Military Wiki
SMS Von der Tann
SMS Von der Tann
Career (Germany)
Name: SMS Von der Tann
Namesake: Ludwig von der Tann
Ordered: 26 September 1907
Builder: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Laid down: 21 March 1908
Launched: 20 March 1909
Commissioned: 1 September 1910
Fate: Scuttled at Scapa Flow on 21 June 1919, wreck raised 1930s and scrapped at Rosyth.
General characteristics
Class & type: Unique battlecruiser
  • Design: 19,370 t (19,060 long tons; 21,350 short tons)
  • Full load: 21,300 t (21,000 long tons; 23,500 short tons)
Length: 171.7 m (563 ft)
Beam: 26.6 m (87 ft)
  • Designed: 8.91 m (29.2 ft)
  • Full load: 9.17 m (30.1 ft)
Propulsion: 4 screws, Parsons steam turbines, 18 Schultz Thornycroft type boilers, 43,600 shp (39 MW)
  • Design: 24.8 knots (45.9 km/h; 28.5 mph)
  • Maximum: 27.75 knots (51.4 km/h; 31.9 mph)
Range: 4,400 nautical miles (8,100 km) at 14 knots (26 km/h)
  • 41 officers
  • 882 men

SMS Von der Tann[lower-alpha 1] was the first battlecruiser built for the German Kaiserliche Marine, as well as Germany's first major turbine-powered warship. At the time of her construction, Von der Tann was the fastest dreadnought-type warship afloat, capable of reaching speeds in excess of 27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph). She was designed in response to the British Invincible class. While the German design had slightly lighter guns—28 cm (11 in),[lower-alpha 2] compared to the 30.5 cm (12 in) Mark X mounted on the British ships—Von der Tann was faster and significantly better-armored. She set the precedent of German battlecruisers carrying much heavier armor than their British equivalents, albeit at the cost of smaller guns.

Von der Tann participated in a number of fleet actions during the First World War, including several bombardments of the English coast. She was present at the Battle of Jutland, where she destroyed the British battlecruiser HMS Indefatigable in the opening minutes of the engagement. Von der Tann was hit several times by large-caliber shells during the battle, and at one point in the engagement, the ship had all of her main battery guns out of action either due to damage or malfunction. Nevertheless, the damage was quickly repaired and the ship returned to the fleet in two months.

Following the end of the war in November 1918, Von der Tann, along with most of the High Seas Fleet, was interned at Scapa Flow pending a decision by the Allies as to the fate of the fleet. The ship met her end when the fleet was scuttled in 1919 to prevent the ships from falling into British hands. The wreck was raised in 1930, and scrapped at Rosyth from 1931 to 1934.


The preceding German large cruiser design, Blücher, was an incremental increase over previous armored cruisers. Blücher was armed with twelve 21 cm (8.3 in) guns, and designed to counter what the Germans knew about the British Invincible class, which were assumed to be larger iterations of the basic armored cruiser type.[1] Once sufficient information about the new British cruisers became available, it was obvious that they were not simply an enlargement on previous designs but a whole new type of warship—the battlecruiser—to which Blücher was quite inferior. However, there were insufficient funds to alter Blücher's layout, so the cruiser assigned for 1907 would have to be an entirely new design.[2]

Design of Von der Tann began in August 1906, under the name "Cruiser F", amid disagreements over the intended role of the new ship. Admiral Tirpitz advocated a ship similar to the new British battlecruisers of the Invincible class: heavier guns, lighter armor, and higher speed with the intention of using the ship as a fleet scout and to destroy the opposing fleet's cruisers. Tirpitz had no intention of using the ship in the main battle line.[3] Kaiser Wilhelm II however, along with most of the Reichsmarineamt (Imperial Navy Office), was in favor of incorporating the ship into the battle line after initial contact was made, which necessitated much heavier armor.[4] This insistence upon the capability to fight in the battle line was a result of the numerical inferiority of the German High Seas fleet compared to the British Royal Navy.[3]

Several design proposals were submitted, all calling for heavy main guns, between 30.5 cm (12 in) and 34.3 cm (13.5 in) calibers.[2] However, financial limitations dictated that smaller, less expensive weaponry would be used instead. The final design therefore used the same 28 cm (11 in) double turret introduced for the last two Nassau-class battleships[5] — hydraulic elevated Drh LC/1907[4] instead of electrical elevated Drh LC/1906.[6][lower-alpha 3] In compensation, the design was given a relatively heavy secondary armament.[7]

At a conference in September 1906, many of the disagreements over the ship's design were resolved. The Naval Constructor, von Eickstedt, argued that since the explosive trials for the proposed protection systems for the new battlecruiser had not been completed, the construction should be postponed, to allow for any alterations to the design.[8] He also argued that guns of 21 cm (8.3 in) or 24 cm (9.4 in) caliber would be sufficient to penetrate the armor of the new British battlecruisers. However, Admiral August von Heeringen, of the General Navy Department, stated that for the ship to be able to engage battleships, the 28 cm (11 in) caliber guns were necessary.[9]

Admiral Capelle, the deputy director of the Reichsmarineamt, stated that by mid November 1906, the testing for the underwater protection designs would be complete. He suggested that if the torpedo bulkhead needed to be strengthened, the ship might be too heavy for the 28 cm (11 in) guns, if the displacement of around 19,000 t (21,000 short tons) was to be retained. Tirpitz refused to consider using smaller guns, even if it meant increasing the displacement of the ship. Von Eickstedt proposed employing a secondary battery of 17 cm (6.7 in) guns instead of the 15 cm (5.9 in) the design called for, but the increased weight would have made it impossible to mount eight main battery guns.[9]

On 22 June 1907, the Kaiser authorized construction of Cruiser F,[4] to be named Von der Tann, after Ludwig Freiherr von und zu der Tann-Rathsamhausen, a Bavarian general who fought in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The contract was awarded to the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg, on 26 September 1907. The keel was laid on 21 March 1908, and the ship was launched nearly a year later, on 20 March 1909. The ship cost 36.523 million Marks.[4]



CG-rendering of Von der Tann

Von der Tann carried eight 28 cm (11.02 in) SK L/45[lower-alpha 4] guns, mounted in four twin turrets: one fore, one aft, and two staggered wing turrets. The guns were emplaced in the Drh.L C/1907 turntable mount, which was traversed electrically, while the guns themselves used hydraulics to change elevation.[4] The guns could be elevated up to 20 degrees, which enabled a maximum range of 18,900 m (20,700 yd). A refit in 1915 increased this to 20,400 m (22,300 yd). The main guns fired a 302 kg (670 lb) armored-piercing shell that had a muzzle velocity of 875 m/s; the main propellant charges were encased in a brass cartridge. A total of 660 projectiles were stored in four shell rooms, each containing 165 shells.[4] The wing turrets were staggered in such a way that all eight guns were able to fire on broadside on a very wide arc.[10]

Unlike her British contemporaries, Von der Tann also carried a heavy secondary battery, consisting of ten 15 cm (5.91 in) SK L/45 guns, casemated in MPL C/06 pivot mounts, each with 150 high explosive and armor-piercing shells. At construction, these guns could fire their 45.3 kg (100 lb) shells at targets up to 13,500 m (14,800 yd) away; after the 1915 refit, their maximum range was extended to 16,800 m (18,400 yd).[11] She was also armed with sixteen 8.8 cm SK L/45 naval gun 8.8 cm (3.46 in) SK L/45 guns, to defend against torpedo boats and destroyers. These were also emplaced in pivot mounts, of the MPL C/01-06 type, with a total of 3,200 shells for these guns. These guns fired a 9 kg (20 lb) shell at the high rate of 15 rounds per minute, up to a range of 10,694 m (11,695 yd), which was quite long for a smaller caliber weapon.[11] In late 1916, following repair work after the damage sustained during the Battle of Jutland, Von der Tann had her 8.8 cm (3.5 in) guns removed and the firing ports welded shut. Two 8.8 cm flak guns were installed on the aft superstructure.[12]

As was customary for capital ships of the time, Von der Tann was equipped with four 45 cm (17.72 in) torpedo tubes, with a total of 11 torpedoes. These were located in the bow, the stern, and two on the broadside. The torpedoes carried a 110 kg (240 lb) warhead, and had an effective range of 2 km (1.04 nmi) when set for a speed of 32 kn (59 km/h), and 1.5 km (0.81 nmi) at 36 kn (67 km/h).[11]


Von der Tann as depicted in Brassey's Naval Annual in 1913; shaded areas represent armor protection.

Because the Von der Tann was designed to fight in the battle line, her armor was much thicker than that of the British battlecruisers. Von der Tann weighed over 2,000 tonnes more than the Indefatigable class,[13] and used 10% more of her weight for armor than the battlecruisers she faced at the Battle of Jutland.[11]

Von der Tann's armor consisted of Krupp cemented and nickel steel. The main belt armor was 80–120 mm  (3.1–4.7 in) thick forward, 250 mm (9.8 in) thick over the ship's citadel, and was 100 mm (3.9 in) thick aft. The forward conning tower was protected by 250 mm (9.8 in), while the aft conning tower by 200 mm (7.9 in). The four turrets had 230 mm (9.1 in) faces, 180 mm (7.1 in) sides, and 90 mm (3.5 in) on the roofs. The horizontal armor measured 25 mm (0.98 in) thick, and the sloping deck armor was 50 mm (2.0 in) thick.[14] Like the armored cruiser Blücher before her, she was protected by a torpedo bulkhead, 25 mm (0.98 in) thick. It was set back a distance of 4 meters (13 ft) from the outer hull skin, the space in between being used to store coal.[15]


Von der Tann was powered by 18 naval coal-fueled double boilers, separated into five boiler rooms. The boilers produced steam at a pressure of 235 psi (16 atmospheres).[15] Von der Tann was the first large German warship to use turbine propulsion. The ship used two sets of turbines: high pressure turbines, which ran the outer two shafts, and low pressure turbines, which powered the inner two shafts. Each shaft had a propeller 3.6 m (12 ft) in diameter. The ship was designed to have a power output of 42,000 shaft horsepower (31,000 kW) at a speed of 300 rpm, which enabled a rated top speed of 24.8 kn (45.9 km/h). However, as was the case with all later German battlecruisers, the ship could be run dramatically higher. During sea trials, the turbines provided 79,802 shp (59,508 kW) at 339 rpm for a top speed of 27.757 kn (51.39 km/h).[12] In one instance during a cruise from Tenerife to Germany, the ship averaged 27 kn (50 km/h), and reached a maximum speed of 28 kn (52 km/h). At the time of her launch, she was the fastest dreadnought afloat.[2] The ship had two parallel rudders, which were controlled by steam-powered engines. Von der Tann's electrical plant consisted of six steam turbo generators that had a total output of 1,200-kW (1,600-hp).[12]

Like many German capital ships,[lower-alpha 5] Von der Tann had chronic problems with the often low-quality coal available for the ship's boilers. Following the end of the raid on Scarborough, Von der Tann's commander, Captain Max von Hahn, remarked that "the inadequacy of our coal and its burning properties results in heavy smoke clouds and signals our presence."[16] During the battle of Jutland, the ship was unable to maintain fires in all of her boilers after 16:00, due to the poor quality coal.[17] Many other German ships suffered the same difficulties during the battle, including Derfflinger and Seydlitz.[18] After 1916, the coal firing in the boilers was supplemented by spraying tar-oil on the coal, which made the coal burn better.[12]

Other characteristics

File:SMS Von der Tann 1911.png

Von der Tann in 1911

Frahm anti-roll tanks were fitted during construction, but these proved to be ineffective;[15] the tanks only reduced rolling by 33%.[19] Bilge keels were later added to improve stability, and the space previously used for the anti-roll tanks was instead used as extra fuel storage.[20] The ship was able to carry an additional 180 t (200 short tons) of coal in the anti-roll tanks.[21] Von der Tann's hull consisted of 15 watertight compartments, and a double bottom extended for 75% of the ship's length.[4] The ship was known to have good maneuvering characteristics, with a speed loss of 60% and a heel of 8 degrees at full rudder.[15]

The ship's crew compartments were arranged such that the officers were accommodated in the forecastle. This arrangement was found to be unsatisfactory, and not repeated in later classes.[19] Von der Tann was designed to be fitted with a lattice mast, but the ship received standard masts instead. In 1914, spotting posts were attached to the masts in order to observe the fall of artillery fire. In 1915, seaplane trials were conducted on Von der Tann, and a crane was attached on the aft deck to lift the seaplane aboard the ship. Von der Tann had originally been equipped with anti-torpedo nets, but these were removed towards the end of 1916.[12]

Service record

A large gray warship with four large gun turrets and two tall funnels sits idly in harbor.

Von der Tann in 1911

In May 1910, Von der Tann sailed from the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg to receive her final fitting-out in the Imperial Dockyard at Kiel. The German Navy was chronically short of crews at the time, so dockyard workers had to bring the ship to Kiel. On 1 September 1910, the ship was commissioned into the German Navy, with a crew composed largely of crewmembers from the dreadnought Rheinland.[22] During trials, an average speed of 27 kn (50  km/h) was attained over a six-hour period, with a top speed of 28.124 kn (52.086 km/h) with the engines at maximum output.[22]

Von der Tann made several long-distance voyages after completion. She visited Rio de Janeiro, Puerto Militar, and Bahía Blanca in South America in early 1911, and returned to Kiel on 6 May 1911.[22] The primary purpose of the cruise was to obtain armament contracts from South American countries by impressing them with what was "widely advertised as the fastest and most powerful warship then afloat."[23] On 8 May 1911, Von der Tann joined the Unit of Reconnaissance Ships. In June 1911 Von der Tann attended the Fleet Review at Spithead, for the coronation of King George V.[22]

First World War

A large, burning warship rolling over and sinking; a smaller, black ship is nearby with two small boats.

SMS Mainz sinking, with the British destroyer HMS Lurcher alongside, picking up survivors

At the outbreak of the First World War, Von der Tann was serving as the flagship of the 3rd Admiral of Reconnaissance Forces, Konteradmiral Tapken. The ship was assigned to the I Scouting Group of the High Seas Fleet, under the command of Rear Admiral Franz Hipper. Von der Tann's first major sortie during the war occurred when the ship took part in the unsuccessful search for British battlecruisers, after the Battle of Heligoland Bight, in August 1914.[20] During the Battle of Heligoland Bight, Von der Tann had been stationed in Wilhelmshaven Roads, and had been ordered to raise steam as early as 08:20, to assist the German cruisers under attack in the Heligoland Bight. At 08:50, Rear Admiral Hipper requested permission from Admiral von Ingenohl, the commander in chief of the High Seas Fleet, to send Von der Tann and Moltke to relieve the beleaguered German cruisers.[24]

Von der Tann was ready to sail by 10:15, more than an hour before the British battlecruisers arrived on the scene. However, the ship was held up by low tide, which prevented the battlecruisers from crossing the bar at the mouth of the Jade Estuary. At 14:10, Von der Tann and Moltke were able to cross the Jade bar, and Hipper ordered the German light cruisers to fall back on the two heavy ships, while Hipper himself was about an hour behind in the battlecruiser Seydlitz. At 14:25, the remaining light cruisers, Strassburg, Stettin, Frauenlob, Stralsund, and Ariadne, rendezvoused with the battlecruisers.[25] Seydlitz arrived on the scene by 15:10; Ariadne succumbed to battle damage and sank. Hipper ventured forth cautiously to search for the two missing light cruisers, Mainz and Cöln. By 16:00, the German flotilla began returning to the Jade Estuary, arriving at approximately 20:23.[26]

Bombardments of the English coast

Later that year Von der Tann was present at the Raid on Yarmouth, on 2–3 November. At 16:30 on the 2nd, Von der Tann, along with Seydlitz (Hipper's flagship), Moltke, the armored cruiser Blücher, and the four light cruisers Strassburg, Graudenz, Kolberg, and Stralsund, departed the Jade Estuary, bound for the English coast with the intent to lay minefields in British sea lanes. At 18:00, two dreadnought battle squadrons of the High Seas Fleet departed to provide support. Hipper's force veered north in an arc to avoid Heligoland and the British submarines stationed there, and then increased speed to 18 knots.[27] At approximately 06:30 the following morning, Hipper's battlecruisers spotted the British minesweeper Halcyon and opened fire, which drew the attention of the destroyer Lively. Hipper realized that he was wasting time, and that further pursuit would run his ships into a known minefield, so he ordered his ships back to sea. As the flotilla was turning away, the battlecruisers fired several salvos at Great Yarmouth, to little effect. By the time the British Admiralty was fully aware of the situation, the German force had retreated back to home waters.[28]

Von der Tann also participated in the raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby, on 15–16 December.[20] The raid was another attempt to lure out a portion of the Grand Fleet and destroy it, with the whole of the High Seas Fleet standing by in support. Von der Tann delayed the raid itself by several days, because Admiral Ingenohl was unwilling to send forth the I Scouting Group at anything less than full strength, and Von der Tann was undergoing routine repairs in early December.[29] The I Scouting Group, along with the II Scouting Group, composed of the four light cruisers Kolberg, Strassburg, Stralsund, and Graudenz, and two torpedo boat flotillas, left the Jade at 03:20.[30] Hipper's ships sailed north, through the channels in the minefields, past Heligoland to the Horns Reef light vessel, at which point the ships turned westward, towards the English coast.[31] The main battle squadrons of the High Seas Fleet left in the late afternoon of the 15th. During the night of 15 December, the main body of the High Seas Fleet encountered British destroyers, and fearing the prospect of a night-time torpedo attack, Admiral Ingenohl ordered the ships to retreat.[32]

Map showing the locations of the British and German fleets; the German light cruisers pass between the British battleship and battlecruiser forces while the German battlecruisers steam to the northeast. The German battleships lie to the east of the other ships.

The High Seas Fleet's disposition on the morning of 16 December

Upon nearing the British coast, Hipper's battlecruisers split into two groups. Seydlitz, Moltke, and Blücher went north to shell Hartlepool, while Von der Tann and Derfflinger went south to shell Scarborough and Whitby. The two ships destroyed the coast guard stations in both towns, along with the signalling station in Whitby. By 09:45 on the 16th, the two groups had reassembled, and began to retreat eastward.[33] Hipper was unaware of Ingenohl's withdrawal, and following the bombardment of the target cities, turned back to rendezvous with the German fleet. By this time, David Beatty's battlecruisers were in position to block Hipper's chosen egress route, while other forces were en route to complete the encirclement. At 12:25, the light cruisers of the II Scouting Group began to pass the British forces searching for Hipper. One of the cruisers in the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron spotted Stralsund, and signaled a report to Beatty. At 12:30, Beatty turned his battlecruisers towards the German ships. Beatty presumed that the German cruisers were the advance screen for Hipper's ships, however, those were some 50 km (31 mi) ahead. The 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, which had been screening for Beatty's ships, detached to pursue the German cruisers, but a misinterpreted signal from the British battlecruisers sent them back to their screening positions.[lower-alpha 6] This confusion allowed the German light cruisers to escape, and alerted Hipper to the location of the British battlecruisers. The German battlecruisers wheeled to the northeast of the British forces and made good their escape.[34]

Von der Tann was being refitted at the time of the Battle of Dogger Bank, and so she missed this action. She was replaced by the armored cruiser Blücher, which was sunk during the battle.[35] A detachment of men from Von der Tann had been sent to Blücher and went down with the ship.[36] In 1915 the ship took part in operations in the North and Baltic Seas. On 10 August 1915, Von der Tann shelled the island fortress at Utö, in the eastern Baltic,[37] during which she took part in an artillery duel with the Russian armored cruiser Admiral Makarov.[38] Von der Tann also engaged the Russian armored cruiser Bayan and five destroyers, during which Von der Tann was struck by a shell through the funnel, which caused no casualties.[39] On 3–4 February 1916, Von der Tann participated in the fleet advance to welcome home the commerce raider Möwe. The ship was also present during the fleet sorties of 5–7 March, 17 April, 21–22 April, and 5 May.[20]

Illustration of Von der Tann underway

Von der Tann also took part in the bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft on 24–25 April. Hipper was away on sick leave, so the German ships were under the command of Konteradmiral Friedrich Bödicker. The German battlecruisers Derfflinger, Lützow, Moltke, Seydlitz and Von der Tann left the Jade Estuary at 10:55 on 24 April, and were supported by a screening force of 6 light cruisers and two torpedo boat flotillas.[40] The heavy units of the High Seas Fleet sailed at 13:40, with the objective to provide distant support for Bödicker's ships. The British Admiralty was made aware of the German sortie through the interception of German wireless signals, and deployed the Grand Fleet at 15:50.[40]

By 14:00, Bödicker's ships had reached a position off Norderney, at which point he turned his ships northward to avoid the Dutch observers on the island of Terschelling. At 15:38, Seydlitz struck a mine, which tore a 50-ft (15-m) hole in her hull, just abaft of the starboard broadside torpedo tube, which allowed 1,400-t (1,500-short tons) of water to enter the ship.[40] Seydlitz turned back, with the screen of light cruisers, at a speed of 15 knots. The four remaining battlecruisers turned south immediately in the direction of Norderney to avoid further mine damage. By 16:00, Seydlitz was clear of imminent danger, so the ship stopped to allow Bödicker to disembark. The torpedo boat V28 brought Bödicker to Lützow.[41]

At 04:50 on 25 April, the German battlecruisers were approaching Lowestoft when the light cruisers Rostock and Elbing, which had been covering the southern flank, spotted the light cruisers and destroyers of Admiral Tyrwhitt's Harwich Force.[41] Bödicker refused to be distracted by the British ships, and instead trained his ships' guns on Lowestoft. The two 6 in (15 cm) shore batteries were destroyed, along with other damage to the town. KzS Zenker, Von der Tann's commanding officer, later wrote:

Mist over the sea and the smoke from the ships ahead made it difficult for us to make out our targets as we steered for Lowestoft. But after we turned [to the north], the Empire Hotel offered us an ample landmark for effective bombardment. At 05:11 we opened fire with our heavy and medium calibers on the harbor works and swing bridges. After a few "shorts" the shooting was good. From the after-bridge a fire in the town, and from another vantage point a great explosion at the entry [to the harbor] were reported.[41]

At 05:20, the German raiders turned north, towards Yarmouth, which they reached by 05:42. The visibility was so poor that the German ships fired one salvo each, with the exception of Derfflinger, which fired fourteen rounds from her main battery. The German ships turned back south, and at 05:47, encountered for the second time the Harwich Force, which had by then been engaged by the six light cruisers of the screening force. Bödicker's ships opened fire from a range of 13,000 yd (12,000 m).[42] Tyrwhitt immediately turned his ships around and fled south, but not before the cruiser Conquest sustained severe damage. Due to reports of British submarines and torpedo attacks, Bödicker broke off the chase, and turned back east towards the High Seas Fleet. At this point, Scheer, who had been warned of the Grand Fleet's sortie from Scapa Flow, turned back towards Germany.[42]

Battle of Jutland

A large ship is sinking in the distance; a large dense cloud of smoke emanates from the wreck.

HMS Indefatigable sinking after having been struck by shells from Von der Tann

Von der Tann participated in the Battle of Jutland, as part of Hipper's First Scouting Group. Von der Tann was the rearmost of five battlecruisers in Hipper's line.[43] Shortly before 16:00 CET,[lower-alpha 7] Hipper's force encountered Vice Admiral Beatty's battlecruiser squadron. The German ships were the first to open fire, at a range of approximately 15,000 yd (14,000 m).[43] At 16:49, Von der Tann fired her first shot at Indefatigable. Fourteen minutes of firing later,[44] Von der Tann had scored five hits on Indefatigable out of 52 heavy shells fired,[39] one of which caused Indefatigable to explode and sink.[20] An observer on the battlecruiser New Zealand, which was directly ahead of Indefatigable, later remarked that he saw "the Indefatigable hit by two shells from the Von der Tann, one on the fore turret. Both appeared to explode on impact. After an interval of thirty seconds, the ship blew up. Sheets of flame were followed by dense smoke which obscured her from view."[45]

Following the destruction of Indefatigable, Beatty turned his force away, while the British 5th Battle Squadron closed in on the German battlecruisers, opening fire from approximately 19,000 yd (17,000 m).[46] Von der Tann and Moltke, the two rearmost of Hipper's squadron, came under fire from the three lead British battleships of the 5th BS: Barham, Valiant, and Malaya.[47] The German battlecruisers began zig-zagging to avoid the gunfire from the British ships. At 17:09,[39] six minutes after sinking Indefatigable, Von der Tann was hit by one 15 in (38 cm) shell from Barham, which struck beneath the waterline and dislodged a section of the belt armor, causing Von der Tann to take in 600 tons of water.[46] This hit temporarily damaged the ship's steering gear, and combined with Von der Tann's zig-zagging cause her to fall out of line to port. The German Official History commented that "the greatest calamity of a complete breakdown of the steering gear was averted, otherwise, Von der Tann would have been delivered into the hands of the oncoming battleships as in the case of Blücher during the Dogger Bank action."[48]

Maps showing the maneuvers of the British (blue) and German (red) fleets on 31 May – 1 June 1916

At 17:20, a 13.5 in (34 cm) shell from the battlecruiser Tiger struck the barbette of Von der Tann's A turret. A chunk of armor plate was dislodged from inside the turret, and struck the turret training gear, which jammed the turret at 120 degrees. This put the turret out of action for the duration of the engagement.[49] At 17:23, the ship was hit again by a 13.5 in (34 cm) shell from Tiger, which struck near the C turret and killed 6 men. The shell holed the deck and created enough wreckage that the turret was unable to traverse, and the starboard rudder engine room was damaged. The C turret was out of action until the wreckage could be cut away. Smoke from a fire caused by burning practice targets that had been stowed below the turret obscured the ship. Sections of the torpedo nets were knocked loose and trailed behind the ship. However, they were cut loose before they could catch in the propellers.[50] New Zealand, which had been engaging Von der Tann following Indefatigable's destruction, lost sight of her target and shifted fire to Moltke.[51] At 17:18, the range to Von der Tann from Barham had closed to 17,500 yd (16,000 m), at which point Von der Tann opened fire on the British battleship. Shortly thereafter, at 17:23, Von der Tann registered a hit on Barham which caused serious damage.[52] However, after firing only 24 shells, Von der Tann had to return to her earlier target, New Zealand, because her fore and aft turrets had since been disabled, and her amidships turrets were no longer able to target Barham.[53]

At 18:15, the guns of the last active turret jammed in their mountings, leaving Von der Tann without any working main armament.[54] Regardless, she remained in the battle line to distract the British gunners.[39] Because she was no longer firing her main guns, Von der Tann was able to maneuver in an erratic manner, such that she could avoid British gunfire.[54] By 18:53, the ship's speed fell from 26 kn (48 km/h) to 23 kn (43 km/h). Over an hour and a half after having failed due to mechanical difficulties, D turret was repaired and again ready for action. Von der Tann sustained her fourth and final heavy shell hit at 20:19, when one 15 in (38 cm) shell from Revenge struck the aft conning tower. Shell splinters penetrated the conning tower, killing the Third Gunnery Officer and both rangefinder operators and wounding every other crewman in the tower. Shell fragments and other debris fell through the ventilating shaft and onto the condenser, which put out all the lights in the ship.[55] Eleven minutes later, at 20:30, B turret was again clear for action, and by 21:00, C turret was also in working order.[56] However, both of the amidships turrets suffered further mechanical difficulties that put them out of action later during the battle.[57]

At approximately 22:15, Hipper, with his flag now in Moltke, ordered his battlecruisers to increase speed to 20 knots, and to fall into the rear of the main German line. Neither Derfflinger, due to battle damage, nor Von der Tann, due to the dirtiness of her boiler fires, could steam at more than 18 knots.[58] Derfflinger and Von der Tann took up positions astern of the II Squadron, and were later joined by the old pre-dreadnoughts Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein at 00:05.[59] At 03:37, the British destroyer Moresby fired a torpedo at the rear of the German line; this passed closely across Von der Tann's bow, and forced the ship to turn sharply to starboard to avoid being hit.[60] Close to the end of the battle, at 03:55, Hipper transmitted a report to Admiral Scheer, informing him of the tremendous damage his ships had suffered. By that time, Derfflinger and Von der Tann each had only two guns in operation, Moltke was flooded with 1,000 tons of water, and Seydlitz was severely damaged. Hipper reported: "I Scouting Group was therefore no longer of any value for a serious engagement, and was consequently directed to return to harbor by the Commander-in-Chief, while he himself determined to await developments off Horns Reef with the battlefleet."[61]

During the course of the battle, two of Von der Tann's main turrets were knocked out by British gunfire, while her other two turrets suffered mechanical failures.[62] The ship was firing so fast that several of the main guns in the amidships turrets became overheated and jammed in their recoil slides, and could not be returned to working order.[63]Von der Tann was without her main battery for 11 hours, although three turrets were restored to working order before the end of the battle;[64] D turret only after much cutting away of bent metal with oxyacetylene torches—afterwards the guns could be worked only by hand.[57] Her casualties amounted to 11 dead and 35 wounded.[56] During the battle Von der Tann fired 170 heavy shells and 98 secondary caliber shells.[65]

Later actions

After Jutland, she underwent repairs from 2 June until 29 July.[56] After returning to the fleet, Von der Tann took part in several unsuccessful raids into the North Sea in 1916, including the advances on 18–19 August, 25–26 September, 18–19 October, 23–24 October, as well as the advance on 23–24 March 1917.[56]

During the fleet advance on 18–19 August, Von der Tann was one of two remaining German battlecruisers still in fighting condition (along with Moltke), so three dreadnoughts were assigned to the I Scouting Group for the operation: Markgraf, Grosser Kurfürst, and Bayern. The I Scouting Group was to bombard the coastal town of Sunderland, in an attempt to draw out and destroy Beatty's battlecruisers. Admiral Scheer and the rest of the High Seas Fleet, with 15 dreadnoughts of its own, would trail behind, providing cover.[66] The British were aware of the German plans, and sortied the Grand Fleet to meet them. By 14:35, Scheer had been warned of the Grand Fleet's approach and, unwilling to engage the whole of the Grand Fleet just 11 weeks after the decidedly close call at Jutland, turned his forces around and retreated to German ports.[67]

Von der Tann served as the flagship of Rear Admiral von Reuter during the fleet advance to Norway on 23–25 April 1918, as well as in the sortie on 8–9 July.[56]


A line of large warships. Thick black smoke pours from their funnels as they steam through choppy seas.

The German battlecruisers sailing into Scapa Flow. Von der Tann is the fifth ship in the line, behind Seydlitz, Moltke, Hindenburg, and Derfflinger.

Von der Tann was to have taken part in a final fleet action at the end of October 1918, days before the Armistice was to take effect. The bulk of the High Seas Fleet was to have sortied from their base in Wilhelmshaven to engage the British Grand Fleet; Scheer—by now the Grand Admiral (Grossadmiral) of the fleet—intended to inflict as much damage as possible on the British navy, in order to retain a better bargaining position for Germany, despite the expected casualties. However, many of the war-weary sailors felt the operation would disrupt the peace process and prolong the war.[68] While the High Seas Fleet was consolidating in Wilhelmshaven, sailors began deserting en masse. As Von der Tann and Derfflinger passed through the locks that separated Wilhelmshaven's inner harbor and roadstead, some 300 men from both ships climbed over the side and disappeared ashore.[69] On the morning of 29 October 1918, the order was given to sail from Wilhelmshaven the following day. Starting on the night of 29 October, sailors on Thüringen and then on several other battleships mutinied.[70] The unrest ultimately forced Hipper and Scheer to cancel the operation.[71] Informed of the situation, the Kaiser stated "I no longer have a navy."[72]

A large brass bell, engraved with the words "S.M.S. Von Der Tann", suspended on a white brick wall.

Von der Tann's bell, at the Laboe Naval Memorial

Following the capitulation of Germany in November 1918, most of the High Seas Fleet, under the command of Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, were interned in the British naval base in Scapa Flow.[71] Prior to the departure of the German fleet, Admiral Adolf von Trotha made clear to von Reuter that he could not allow the Allies to seize the ships, under any conditions.[73] The fleet rendezvoused with the British light cruiser Cardiff, which led the ships to the Allied fleet that was to escort the Germans to Scapa Flow. The massive flotilla consisted of some 370 British, American, and French warships.[74] Once the ships were interned, their guns were disabled through the removal of their breech blocks, and their crews were reduced to 200 officers and enlisted men.[75] Von der Tann was interned at Scapa Flow under the command of Kapitän-Leutnant Wollante.[76] While in Scapa Flow, a soldiers' council was formed aboard the ship; the council took complete, dictatorial control of the vessel for the duration of the interment.[77]

The fleet remained in captivity during the negotiations that ultimately produced the Treaty of Versailles. Von Reuter believed that the British intended to seize the German ships on 21 June 1919, which was the deadline for Germany to have signed the peace treaty. Unaware that the deadline had been extended to the 23rd, Reuter ordered the ships to be sunk at the next opportunity. On the morning of 21 June, the British fleet left Scapa Flow to conduct training maneuvers, and at 11:20 Reuter transmitted the order to his ships.[73] The ship sank in two hours and fifteen minutes.[78] The task of raising Von der Tann was secured by Ernest Cox's salvage company. During preparation work, three workers were nearly killed when their oxy-acetylene cutters set off a major explosion. The blast tore holes in the still submerged vessel and allowed water into the compartment that had been emptied with compressed air; by the time the men were rescued, the compartment had refilled almost completely and the men were up to their necks.[79] Nevertheless, the ship was successfully brought up on 7 December 1930,[56] and scrapped at Rosyth by the Alloa Shipbreaking Company between 1931 and 1934.[20][80]



  1. "SMS" stands for "Seiner Majestät Schiff ", or "His Majesty's Ship" in German.
  2. The measurements used here and elsewhere in the article refer to the diameter of the bore of the gun.
  3. Rheinland and Posen, the last two Nassau-class ships, used Drh LC/1907 mounts for their centerline turrets. See: Gardiner & Gray, p. 145.
  4. In Imperial German Navy gun nomenclature, "SK" (Schnellfeuerkanone) denotes that the gun is quick firing, while the L/45 denotes the length of the gun. In this case, the L/45 gun is 45 caliber, meaning that the gun is 45 times long as it is in diameter.
  5. The higher quality coal was generally reserved for the smaller craft, whose crews were less able to clean the boilers at the increased rate demanded by the low-quality coal. As a result, German capital ships were often supplied with poor coal, in the knowledge that their larger crews were better able to perform the increased maintenance.
  6. Beatty had intended on retaining only the two rearmost light cruisers from Goodenough's squadron; however, Nottingham's signalman misinterpreted the signal, thinking that it was intended for the whole squadron, and thus transmitted it to Goodenough, who ordered his ships back into their screening positions ahead of Beatty's battlecruisers.
  7. It should be noted that the times mentioned in this section are in CET, which is congruent with the German perspective. This is one hour ahead of UTC, the time zone commonly used in British works.


  1. Staff, pp. 3–4.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Staff, p. 4.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Staff, p. 3.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Staff, p. 5.
  5. Weir, p. 82.
  6. Gardiner & Gray, p. 145.
  7. Breyer, p. 270.
  8. Philbin, p. 66.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Philbin, p. 67.
  10. Hough, p. 87.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Staff, p. 6.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Staff, p. 8.
  13. Butler, p. 50.
  14. Staff, pp. 6–7.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Staff, p. 7.
  16. Philbin, p. 56.
  17. Philbin, p. 56–57.
  18. Philbin, p. 57.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Staff, p. 45.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 20.5 Hore, p. 71.
  21. Gardiner & Gray, p. 151.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 Staff, p. 9.
  23. Livermore, p. 41.
  24. Massie, p. 107.
  25. Strachan, p. 417.
  26. Massie, p. 114.
  27. Massie, p. 310.
  28. Massie, pp. 311–312.
  29. Strachan, p. 428.
  30. Scheer, p. 68.
  31. Tarrant, p. 31.
  32. Tarrant, p. 32.
  33. Scheer, p. 70.
  34. Tarrant, p. 34.
  35. Hawkins, p. 73.
  36. Goldrick, pp. 279, 285.
  37. Tucker, p. 180.
  38. Thomas, p. 40.
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 39.3 Staff, p. 10.
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 Tarrant, p. 52.
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 Tarrant, p. 53.
  42. 42.0 42.1 Tarrant, p. 54.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Bennett, p. 183.
  44. Hough, p. xiv.
  45. Bennett, pp. 184–185.
  46. 46.0 46.1 Bennett, p. 185.
  47. Massie, p. 594.
  48. Tarrant, p. 97.
  49. Tarrant, p. 99.
  50. Tarrant, p. 100.
  51. Brooks, p. 244.
  52. Brooks, p. 246.
  53. Tarrant, p. 102.
  54. 54.0 54.1 Tarrant, p. 119.
  55. Tarrant, p. 179.
  56. 56.0 56.1 56.2 56.3 56.4 56.5 Staff, p. 11.
  57. 57.0 57.1 Tarrant, p. 188.
  58. Tarrant, p. 205.
  59. Tarrant, p. 240.
  60. Tarrant, p. 244.
  61. Tarrant, p. 255.
  62. Gardiner & Gray, p. 152.
  63. Massie, p. 604.
  64. Staff, pp. 10–11.
  65. Tarrant, p. 292.
  66. Massie, p. 682.
  67. Massie, p. 683.
  68. Tarrant, pp. 280–281.
  69. Massie, p. 775.
  70. Tarrant, pp. 281–282.
  71. 71.0 71.1 Tarrant, p. 282.
  72. Herwig, p. 252.
  73. 73.0 73.1 Herwig, p. 256.
  74. Herwig, pp. 254–255.
  75. Herwig, p. 255.
  76. Reuter, p. 154.
  77. van der Vat, p. 147.
  78. Reuter, p. 153.
  79. van der Vat, p. 208.
  80. The Times, "Salvage at Scapa".


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