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SMS Schleswig-Holstein
Bundesarchiv DVM 10 Bild-23-63-47, Linienschiff "Schleswig-Holstein".jpg
Schleswig-Holstein in late 1930s.
Career (German Empire)
Name: Schleswig-Holstein
Namesake: Schleswig-Holstein[1]
Ordered: 11 June 1904
Builder: Germaniawerft, Kiel
Laid down: 18 August 1905
Launched: 17 December 1906
Commissioned: 6 July 1908
Fate: Sunk by bombs 1944; scuttled 21 March 1945; raised and beached for long-term use as target 1948; remains still extant.
General characteristics
Class & type: Deutschland-class pre-dreadnought battleship
  • 13,200 t (13,000 long tons) normal
  • 14,218 t (13,993 long tons) full load
Length: 127.6 m (418 ft 8 in)
Beam: 22.2 m (72 ft 10 in)
Draft: 8.21 m (26 ft 11 in)
Installed power: 17,000 ihp (13,000 kW)
Propulsion: three shafts, three triple expansion steam engines, 12 boilers
Speed: 18 knots (33 km/h)
Range: 4,800 nautical miles (9,000 km); 10 knots (20 km/h)
  • 35 officers
  • 708 enlisted men
Armament: At construction:
Armament in 1926:
Armament in 1939:
  • 2 × 2 – 28 cm SK L/40 guns
  • 10 x 15 cm SK L/45 guns (casemated: removed 1940)
  • 4 × 8.8 cm SK L/45 anti-aircraft guns
  • 4 × 3.7 cm (1.5 in) guns (2×2)
  • Belt: 240 mm (9.4 in)
  • Turrets: 280 mm (11 in)
  • Deck: 40 mm (1.6 in)
Service record

SMS Schleswig-Holstein[lower-alpha 1] was the last of the five Deutschland-class battleships built by the German Kaiserliche Marine. The ship, named for the province of Schleswig-Holstein, was laid down in the Germaniawerft dockyard in Kiel in August 1905 and commissioned into the fleet nearly three years later. The ships of her class were already outdated by the time they entered service, being inferior in size, armor, firepower and speed to the new generation of dreadnought battleships.

Schleswig-Holstein fought in both World Wars. During World War I, she saw front-line service in the II Battle Squadron of the High Seas Fleet, culminating in the Battle of Jutland on 31 May – 1 June 1916. Schleswig-Holstein saw action during the engagement, and was hit by one large-caliber shell. After the battle, Schleswig-Holstein was relegated to guard duties in the mouth of the Elbe River before being decommissioned in late 1917. As one of the few battleships permitted for Germany by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Schleswig-Holstein was again pressed into fleet service in the 1920s. In 1935, the old battleship was converted into a training ship for naval cadets.

Schleswig-Holstein fired the first shots of World War II when she fired at the Polish base at Westerplatte in the early morning hours of 1 September 1939. The ship was used as a training vessel for the majority of the war, and was sunk by British bombers in December 1944. Schleswig-Holstein was subsequently salvaged and then beached for use by the Soviet Navy as a target. As of 1990, the ship's bell was on display in the Bundeswehr Military History Museum in Dresden.


Schleswig-Holstein was laid down on 18 August 1905 at the Germaniawerft dockyard in Kiel.[2] She was launched on 17 December 1906, the last pre-dreadnought battleship of the German navy.[1] The British battleship HMS Dreadnought—armed with ten 12-inch (30.5 cm) guns—had already been commissioned earlier that month,[3] with a revolutionary design that rendered every ship of the German navy obsolescent, including Schleswig-Holstein.[4] At Schleswig-Holstein's launching ceremony, she was christened by Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, the German Empress; Wilhelm II was also in attendance. Ernst Gunther, the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, gave the commissioning speech.[5]

Schleswig-Holstein had a length of 127.6 m (418 ft 8 in), a beam of 22.2 m (72 ft 10 in), a draft of 8.21 m (26 ft 11 in), and a full-load displacement of 14,218 metric tons (13,993 long tons; 15,673 short tons). She was equipped with three-shaft triple expansion engines and twelve coal-fired water-tube boilers that produced a rated 17,000 indicated horsepower (13,000 kW) and a top speed of 19.1 kn (35.4 km/h; 22.0 mph). In addition to being the fastest ship of her class, Schleswig-Holstein was the second most fuel efficient. At a cruising speed of 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph), she could steam for 5,720 nautical miles (10,590 km; 6,580 mi). [2] She had a standard crew of 35 officers and 708 enlisted men.[6]

The ship's primary armament consisted of four 28 cm SK L/40 guns in two twin turrets;[lower-alpha 2] one turret was placed forward and the other aft. She was also equipped with fourteen 17 cm (6.7 in) guns mounted in casemates and twenty 8.8 cm (3.5 in) guns in pivot mounts. The ship was also armed with six 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes, all submerged in the hull. One was in the bow, one in the stern, and four on the broadside. Her armored belt was 240 mm (9.4 in) thick amidships, and she had a 40 mm (1.6 in) thick armored deck. The main battery turrets had 280 mm (11 in) thick sides.[7]

Service history

Upon completion, Schleswig-Holstein was commissioned for sea trials on 6 July 1908. Her crew largely came from her sister ship Schlesien. On 21 September the ship was assigned to the II Battle Squadron of the High Seas Fleet, alongside her sister ships.[1] In November, fleet and unit exercises were conducted in the Baltic Sea.[8] The training regimen in which Schleswig-Holstein participated followed a similar pattern over the next five years. Fleet maneuvers were conducted in the spring, followed by a summer cruise to Norway, and additional fleet training in the fall. This included another cruise into the Atlantic, from 7 July to 1 August 1909.[9] Starting in September 1910, Friedrich Bödicker took command of the ship, a position he held for the next three years.[10] On 3 October 1911, the ship was transferred back to the II Squadron. Due to the Agadir Crisis in July, the summer cruise only went into the Baltic.[9] In 1913, she won the Kaiser's Schiesspreis (Gunnery Award).[5] On 14 July 1914, the annual summer cruise to Norway began, but the threat of war in Europe cut the excursion short; within two weeks Schleswig-Holstein and the rest of the II Squadron had returned to Wilhelmshaven.[9]

World War I

At the outbreak of war in July 1914, Schleswig-Holstein was assigned to guard duty in the mouth of the Elbe River while the rest of the fleet mobilized.[1] In late October, she and her sisters were sent to Kiel to have improvements made to their underwater protection system to make them more resistant to torpedoes and mines,[8] after which the II Battle Squadron rejoined the fleet. The main battle fleet covered Rear Admiral Franz von Hipper's battlecruisers of the I Scouting Group while they bombarded Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby on 15–16 December 1914.[1] During the operation, the German battle fleet of some 12 dreadnoughts and 8 pre-dreadnoughts came to within 10 nmi (19 km; 12 mi) of an isolated squadron of six British battleships. However, skirmishes between the rival destroyer screens convinced the German commander, Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, that he was confronted with the entire Grand Fleet, and so he broke off the engagement and turned for home.[11] In April 1916, the ship had two of her 8.8 cm guns removed and replaced with 8.8 cm Flak guns.[1]

Schleswig-Holstein then participated in a fleet advance to the Dogger Bank on 21–22 April 1915. On 11–12 September, the II Reconnaissance Group conducted a minelaying operation off the Swarte Bank with the II Squadron in support. This was followed by another sweep by the fleet on 23–24 October that ended without result. The II and III Battle Squadron dreadnoughts conducted an advance into the North Sea on 5–7 March 1916; Schleswig-Holstein and the rest of the II Squadron remained in the German Bight, ready to sail in support. They then rejoined the fleet during the operation to bombard Yarmouth and Lowestoft on 24–25 April.[8] During this operation, the battlecruiser Seydlitz was damaged by a British mine and had to return to port prematurely. Visibility was poor, so the operation was quickly called off before the British fleet could intervene.[12]

Battle of Jutland

The German fleet sailed to the north and met the British fleet sailing from the west; both fleets conducted a series of turns and maneuvers during the chaotic battle.

Diagram of the Battle of Jutland showing the major movements

The commander of the High Seas Fleet, Admiral Reinhard Scheer, immediately planned another advance into the North Sea, but the damage to Seydlitz delayed the operation until the end of May.[13] As the last ship assigned to the IV Division of the II Battle Squadron, the rearmost German formation, Schleswig-Holstein was the last battleship in the line. The II Battle Squadron was commanded by Rear Admiral Franz Mauve.[14] During the "Run to the North," Scheer ordered the fleet to pursue the retreating battleships of the British 5th Battle Squadron at top speed. Schleswig-Holstein and her sisters were significantly slower than the dreadnoughts and quickly fell behind.[15] During this period, Admiral Scheer directed Hannover to place herself behind Schleswig-Holstein so he would have a flagship on either end of the formation.[16] By 19:30, the Grand Fleet had arrived on the scene and confronted Admiral Scheer with significant numerical superiority.[17] The German fleet was severely hampered by the presence of the slower Deutschland-class ships; if Scheer ordered an immediate turn towards Germany, he would have to sacrifice the slower ships to make his escape.[18]

Admiral Scheer decided to reverse the course of the fleet with the Gefechtskehrtwendung, a maneuver that required every unit in the German line to turn 180° simultaneously.[19][lower-alpha 3] Having fallen behind, the ships of the II Battle Squadron could not conform to the new course following the turn,[20] and fell to the disengaged side of the German line. Admiral Mauve considered moving his ships to the rear of the line, astern of the III Battle Squadron dreadnoughts, but decided against it when he realized the movement would interfere with the maneuvering of Hipper's battlecruisers. Instead, he attempted to place his ships at the head of the line.[21] But by the time the II Squadron reached its position at the head of the line, Scheer had ordered another Gefechtskehrtwendung, which placed them at the rear of the German fleet.[22] By 21:00, Scheer had turned the fleet around a third time, but the slow speed of Schleswig-Holstein and her squadron mates caused them to fall out of position, to the disengaged side of the fleet.[23]

Later on the first day of the battle, Hipper's badly damaged battlecruisers were being engaged by their British rivals. Schleswig-Holstein and the other so-called "five-minute ships" came to their aid by steaming in between the opposing battlecruiser squadrons.[24][lower-alpha 4] These ships were very briefly engaged, owing in large part to the poor visibility. Indeed, the visibility was so bad, the gunners aboard Schleswig-Holstein could not make out a target, and she did not fire her main guns. At 21:35 a heavy caliber shell struck the ship on the port side,[24][lower-alpha 5] punching a hole approximately 40 cm (16 in) wide before exploding against the inner casemate armor. It tore apart 4.5 m (15 ft) of the superstructure deck and disabled one of the port side casemate guns.[25] Three men were killed and nine were wounded.[26] Admiral Mauve halted the fight against the much more powerful battlecruisers and ordered an 8-point turn to starboard.[27]

Late on the 31st, the fleet reformed for the night voyage back to Germany, with Schleswig-Holstein towards the rear of the line, ahead of Hessen, Hannover, and the battlecruisers Von der Tann and Derfflinger.[28] Around 03:00, British destroyers conducted a series of attacks against the fleet, some of which were directed towards Schleswig-Holstein.[29] Shortly thereafter, Pommern was struck by at least one torpedo from the destroyer Onslaught; the hit detonated an ammunition magazine, destroying the ship in a tremendous explosion. During the attack, Schleswig-Holstein was forced to turn away to avoid the destroyers' torpedoes.[30] Shortly after 05:00, Hannover and several other ships fired repeatedly at what they falsely believed to be British submarines.[31]

Despite the ferocity of the night fighting, the High Seas Fleet punched through the British destroyer forces and reached Horns Reef by 4:00 on 1 June.[32] The German fleet reached Wilhelmshaven a few hours later, where the undamaged dreadnoughts of the Nassau and Helgoland classes took up defensive positions.[33] Over the course of the battle, Schleswig-Holstein had fired only twenty 17 cm rounds.[34]

Later actions

Schleswig-Holstein was put into dock for repairs 10–25 June 1916.[1] The Navy then decided to withdraw the four remaining Deutschland-class ships, owing to their obsolescence and vulnerability to underwater attacks, as demonstrated by the loss of Pommern.[35] Thereafter, the ship was used as a target for U-boats, except during 12–23 February 1917 when she was used as a guard ship. In April Schleswig-Holstein was sent to Altenbruch at the mouth of the Elbe; here she was decommissioned on 2 May. Schleswig-Holstein was then disarmed and assigned to the 5th U-boat Flotilla to be used as a barracks ship in Bremerhaven. In 1918 the ship was moved to Kiel, where she remained for the rest of the war.[1]

Inter-war years

Schleswig-Holstein transiting the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal in 1931

Following the German defeat in World War I, the German navy was reorganized as the Reichsmarine according to the Treaty of Versailles. The new navy was permitted to retain eight pre-dreadnought battleships under Article 181—two of which would be in reserve—for coastal defense.[36] Schleswig-Holstein was among the ships that were retained, along with her sisters Hannover and Schlesien and several of the Braunschweig-class battleships.[37] Schleswig-Holstein was recommissioned as the new fleet flagship on 31 January 1926 following an extensive refit, with new fire controls and an enlarged aft superstructure for the admiral's staff. The secondary 17 cm guns were replaced with 15-centimeter (5.9 in) pieces and four 50 cm torpedo tubes were fitted in main deck casemates fore and aft, replacing the submerged tubes.[38]

Schleswig-Holstein and her sister Hannover went on a training cruise into the Atlantic that lasted from 14 May to 17 June 1926; while on the cruise, she visited Palma de Mallorca in the Mediterranean on 22 to 30 May. She stopped in Barcelona with Elsass on 1 to 7 June, and then proceeded to Vigo from 12 to 14 June, where she joined Hessen, Elsass, and Hannover. There, the chief of the fleet, Vice Admiral Konrad Mommsen, met with King Alfonso XIII.[39] Schleswig-Holstein went on another training cruise between 30 March and 14 June 1927 into the Atlantic. She visited a series of Iberian ports, including Lisbon, Portugal, where Mommsen was greeted by Óscar Carmona, the president of Portugal.[40] In December 1927 Schleswig-Holstein went back into dock, re-emerging in January 1928 with her forefunnel trunked back into the second and both remaining funnels heightened, as had previously been done with her sister Schlesien.[38]

With the delivery of the new Deutschland-class Panzerschiffe (armored ships) beginning in 1933, the older battleships were gradually withdrawn from front-line service. In May 1935, the Reichsmarine was reorganized as the Kriegsmarine by the reforms instituted by Adolf Hitler that created the Wehrmacht.[41] Schleswig-Holstein ceased to be fleet flagship on 22 September 1935, and was refitted as a cadet training ship during January–March and May–July 1936. The changes included removing her remaining upper deck 15 cm guns and her torpedo tubes, and her two aft boiler rooms were converted to oil-firing models, although the forward boilers remained coal-fired. The ship's standard complement was also reduced from 35 officers and 708 enlisted men to 31 officers and 565 sailors. The crew was supplemented by 175 cadets,[42] who were taken on long cruises in Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein, the latter sailing in October 1936 on a six-month voyage to South America and the Caribbean. The following year, her cruise took her around Africa, and the 1938–39 cruise went back to South American and Caribbean waters.[43] Gustav Kieseritzky served as the ship's commander from June 1938 until April 1939.[10]

In the mid-1930s, Hitler began pursuing an increasingly aggressive foreign policy; in 1936 he re-militarized the Rhineland, and in 1938 completed the Anschluss of Austria and the annexation of Czechoslovakia.[44] He then demanded German control over the city of Danzig, which had become a free city after World War I.[45]

World War II

Schleswig-Holstein off Denmark in April 1940

Early on 1 September 1939, Germany launched an attack against Poland. Schleswig-Holstein had been positioned in the port of Danzig on what had been called a ceremonial visit in August. The ship was moored close to the Polish fortress at Westerplatte; at 04:47 on 1 September, Schleswig-Holstein opened fire with her main battery at the Polish positions on the Westerplatte, and in doing so fired the first shots of World War II.[46] A force of German marines was landed to take the fortress. The Poles managed to hold off the Germans until they were forced to surrender on 8 September at 10:30.[47]

The German military then turned its attention westward, and in April 1940, invaded Denmark. Schleswig-Holstein was assigned to the naval component of the invasion force.[47] During the invasion, the ship was briefly grounded off the Danish coast.[48] Following the operation, she was transferred back to training duties, as the flagship of the Chief of Training Units.[49] At the end of 1943, the reactivation of Schleswig-Holstein was once again contemplated. In her favor was the fact that she retained some coal-fired boilers, given the ever-worsening oil-supply situation. Thus, on 1 February 1944 she was once again recommissioned, at first taking up her old role as a cadet training ship, then later in the year docking at Gotenhafen for a refit. She was to be converted into a convoy escort ship with a greatly enhanced anti-aircraft armament, but after being hit three times by Royal Air Force bombers on 18 December 1944, she eventually foundered in shallow water.[50] As the ship was now permanently disabled, her crew was sent ashore to assist in the defense of Marienburg.[47]

Following the Soviet capture of that city, the remaining crew detonated scuttling charges in the wreck on 21 March to further destroy the ship.[51][52] After the war, the ship was raised during 1945/1946 by the Soviet Navy and transferred to Tallinn. Although reference books long stated that she was scrapped there or in Marienburg,[51][53] in actuality she was towed out in 1948 and beached for long-term use as a target in shallow water off the island of Osmussaar in the Gulf of Finland.[54][55] Last used for target practice around 1966, the remains are now submerged.[56] Her bell was held in the collection of the Military History Museum of the Bundeswehr in Dresden as of 1990.[51]



  1. "SMS" stands for "Seiner Majestät Schiff", or "His Majesty's Ship" in German.
  2. In Imperial German Navy gun nomenclature, "SK" (Schnelladekanone) denotes that the gun is quick loading, 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 its bore diameter.
  3. Gefechtskehrtwendung translates roughly as the "battle about-turn", and was a simultaneous 16-point turn of the entire High Seas Fleet. It had never been conducted under enemy fire before the Battle of Jutland. See: Tarrant, pp. 153–154.
  4. The men of the German navy referred to ships as "five-minute ships" because that was the length of time they were expected to survive if confronted by a dreadnought. See: Tarrant, p. 62.
  5. Sources disagree on the caliber of shell and the ship that fired it; John Campbell states that it was a 12-inch (30 cm) shell from HMS New Zealand, while V. E. Tarrant suggests it was a 13.5-inch (34 cm) shell, probably from HMS Princess Royal. See: Campbell, p. 254 and Tarrant, p. 195, respectively.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Staff, p. 15.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Staff, p. 5.
  3. Gardiner & Gray, pp. 21–22.
  4. Herwig, p. 57.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Hildebrand Röhr & Steinmetz, p. 131.
  6. Gröner, p. 21.
  7. Gröner, pp. 20–21.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Staff, p. 11.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Staff, pp. 8–15.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Hildebrand Röhr & Steinmetz, p. 130.
  11. Tarrant, pp. 31–33.
  12. Tarrant, pp. 52–54.
  13. Tarrant, p. 58.
  14. Tarrant, p. 286.
  15. London, p. 73.
  16. Tarrant, p. 84.
  17. Tarrant, p. 150.
  18. Tarrant, pp. 150–152.
  19. Tarrant, p. 152–153.
  20. Tarrant, p. 154.
  21. Tarrant, p. 155.
  22. Tarrant, p. 166.
  23. Tarrant, p. 180.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Tarrant, p. 195.
  25. Campbell, pp. 270–271.
  26. Tarrant, p. 298.
  27. Tarrant, pp. 195–196.
  28. Campbell, p. 275.
  29. Tarrant, p. 242.
  30. Campbell, p. 300.
  31. Campbell, p. 314.
  32. Tarrant, pp. 246–247.
  33. Tarrant, p. 263.
  34. Tarrant, p. 292.
  35. Gardiner & Gray, p. 141.
  36. Gardiner & Chesneau, p. 218.
  37. Schultz, p. 90.
  38. 38.0 38.1 Schultz, p. 91-100.
  39. Hildebrand Röhr & Steinmetz, p. 132.
  40. Hildebrand Röhr & Steinmetz, p. 133.
  41. Schultz, p. 125-133.
  42. Schultz, p. 134-136.
  43. Schultz, p. 135-185.
  44. Murray & Millet, pp. 5–12.
  45. Bullock, p. 288.
  46. Williamson, pp. 5–6.
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 Williamson, p. 6.
  48. Evans, p. 119.
  49. Nauck, p. 304.
  50. Schultz, p. 228-48.
  51. 51.0 51.1 51.2 Gröner, p. 22.
  52. Domarus, p. 3122.
  53. Gardiner & Chesneau, p. 222.
  54. Schultz, p. 248-53.
  55. Breyer, p. 40.
  56. Diver May 2009.


Online sources

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