defense against small warships.[10]

The refit work was completed by 16 April 1878, permitting Tirpitz to take command of the ship on 6 May.[10] He served as the ship's commander until August 1880.[14] Tirpitz, as the commander of Germany's torpedo boat flotilla, staunchly advocated the development of torpedo craft rather than a fleet of battleships.[15] In July 1880, during maneuvers with the fleet, Zieten torpedoed and sank the old paddle steamer Barbarossa.[16] In 1882, Zieten joined a cruising squadron that consisted of the corvettes Gneisenau and Nymphe, the steamer Loreley, and a gunboat, for operations in the Mediterranean Sea. The ships were present during the British bombardment of Alexandria in August 1882; they sent men ashore to protect the German embassy, along with a German-run hospital.[17] In July, Zieten joined a squadron of ships to take the newly crowned Kaiser Wilhelm II for a tour of Baltic ports, which included a visit to Tsar Alexander III of Russia.[18]

The ship was assigned as the dispatch vessel for the Reserve Squadron in the North Sea in 1898, along with the coastal defense ships Beowulf and Frithjof.[19] Starting in 1899, Zieten was used intermittently as a fishery protection ship.[8] In September 1902, Zieten participated in the final exercises during the annual fleet maneuvers.[20] Her career as a fishery protection ship lasted until 1914, when she was mobilized at the outbreak of World War I in August. She was used as a coast guard ship for the duration of the conflict. After Germany's defeat, Zieten was stricken from the naval register on 6 December 1919. The ship was sold on 18 August 1921 for 655,000 marks and broken up in Wilhelmshaven.[8]


  1. ^ Gottschall, p. 48
  2. ^ a b c Gardiner, p. 256
  3. ^ Dunlap, p. 957
  4. ^ a b Sondhaus, p. 115
  5. ^ Gardiner, p. 249
  6. ^ Ropp, pp. 130–131, 136
  7. ^ Gröner, pp. 88–89
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gröner, p. 89
  9. ^ Gröner, p. 88
  10. ^ a b c Gottschall, p. 53
  11. ^ Gottschall, p. 50
  12. ^ Gottschall, pp. 51–52
  13. ^ Gottschall, p. 52
  14. ^ Kelly, pp. 50, 52
  15. ^ Ropp, p. 134
  16. ^ Sondhaus, p. 141
  17. ^ Sondhaus, p. 143
  18. ^ Sondhaus, p. 177
  19. ^ Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, 1898 p. 484
  20. ^ Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, 1902, p. 1610


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  • Gardiner, Robert; Gray, Randal, eds. (1984). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1906–1922. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-907-8. 
  • Gottschall, Terrell D. (2003). By Order of the Kaiser. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557503095. 
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  • Journal of the Royal United Service Institution. London: J. J. Keliher & Sons. XLII (242). April 1898. OCLC 494356158.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • Journal of the Royal United Service Institution. London: J. J. Keliher & Sons. XLVI (297). December 1902. OCLC 494356158.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • Kelly, Patrick J. (2011). Tirpitz and the Imperial German Navy. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-35593-5. 
  • Ropp, Theodore (1987). Roberts, Stephen S., ed. The Development of a Modern Navy: French Naval Policy, 1871-1904. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-87021-141-6. 
  • Sondhaus, Lawrence (1997). Preparing for Weltpolitik: German Sea Power Before the Tirpitz Era. Naval Institute Press: Annapolis. ISBN 1-55750-745-7.