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SMS Königsberg (1905)
Bundesarchiv Bild 105-DOA3002, Deutsch-Ostafrika, Kreuzer Königsberg.jpg
SMS Königsberg at Dar es Salaam
Career (German Empire)
Name: Königsberg
Namesake: Königsberg, East Prussia
Builder: Kaiserliche Werft, Kiel
Laid down: 12 January 1905
Launched: 12 December 1905
Commissioned: 4 June 1906
Fate: Scuttled 11 July 1915
Status: Non ferrous metal salvaged over a number of years. The corroded remains disappeared into the river bed in 1966.
General characteristics
Displacement: Design: 3,390 t (3,340 long tons)
Full load: 3,814 t (3,754 long tons)
Length: 115.3 m (378 ft)
Beam: 13.2 m (43 ft)
Draft: 5.29 m (17.4 ft)
Propulsion: Twin triple expansion engines, 13,200 ihp (9,800 kW)
Speed: 24.1 knots (44.6 km/h)
Complement: 14 Officers
308 Enlisted men
Armament: 10 × 10.5 cm SK L/40 naval guns
2 × 45 cm (18 in) torpedo-tubes
Armor: Deck: 80 mm (3.1 in)
Conning tower: 100 mm (3.9 in)

SMS Königsberg was the lead ship of her class of light cruisers built by the Imperial German Navy. She was laid down in early 1905, launched in December 1905, and completed by June 1906. Her sisters included Stettin, Stuttgart, and Nürnberg. The ship was armed with a main battery of ten 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns and had a top speed of 24.1 kn (44.6 km/h; 27.7 mph). After her commissioning, Königsberg escorted Kaiser Wilhelm II on a state visit to Britain. In April 1914, the ship was sent on what was to have been a two-year deployment to German East Africa, but this was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I in August of that year.

Königsberg initially attempted to raid British and French commercial traffic in the region, but only destroyed one merchant ship in the course of her career. Coal shortages hampered her ability to attack shipping. On 20 September 1914, she surprised and sank the British protected cruiser HMS Pegasus in the Battle of Zanzibar. She then retreated into the Rufiji River to repair her engines. Before the repairs could be completed, British cruisers located Königsberg, and, unable to steam into the river to destroy her, set up a blockade. After several attempts to sink the ship, the British sent two monitors, Mersey and Severn, to destroy the German cruiser. On 11 July 1915, the two monitors got close enough to severely damage Königsberg, forcing her crew to scuttle the ship. The surviving crew salvaged all ten of her main guns and joined Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck's guerrilla campaign. The rusting remains of the wreck disappeared into the river bed in 1966.


Line-drawing of the Königsberg class

Königsberg was ordered under the contract name "Ersatz Meteor" and was laid down at the Imperial Dockyard in Kiel in 1905. She was launched on 12 December 1905, after which fitting-out work commenced. She was commissioned into the High Seas Fleet on 6 April 1907. The ship was 115.3 meters (378 ft) long overall and had a beam of 13.2 m (43 ft) and a draft of 5.29 m (17.4 ft) forward. She displaced 3,814 t (3,754 long tons; 4,204 short tons) at full combat load. Her propulsion system consisted of two 3-cylinder triple expansion engines powered by eleven coal-fired Marine-type boilers. These provided a top speed of 24.1 kn (44.6 km/h; 27.7 mph) and a range of approximately 5,750 nautical miles (10,650 km; 6,620 mi) at 12 kn (22 km/h; 14 mph). Königsberg had a crew of 14 officers and 308 enlisted men.[1]

The ship was armed with ten 10.5 cm SK L/45 guns in single pedestal mounts. Two were placed side by side forward on the forecastle, six were located amidships, three on either side, and two were side by side aft.[2] The guns had a maximum elevation of 30 degrees, which allowed them to engage targets out to 12,700 m (41,700 ft).[3] They were supplied with 1,500 rounds of ammunition, for 150 shells per gun.[1] A pair of 8.8 cm (3.5 in) guns were later installed.[4] She was also equipped with a pair of 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes with five torpedoes submerged in the hull on the broadside. The ship was protected by an armored deck that was 80 mm (3.1 in) thick amidships. The conning tower had 100 mm (3.9 in) thick sides.[1]

Service history

SMS Königsberg at Bagamoyo, June 1914

Shortly after her commissioning in 1906, Königsberg was tasked with escorting Kaiser Wilhelm II's yacht Hohenzollern during a state visit to Britain.[5] Later the ship would visit Spain and Ireland and in April 1911 visited England for the coronation of King George V. In June that year the ship underwent a tropical refit and in June 1913 was laid up at Kiel. In 1913 the colony of German East Africa requested a replacement for the aging unprotected cruiser Geier then stationed in Dar es Salaam. The German admiralty selected Konigsberg and on 1 April 1914 Fregattenkapitän Max Looff took command of the ship. Three and a half weeks later, on 25 April, the ship left Kiel for a two-year deployment to German East Africa. She steamed through the Mediterranean Sea and stopped in Spanish and Italian ports before transiting the Suez Canal, and stopping at Aden. Königsberg arrived in Dar es Salaam on 6 June to a tumultuous welcome from colonists and natives alike. The African colonial subjects considered the ship to be extremely impressive. Most notable were her three funnels, as the Africans equated funnels with naval power, and three was an unprecedented number. The ship acquired the nickname "Manowari na bomba tatu", or "the man of war with three pipes."[6]

Looff spent the next few weeks showing the flag at Bagamoyo, Lindi, and Tanga as well as honing the ships gunnery skills. With an unsettling political situation and the possibility of war in Europe, Konigsberg was instructed to coal and head to sea on 31 July. While outbound from Dar es Salaam the ship was intercepted by the three Royal Navy cruisers of the Cape Squadron,HMS Astraea, Hyacinth, and Pegasus. Since the countries were not at war they could only follow behind. Looff used a rain squall and his ship's superior speed to break contact with his British pursuers that evening and steamed up the Somaliland coast towards Aden. On 4 August, a signal from Dar es Salaam gave word of the outbreak of hostilities between Britain and Germany and advised Looff he was now a raider. The following day in Dar es Salaam, the collier Somalia was stocked with coal to resupply Königsberg and left port shortly before British warships arrived on 8 August.[7]

World War I

At the outbreak of World War I, Königsberg was ordered to attack British commerce around the entrance to the Red Sea. A lack of coal hampered Looff's efforts; the British prevented his collier Koenig from leaving Dar es Salaam and purchased all of the coal in Portuguese East Africa to deny it to Königsberg.[8] She intercepted a then-neutral Japanese liner whose captain was convinced his ship, manifest and cargo had been examined by a British cruiser,[9][Note 1] then stopped the German steamers Zieten and Hansa from heading to the Suez Canal where they would be confiscated. Königsberg chased after the German freighter Goldenfels whose officers also mistook the ship for a British cruiser.[10]

On 6 August, Königsberg found a British ship off the coast of Oman, the freighter City of Winchester. A boarding party discovered that City of Winchester carried poor quality Indian coal ("Bombay dust") and Captain Looff did not want to foul his boilers with this inferior coal. A demolition team therefore placed charges in the boiler and engine room and Königsberg's main battery got in some firing practice before the ship was sunk.[10] By the time Looff rendezvoused with Somalia later that day, his ship was down at a mere 14 tons of coal. Somalia transferred some 850 tons of coal to the cruiser, which permitted a sweep to Madagascar. No British or French ships were found, however, and so Königsberg met Somalia again on 23 August and took on coal for four days of cruising.[11]

In the meantime, British warships bombarded Dar es Salaam and destroyed the German wireless station there.[12] Somalia's captain, a knowledgeable local pilot, suggested the Rufiji Delta as a hiding place; he had been part of a survey team and had charted that area of the colony and found the river unexpectedly deep. The Navy activated the Somalia captain's reserve commission and he was appointed Königsberg's pilot.[13] On 3 September 1914 at high tide, Königsberg passed over the bar at the mouth of the Rufiji and slowly made her way up the river. Coast watchers were stationed at the mouth of the river and telegraph lines were run to ensure the Germans would not be surprised by British ships searching for them.[14]

When, on 19 September 1914, Captain Looff learned from the coast watchers that a 2-funnel warship had entered the harbor of Zanzibar, he assumed that it was either Astraea or Pegasus; it was in fact the latter.[15] Pegasus had put into Zanzibar to repair problems with its engines.[8] Königsberg had again full bunkers thanks to transports from Dar es Salaam and Looff decided to act immediately. With the afternoon tide the ship left the delta and started her run north to Zanzibar. At dawn the next day Königsberg fired salvos for 20 minutes into the stationary Pegasus in what came to be known as the Battle of Zanzibar.[13] Pegasus had been hit some 200 times, and had suffered 31 fatalities and 55 injuries. While leaving the harbor, Königsberg spotted the picket ship Helmut and damaged her machinery.[16]

Battle of Rufiji Delta

One of Königsberg's guns emplaced in the delta

Captain Looff had chosen as his next target the shipping lanes off South Africa, hoping to get at sufficient coal to eventually make the long journey up the Atlantic to reach Germany.[17] Königsberg was suffering from machinery problems, which prevented the journey.[18] The long cruises, the intermittent high speed dashes, and the lack of dockyard attention, had all taken their toll on the ship’s boilers.[19] Instead, Looff returned to the Rufiji and proceeded to the town of Salele. There the ship was heavily camouflaged and defensive arrangements, including landing soldiers and field guns along with the network of coast watchers and telegraph lines, were effected.[16] The engineering staff began to disassemble the affected boilers and Looff had these heavy parts dragged on wooden sledges to the workshops at Dar es Salaam 100 miles (160 km) away.[19] An improvised minefield was also laid in the Delta to keep the British ships from entering the river.[20]

During this time, the British reinforced the ships tasked with tracking down the elusive German raider, and placed the ships under the command of Captain Sidney R. Drury-Lowe. On 19 October, the cruiser Chatham found the German East Africa Line ship Präsident at Lindi. A boarding party searched the ship and discovered documents indicating she had supplied Königsberg with coal the previous month. On 30 October, the cruiser Dartmouth located Königsberg and Somalia in the Delta.[21] Chatham, Dartmouth, and Weymouth blockaded the Rufiji Delta to ensure Königsberg could not escape.[22]

Blockship Newbridge, 1914

Königsberg was protected by the thick mangrove swamps, which concealed the ship and offered a degree of cover from British shellfire, especially while the British ships remained outside of the river. A collier, Newbridge, was converted into a blockship to be sunk in the main channel of the delta to prevent Königsberg's escape. Despite heavy German fire from both sides of the river, the British successfully sank Newbridge across one of the delta mouths. The German raider could still put to sea via other channels,[20] and so dummy mines were laid in some of these alternates, but they were considered a doubtful deterrent.[23] Looff decided to move his ship as far up the river as possible, to make it more difficult for the British to destroy her. In doing so, his ship would occupy a disproportionate number of British vessels that could otherwise be employed elsewhere.[20]

A civilian pilot, Denis Cutler of Durban, South Africa, was commissioned into the Royal Navy and convinced to make his private Curtiss seaplane available for the British Empire.[24] Lieutenant Cutler and the mechanic he hired on the ship transporting the aircraft, arrived at Niororo Island on 15 November 1914 to report to the captain of Chatham. On 19 November Cutler flew his first reconnaissance mission and was able to verify the presence of the elusive cruiser.[25][Note 2] A pair of Royal Naval Air Service Sopwiths were brought up with the intention of scouting and even bombing the ship. They soon fell apart in the tropical conditions. A trio of Short seaplanes fared a little better, managing to take photographs of the ship before they were grounded by the glue-melting tropical heat and German fire.[27]

In November, the British sought to use the 12-inch (305 mm) guns of the old battleship Goliath to sink the cruiser. The attempt was unsuccessful, once again because the shallow waters prevented the battleship from getting within range.[28] In December, Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck requested as many crew members from the ship as possible for his guerrilla campaign; a total of 220 men were left aboard to keep the ship in fighting condition. This was not enough, however, to permit the ship to go to sea.[20] On 23 December, the British used a pair of shallow-draft ships to sail up the delta. They hit Somalia once before German defensive fire forced them to retreat.[29]

The battered Königsberg after she was scuttled

In the meantime, conditions were deteriorating on Königsberg. There were shortages of coal, ammunition, food, and medical supplies. Although safe from the British, the crew was ravaged by malaria and other tropical ailments. Generally cut off from the outside world, the morale of the sailors fell. However, the situation was marginally improved with a scheme to resupply the ship and give her a fighting chance to return home. A captured British merchant ship, Rubens, was renamed Kronborg. It was given a Danish flag, papers, and a crew of German sailors selected for their ability to speak Danish. It was then packed with coal, field guns, ammunition, fresh water, and the like. After successfully infiltrating the waters of East Africa, it was intercepted by the alerted Hyacinth, which chased it to Manza Bay. The trapped ship was beached and set on fire by the crew. After the departure of Hyacinththe crew returned and put the fire out and upon investigation much of her cargo was deemed salvageable, and was used by Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck in the land campaign.

Finally, in April 1915, the British Admiralty agreed to a plan submitted by Drury-Lowe the previous November, which envisioned attacking the German cruiser with shallow-draft monitors, capable of navigating the Rufiji River. Two of the warships, Mersey and Severn, armed with a pair of 6 in (150 mm) guns each, were brought from Britain. On 6 July 1915, the two monitors crossed the outer sandbar and steamed up the river, despite heavy fire from German positions on the river banks. They stopped at a point they thought to be 10,000 yd (9,100 m) from Königsberg, which would be in range of their own guns but farther than the smaller German guns could reply. Aircraft were used to spot the fall of shot. The monitors' navigation was faulty, however, and after opening fire, found themselves to be within range of Königsberg's guns as well. In the span of three hours, Königsberg had forced both British ships to withdraw.[30]

Königsberg gun in the field (1916)

They returned again on 11 July, after having repaired the damage sustained in the first attempt. The two monitors conducted a five-hour bombardment that destroyed the cruiser.[30] By 13:30, Königsberg was down to two operational guns, each with two rounds left. One of these last rounds was shrapnel and the gunners hit the British spotter plane, causing it to crash in the river.[31] With fires burning below decks, Captain Looff, now wounded along with many of his crew, ordered the ship scuttled. A torpedo was rigged with fuses to blow out the ship’s bottom. With the British still firing, the charges went off and with cheers from the crew for their ship, the Kaiser, and the Fatherland, Königsberg settled into the river just after 14:00, her flag still flying.[32]

The next day 33 German sailors were buried by the 188 remaining crewmen. A plaque was placed near the graves, reading "Beim Untergang S.M.S. Königsberg am 11.7.15 gefallen..." ("fallen during the sinking of SMS Königsberg on 11 July 1915...") followed by a list of the dead.[33] The armament and all other useful equipment and material were removed from the wreck and, together with the ship's crew, went on to see service in the East African land campaign under Lieutenant Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck.[34][Note 3] Königsberg's 10.5 cm guns played especially prominent roles for the Germans for the rest of the war, acting as the theater's heaviest field artillery, used in harbor fortifications, and even remounted on the converted ferry Götzen, the German "capital ship" of the inland Lake Tanganyika fleet.[36] The surviving sailors, organized as the Königsberg-Abteilung, eventually surrendered on 26 November 1917 and were interned in British Egypt. In 1919, after the war, the men took part in a parade through the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate them and their ship.[37] The wreck of Königsberg was sold in 1923 to Commander John Ingles and large quantities of non ferrous material removed from the wreck. The wreck eventually rolled over on its starboard side and disappeared into the river bed in 1966. This is recorded in the Dar es Salaam Archives in Tanzania.


  1. Japan declared war on Germany on 23 August 1914 in accordance with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance[9]
  2. On 10 December 1914 Cutler’s airplane was hit by rifle fire; he managed to crash land at the mouth of the river, swam ashore, was captured by the German defenders and made a prisoner of war.[26]
  3. After the news of Königsberg's struggle reached the German admiralty, Max Looff was promoted to Kapitän zur See (full captain); he thus technically outranked Lettow-Vorbeck at that time, but Looff fully recognized that Lettow-Vorbeck was commander of all forces in German East Africa.[35]
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Gröner, p. 104
  2. Gardiner & Gray, p. 157
  3. Gardiner & Gray, p. 140
  4. Farwell, p. 127
  5. Miller, p. 31–32
  6. von Mantey, p.
  7. Looff, p.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Halpern, p. 77
  9. 9.0 9.1 Hoyt, p. 38
  10. 10.0 10.1 Hoyt, p. 40
  11. Farwell, p. 131
  12. Bennett, p. 131
  13. 13.0 13.1 Hoyt, p. 59
  14. Farwell, p. 132
  15. Hoyt, p. 58
  16. 16.0 16.1 Farwell, p. 133
  17. Hoyt, p. 68
  18. Hoyt, p. 69
  19. 19.0 19.1 Miller, p. 78-80
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Bennett, p. 133
  21. Halpern, p. 78
  22. Bennett, pp. 132–133
  23. Miller, p. 86
  24. Turner, pp. 39–40
  25. Hoyt, p. 97
  26. Hoyt, p. 102
  27. Miller, p. 114
  28. Burt, p. 158
  29. Farwell, p. 138
  30. 30.0 30.1 Bennett, p. 134
  31. Hoyt, p. 149
  32. Hoyt, p. 150
  33. Miller, p. 125
  34. Herwig, pp. 154–155
  35. Hoyt, p. 168
  36. Miller, p. 124
  37. Yates, p. 289


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Coordinates: 7°52′6″S 39°14′24″E / 7.86833°S 39.24°E / -7.86833; 39.24

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