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Wittelsbach-class battleship
S.M. Linienschiff Zähringen.jpg
Painting of Zähringen in 1902
Class overview
Operators:  Kaiserliche Marine
Preceded by: Kaiser Friedrich III class
Succeeded by: Braunschweig class
Planned: 5
Completed: 5
Lost: 1
Scrapped: 4
General characteristics
Type: pre-dreadnought battleship
Displacement: 12,798 t (12,596 long tons)
Length: 126.8 m (416 ft 0 in)
Beam: 22.8 m (74 ft 10 in)
Draft: 7.95 m (26 ft 1 in)
Installed power: 14,000 ihp (10,440 kW)
Propulsion: 3 shafts, triple expansion steam engines
Speed: 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)
Range: 5,000 nautical miles (9,000 km); 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
  • 30 officers
  • 650 enlisted men
  • 4 × 24 cm (9.4 in) guns (40 cal.)
  • 18 × 15 cm (5.9 in) guns
  • 12 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) guns
  • 6 × 45 cm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes
  • Belt: 100 to 225 mm (3.9 to 8.9 in)
  • Turrets: 250 mm (9.8 in)
  • Deck: 50 mm (2.0 in)

The Wittelsbach-class battleships were a group of five pre-dreadnought battleships of the German Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial Navy). They were the first battleships produced under the Navy Law of 1898. The class was composed of the lead ship, Wettin, Zähringen, Schwaben, and Mecklenburg. All five ships were laid down between 1899 and 1900, and finished by 1904. The ships of the Wittelsbach class were similar in appearance to their predecessors of the Kaiser Friedrich III class, however, they had a flush main deck, as opposed to the lower quarterdeck of the Kaiser Friedrich class, and had a more extensive armor belt. Their armament was almost identical, though more efficiently arranged.

The ships were commissioned into the German fleet between 1902 and 1904, where they joined the I Squadron of the battle fleet. They were rapidly made obsolete by the launch of HMS Dreadnought in 1906. By the outbreak of World War I in 1914, they were no longer fit for front-line service, though they saw some limited duty in the Baltic Sea against the Russian Navy. In 1916 the five ships were disarmed and employed in secondary roles. Wittelsbach, Wettin, and Schwaben became training ships, Mecklenburg was used as a prison ship and later as a floating barracks, and Zähringen became a target ship. All of the ships save Zähringen were broken up in 1921–22. Zähringen was rebuilt as a radio-controlled target ship in the mid-1920s. During World War II, she was badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1944 and scuttled in the final days of the war. She was eventually broken up in situ in 1949–50.


The ships of the Wittelsbach class were the first battleships built under the first Naval Law of 1898.[1] The ships represented an incremental improvement over the preceding Kaiser Friedrich III class. They were equipped with the same armament of 24 cm guns, but were given an additional torpedo tube.[2] They also had improved defensive capabilities, as they were protected by a more extensive armored belt.[1] They also differed from the preceding ships in their main deck, the entire length of which was flush; in the Kaiser Friedrich III-class ships, the quarterdeck was cut down.[3]

General characteristics

The ships of the Wittlesbach class were 125.2 meters (411 ft) long at the waterline and 126.8 m (416 ft) overall. They had a beam of 22.8 m (75 ft) and a draft of 7.95 m (26.1 ft) forward. The Wittelsbachs were designed to displace 11,774 metric tons (11,588 long tons) with a standard load, and displaced up to 12,798 metric tons (12,596 long tons) at full combat weight. The Wittelsbach-class ships' hulls were built with transverse and longitudinal steel frames. Steel hull plates were riveted to the structure created by the frames. The hull was split into 14 watertight compartments and included a double bottom that ran for 70 percent of the length of the ship.[4]

The ships were regarded in the German Navy as excellent sea boats with an easy roll; the ships rolled up to 30° with a period of 10 seconds. They maneuvered easily; at hard rudder the ships lost up to 60 percent speed and heeled over 9°. However, they suffered from severe vibration, particularly at the stern, at high speeds. They also had very wet bows, even in moderate seas. The ships had a crew of 33 officers and 650 enlisted men. However, when serving as a squadron flagship, the crew was augmented by an additional 13 officers and 66 enlisted men. While acting as a second command ship, 9 officers and 44 enlisted men were added to the standard crew. Wittelsbach and her sisters carried a number of smaller vessels, including two picket boats, two launches, one pinnace, two cutters, two yawls, and two dinghies.[5]


The five ships of the Wittelsbach class each had three three-cylinder triple expansion steam engines. The outer engines drove a three-bladed screw that was 4.8 m (16 ft) in diameter; the central shaft drove a four-bladed screw that was slightly smaller, at 4.5 m (15 ft) in diameter. To produce steam to power the engines, each ship had six marine-type boilers, with the exception of Wettin and Mecklenburg, which had six Thornycroft boilers, along with six transverse cylindrical boilers. Steering was controlled by a single large rudder.[5]

The propulsion system was rated at 14,000 indicated horsepower (10,440 kW), which produced a top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). On trials, however, the five ships had significantly varied performances. Schwaben, the slowest ship, reached 13,253 ihp (9,883 kW) for a top speed of only 16.9 knots (31.3 km/h; 19.4 mph). Wettin, the fastest, managed 15,530 ihp (11,581 kW) and a top speed of 18.1 knots (33.5 km/h; 20.8 mph). They carried 650 metric tons (640 long tons) in their holds, but fuel capacity could be nearly tripled to 1,800 metric tons (1,772 long tons) with the usage of additional spaces in the ships. This provided a maximum range of 5,000 nautical miles (9,260 km; 5,754 mi) at a cruising speed of 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph).[4] Electrical power was supplied by four generators that each produced 230 kilowatts (310 hp) at 74 volts, although in Wittelsbach the generators were rated at 248 kilowatts (333 hp).


Painting of Mecklenburg in 1902

The ships' armament was nearly identical to the preceding Kaiser Friedrich III class. The primary armament consisted of a battery of four 24 cm (9.4 in) SK L/40 guns in twin gun turrets,[lower-alpha 1] one fore and one aft of the central superstructure.[6] The guns were mounted in Drh.L. C/98 turrets, which allowed elevation to 30° and depression to −5°. At maximum elevation, the guns could hit targets out to 16,900 meters (18,500 yd). The guns fired 140-kilogram (310 lb) shells at a muzzle velocity of 690 m/s (2,263 ft/s). They had a rate of fire of three to four shots per minute. Each gun was supplied with 85 shells, for a total of 340.[7]

Secondary armament included eighteen 15 cm (5.9 inch) SK L/40 guns; four were emplaced in single turrets amidships and the rest were mounted in MPL casemates.[lower-alpha 2] These guns had a fired armor-piercing shells at a rate of 4–5 per minute. The ships carried 120 shells per gun, for a total of 2,160 rounds total. The guns could depress to −7 degrees and elevate to 20 degrees, for a maximum range of 13,700 m (14,990 yd). They were manually elevated and trained.[8]

The ships also carried twelve 8.8 cm (3.45 in) SK L/30 quick-firing guns,[5] also mounted in casemates and pivot mounts. These guns were supplied with between 170 and 250 shells per gun. These guns fired 13.8 kg (30.4 lb) at a muzzle velocity of 590 mps (1,936 fps). Their rate of fire was approximately 15 shells per minute; the guns could engage targets out to 10,500 m (11,480 yd). The gun mounts were manually operated.[9] The ships' gun armament was rounded out by twelve machine guns.[5]

The ships were also armed with six 45 cm (17.7 in) torpedo tubes, all in above-water swivel mounts. Four tubes were mounted on the sides of the ship, another in the bow, and the last in the stern.[5] These weapons were 5.1 m (201 in) long and carried a 87.5 kg (193 lb) TNT warhead. They could be set at two speeds for different ranges. At 26 kn (48 km/h; 30 mph), the torpedoes had a range of 800 m (870 yd). At an increased speed of 32 kn (59 km/h; 37 mph), the range was reduced to 500 m (550 yb).[10]


The five Wittelsbach class battleships were armored with Krupp steel. Their armored decks were 50 millimeters (2.0 in) thick, with sloped sides that ranged in thickness from 75 to 120 mm (3.0 to 4.7 in). The sloped section of the deck connected it to the main armored belt, which was 225 mm (8.9 in) in the central citadel, where the ship's vitals were. This included ammunition magazines and the propulsion system. The belt was reduced to 100 mm (3.9 in) on either end of the central citadel; the bow and stern were not protected with any armor. The entire length of belt was backed by 100 mm of teak planking.[4]

Directly above the main belt, the 15 cm casemate guns were protected with 140 mm (5.5 in) thick steel plating. The 15 cm guns in turrets were more exposed and therefore slightly better protected: their side armor was increased to 150 mm (5.9 in), with 70 mm (2.8 in) thick gun shields. The 24 cm gun turrets had the heaviest armor aboard ship: 250 mm (9.8 in) thick sides and 50 mm thick roofs. The forward conning tower also had 250 mm thick sides, though its roof was only 30 mm (1.2 in) thick. The rear conning tower was much less protected. Its sides were only 140 mm thick; the roof was 30 mm thick.[4]


Wittelsbach was ordered for the German fleet under the contract designation "C."[lower-alpha 3] She was laid down at the Kaiserliche Werft Wilhelmshaven in 1899, under construction number 25.[4] She was launched on 3 July 1900; once she left the stocks fitting out work commenced. This included the installation of the ship's armament, completion of the interior compartments, and the finishing of the superstructure. By late 1902 work on the ship was finished. Wittelsbach was commissioned into the fleet on 15 October of that year.[5] Wettin was ordered as "D" and laid down at the Schichau-Werke in Danzig in 1899.[4] Although she was launched on 6 June 1901—nearly a full year after Wittelsbach— she was commissioned on 1 October 1902, two weeks earlier than her sister ship.[5]

Zähringen was laid down at the Germaniawerft dockyard in Kiel under the provisional name "E" in 1899.[4] She was launched on 12 June 1901 and commissioned into the fleet on 25 October 1902.[5] In 1900, Schwaben followed Wittelsbach at the Kaiserliche Werft Wilhelmshaven, under the provisional name "G."[4] She was launched on 19 August 1901 and commissioned on 13 April 1904, the last ship of the five to join the fleet.[5] Mecklenburg was ordered from the AG Vulcan shipyard in Stettin under the contract name "F." Her keel was laid there in 1900.[4] Launched on 9 November 1901, Mecklenburg was completed by May 1903 and commissioned on the 25th.[5]

Service history

A large battleship plows through the water at high speed, thick black smoke pours from the smoke stacks

SMS Wittlesbach

In the early 1900s, the German fleet was organized as the Home Fleet (German language: Heimatflotte).[3] After joining the fleet, the Wittelsbach-class ships were assigned to the I Battle Squadron, where they replaced the older Brandenburg-class battleships. By 1907, the Braunschweig and Deutschland classes had come into service. With two full battle squadrons, the fleet was reorganized as the High Seas Fleet.[11]

Like the Kaiser Friedrich III-class ships, the Wittelsbachs were withdrawn from active service after the advent of the dreadnoughts. The five ships were recalled to active service at the outbreak of war in 1914.[3] They were assigned to the IV Battle Squadron and deployed to the Baltic. The ships were based in Kiel and placed under the command of Vice Admiral Ehrhard Schmidt.[12] In early September 1914, the ships conducted a result-less sweep into the Baltic against the Russian navy operating there.[13] In May 1915, four of the Wittelsbachs sailed into the Baltic and bombarded Libau, which was subsequently captured by the German army.[14] The five ships of the class were moved to Libau during the Battle of the Gulf of Riga in August 1915, though they did not see any combat during the operation.[15]

British submarines were becoming increasingly active in the Baltic by late 1915; several cruisers had been sunk and the elderly Wittelsbach-class ships could no longer be risked there.[16] Therefore, due to their age and vulnerability, they were withdrawn from active service and disarmed by 1916. They were used as training ships, with the exception of Mecklenburg, which was used as a prison ship. In 1919, Wittelsbach and Schwaben were converted into depot ships for minesweepers. The entire class, with the exception of Zähringen, were struck from the navy list after the end of World War I. Mecklenburg was struck on 27 January 1920, Wettin followed on 11 March 1920, and Wittelsbach and Schwaben were struck on 8 March 1921. The four ships were broken up between 1921–22.[5] Zähringen was converted into a radio-controlled target ship in 1926–27. Royal Air Force bombers sank the ship in Gotenhafen in 1944; the wreck was broken up in 1949–50.[3]



  1. In Imperial German Navy gun nomenclature, "SK" (Schnellfeuerkanone) denotes that the gun is quick firing, 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 it is in diameter. See: Grießmer, p. 177.
  2. MPL stands for Mittel-Pivot-Lafette (Central pivot mounting). See NavWeaps (Ammunition).
  3. German warships were ordered under provisional names; new additions to the fleet were given letter designations, while those that were intended to replace older vessels were given "Ersatz (name of the ship to be replaced)".



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Online sources

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