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SMS Schleswig-Holstein Pre-Dreadnought Battleship (1908)

Authored By JR Potts, AUS 173d AB and Dan Alex | Last Updated: 5/9/2013

SMS Schleswig-Holstein served in World War 1 and fired the opening salvos against Poland in World War 2.

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The SMS Schleswig-Holstein was a storied vessel of the German Navy that managed to survive all of World War 1 and fight on through most of World War 2 before being sunk in 1944. For her time, the vessel exhibited tremendous speed and firepower that made for strong qualities on the volatile and unforgiving high seas. Unfortunately for the class, the arrival of the British Royal Navy's HMS Dreadnought quickly out shown the limitations in the now-dubbed "Pre-Dreadnought" group of fighting ships. Nevertheless, the SMS Schleswig-Holstein participated in several notable actions throughout her long sea-going tenure and became the last of the pre-Dreadnought class of battleships built due to the arrival of the famed British vessel.

The British HMS Dreadnought Changes Everything

The SMS Schleswig-Holstein was of the Deutschland-class of surface battleships and categorized as a "Pre-dreadnought" battleship. Pre-dreadnought battleships replaced the old ironclad warships fielded up to that time and Pre-Dreadnoughts themselves existed during a short span from the 1890s up to 1905. These warships were primarily armed with a variety of guns and were powered by coal-fed steam engines. The arrival of the British Royal Navy's HMS Dreadnought in 1906 essentially created a new class of fighting surface ship - known simply as "Dreadnought" - for her use of extensive armor protection, steel understructure, large uniformed main gun armament and new steam turbine technology. This warship alone outclassed all other battleships of her era and gave rise to the term "Pre-Dreadnought" to signify those preceding class of warships. The HMS Dreadnought was therefore credited with singlehandedly revolutionizing surface naval warfare upon her inception and other national navy's would have to race to build equal-class ships in response.

SMS Schleswig-Holstein Construction

The SMS Schleswig-Holstein was ordered on June 11th, 1904 with construction of the vessel charged to the Germaniawerft shipbuilding company of Kiel, Germany. The company would become best known for all types of warships, merchant sea-going platforms and U-boat submarines for the German Kaiserliche and Kriegsmarine. Her keel was laid down on August 18th, 1905 and she was officially launched over a year later on December 17th, 1906. After her shakedown cruise and evaluation period, her commissioning took place on July 6th, 1908. The SMS Schleswig-Holstein was named after the northernmost state of Germany and the vessel existed as the fifth of five ships of the Deutschland-class that included sisters SMS Deutschland (also lead ship), SMS Hannover, SMS Pommenn and SMS Schlesien. All were launched between 1904 and 1906. Of all her sisters, the SMS Schleswig-Holstein proved the fastest, clocked at 19.1 knots against the 18.5 to 18.7 knots managed by her siblings. At the time of her construction, the vessel cost German taxpayers 24,972,000 Marks to complete, also making her the most expensive of her five sisters by a few hundred Marks.

SMS Schleswig-Holstein Walk-Around

Externally, the SMS Schleswig-Holstein was of a conventional profile and arrangement. Her super structure consisted of two major parts, one held forward and the other aft. At amidships there stood three smoke funnels releasing the smokey wastes of the engines under deck. The bridge was held in the forward-most structural emplacement as were pertinent communications and sighting towers. The forward deck was rather featureless, dominated by a forward main gun installation. "Casement" guns were fitted on either side of the hull. These guns offered additional firepower but were situated in limited traverse emplacements close to the waterline, limiting their practical and tactical usefulness in battle. There was a second main gun turret installed at the stern. Such an armament arrangement ensured that the SMS Schleswig-Holstein could bring about all of her large gun complement to bear against an enemy vessel in a full broadside attack. Her crew consisted of 35 officers as well as 708 enlisted personnel. The SMS Schleswig-Holstein showcased armor across her design and fielded a belt of 100 to 240mm in thickness while her turrets were covered over in 280mm of armor plating. Her deck was given 40mm of protection.

SMS Schleswig-Holstein Original Armament

At the time of her final construction, her armament formally consisted of 4 x 11" (28cm) SK L/40 main guns across two turrets (two guns to a turret). This was backed by no fewer than 14 x 6.7" casemated cannons, a further 22 x 3.5" casemated cannons as well as 6 x 18" torpedo tubes. All served the vessel well when combating most enemy surface threats though her guns could also be brought to bear against shoreline fortifications if need be. Interestingly, the Deutschland-class battleship lacked in the way of medium-ranged guns common to her contemporaries - her primary arms being of the long and short range quality.

SMS Schleswig-Holstein Propulsion

The SMS Schleswig-Holstein was propelled by no less than twelve boilers which fed three triple expansion steam engines, themselves powering three propeller shafts. This allowed the vessel to make headway at up to 19 knots while reaching distances as far out as 4,800 nautical miles (this at a cruise speed of 10 knots). Her overall length measured in at 418 feet, 8 inches with a beam (width) running 72 feet, 10 inches and her draught being 26 feet, 11 inches. The SMS Schleswig-Holstein normally displaced at 13,200 tons but this could be driven up some 1,000 additional tons for a "full" load during wartime.

The SMS Schleswig-Holstein in World War 1

During World War 1, the SMS Schleswig-Holstein served with the II Squadron High Seas Fleet. She participated in the famous Battle of Jutland from May 31st, 1916 to June 1st, 1916. The battle consisted of the British Royal Navy's Grand Fleet against the German High Seas Fleet with the battle taking place near Jutland, Denmark in the east North Sea. The battle sought to settle control of the vital North Sea waterway and called upon over one hundred ships from both sides to participate. The Germans entered the fray with the overall plan to destroy a good portion of the committed British fleet and continue unrestricted submarine warfare throughout the region thereafter when, at this time, there would be a lesser threat posed by the limited Royal Navy.

The battle ultimately involved 28 Royal Navy battleships against 16 German battleships as well as "lesser" vessels and all five of the Deutschland-class would participate. The two sides went to work and ensuing actions resulted in over 6,000 British personnel killed and over 500 wounded while the Germans suffered over 2,500 casualties with over 500 wounded. Sister ship SMS Pommern was hit - resulting in a detonation of one of her magazine stores - by a British torpedo launched from the HMS Onslaught (originally thought to be the HMS Faulknor) and sunk with all 839 souls aboard. The SMS Schleswig-Holstein herself was slightly damaged by an enemy shell but lived to fight another day.


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Specifications for the
SMS Schleswig-Holstein
Pre-Dreadnought Battleship


Country of Origin: Imperial Germany
Initial Year of Service: 1908
Operators: Imperial Germany; Soviet Union


Crew: 743


Length: 419 ft (127.71 m)
Beam: 73 ft (22.25 m)
Draught: 25 ft (7.62 m)
Displacement: 14,218 tons


Machinery: 8 x Marine-type boilers; 6 x cylinder boilers; 3 x shaft triple expansion engines developing 19,330ihp; 3 x screws.

Surface Speed: 17 kts (20 mph)
Range: 5,000 miles (8,047 km)


Armament:
AT TIME OF CONSTRUCTION (1908):
2 x 11-inch 28cm (2x2) SK L/40 main guns
14 x 6.7-inch 17cm (casemated) guns
22 x 3.5-inch 8.8cm (casemated) guns
6 x 45cm 18-inch torpedo tubes

ARMAMENT IN 1939:
4 x 28-cm (11-inch) (2x2) SK L/40 main guns
2 x 8.8-cm (3.5-inch) guns
4 x 3.7-cm (1.5-inch) (2x2) guns
22 x 2.0-cm (0.8-inch) cannons


Ship Class: Deutschland-class
Number-in-Class: 5
Ships-in-Class: SMS Deutschland; SMS Hannover; SMS Pommenn; SMS Schlesien; SMS Schleswig-Holstein