France’s first dreadnoughts
The Four Courbet class were the first French monocaliber type battleships to enter service. They were started late, pending the scheduled completion of six Danton. This delay was considered unfortunate in this new race for dreadnoughts that began in 1906. But the 1912 program, established by Admiral Boue de Lapeyrère had the ambitions to give France twelve other dreadnoughts before 1918. The war would decide otherwise. The Courbet class counted four ships, Courbet and Jean Bart of the first batch, both began in 1910 in Brest, launched and completed in 1913 and the other two, France and Paris, at St Nazaire and La Seyne in Toulon. These were not operational in August 1914, as hostilities just started: France aligned to that date only two dreadnoughts against 13 for Hochseeflotte and 22 to the Royal Navy.
Paris in Construction in Toulon
The Courbet were designed by engineer Lyasse, these ships were much better armoured than the Danton, but still less than equivalent British, American, and German units. Their artillery configuration showed an early conventional layout given a trademark of French battleships, which gave a strong battery for chasing or in retreat respectively of 8 and 10 guns, for 12 in total. But in 1914, the 305 mm caliber had been exceeded already for some years and it was moving towards the 343 mm caliber planned for Britain established emergency on the same basis.
The Courbet were recognizable to their three chimneys separated by their mainmast. Secondary armament remained below the standard caliber of other marine (152 mm) and anti-torpedo artillery was modest. But these 138 mm in barbettes just filled the role of anti-torpedo defense with much faster firing pace. Relatively good steamers, these battleships reached 22.6 knots. Shells provisions were 100 rounds for each 305 mm piece and 275 rounds for each 138 mm. They were also fitted to lay down 30 mines.
Battleship France off Toulon harbor
The four Courbet were sent to the Mediterranean in 1914 (the Paris there was already conducting its first operational missions). The Courbet became flagship of Admiral Lapeyrère, and two additional spotlight were added on the platforms on the second fire station. These five ships served intensely, the Jean Bart conceding a torpedo from U-12 in December 1914 in the Adriatic, but without much damage. France and Jean Bart were also sent to Sevastopol, to fight the “red” in 1919. At that time, the four existing ships were now obsolete, pending modernization. It was observed that their front deck was subject to plough water by heavy weather, but it was not possible to have them lengthened because of the lack of suitable dock. France hit a reef and sank in 1922 near Quiberon, and the other three, partially modernized, served as a training ships in 1939.
Courbet class specifications
|Dimensions||165,9 x 27,9 x 9 m|
|Displacement||22 200t; 26 000 PC; FL|
|Propulsion||4 hélices, 4 Parsons Turbines, 24 Belleville/Niclausse boilers, 28,000 hp|
|Speed||20 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)|
|Range||4,200 nmi (7,780 km; 4,830 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)|
|Armament||12 x 305 mm, 22 x 138 mm, 4 x 47 mm et 4 TT sides 450 mm|
|Armor||Belt 270, turrets 320, blockhaus 300, barbettes 270 mm, Decks 20-70 mm|
Jean Bart in 1911
Courbet in 1913, rear view
Courbet armour scheme diagram Brasseys 1912
Battleship paris full steam, 1914. Photo Marius bar coll.
The France in 1914. Notice the hoists heavy torpedo nets, abandoned some time later.
Germany’s first pre-dreadnoughts
Certainly the oldest battleships German Navy in 1914, two were left (two other sold, see later) in active service. Originally the class was composed of Brandenburg, Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm, Weissenburg, and Wörth. They were approved in 1889, laid down at Vulcan, Germaniawerft, and Wilhelmshaven in 1890, launched in 1891-92 and completed in 1893-94 as first-line pre-dreadnoughts. They featured a unusual arrangement of three turrets of the main caliber. Most importantly they were the first sea going battleships built by the new German Empire. Before that only coastal battleships of the Siegfried and Odin classes were in service.
They were an unusual design, with three turrets instead of two, the central turret being given guns of a lower caliber (cal.35 instead of 40) to fit between the two deck houses, centerline. These artillery pieces were only of 280 mm whereas 305 mm was the norm in most battleships of the time, however most pre-dreadnoughts only had four of them (six for the Brandenburg). The secondary battery was quickly reinforced by two additional pieces of 105 mm, and 88 guns in barbettes.
Thick military masts in the French style were adopted, housing 4 Spandau heavy machine guns of questionable usefulness against torpedo boats. However, they were the first Germans ships fitted with a radio. In general they were considered as excellent seaboats, but by 1914 they were nicknamed by Royal Navy sailors by derision “whalers”.
In 1910, Turkey, out of a conflict in the Balkans and preparing for a new confrontation bought 2 battleships of this class, the Wilhelm and Weisenburg, renamed Heirredine Barbarossa and Torgud Reis. The Brandenburg and Wörth were still serving in the first line in 1914, but the following year, they were switched to coastal defense. In 1916, they were anchored and used as tankers and commercial docks, and disarmed in 1919.
Brandenburg class on wikipedia
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1860-1907.
Brandenburg class specifications
|Dimensions||115,7 x 19,5 x 7,9 m|
|Displacement||10 500 t FL|
|Propulsion||2 screws, 2 TE engines, 12 boilers, 10 200 hp|
|Speed||16.5 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph)|
|Range||4,500 nmi (8,300 km; 5,200 mi) @10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)|
|Armament||6 x 280 (3×2), 8 x 105, 8 x 88 mm, 6 TT 450 mm Sub|
|Armor||Turrets 380, belt 400, barbettes 305 mm|
Illustration of the Brandenburg in 1914
First naval action of the war
The very first action of the great war occurred on seas: The Staff of the Hochseeflotte had developed a comprehensive plan for years to come in the event of a war with Britain. It was firstly to undermine British ports and disrupt coastal shipping and traffic areas before any action being taken the Royal Navy, and secondly to make bombing raids of British coastal towns to attack population’s morale.
As part of the first action, the German naval command mobilized on August 04 in the morning, former ferry Königin Luise, requisitioned and converted for the Hochseeflotte as “hilfsminenkreuzer” (auxiliary cruiser minelayer). In this context the ship was quickly fitted out with mine rails, while two 37 mm guns taken from old stocks were installed at the stern. The night of 3-4 August, she was also provided with facilities to install two 88 mm, but the rush prevented this and she was to be to painted in a new livery and load 200 mines fastened to buoy ropes on board instead.
Centerpiece of this event, SMS Königin Luise, auxiliary cruiser/minelayer in august 1914.
August 5, in the morning, the ship left Cuxhaven unescorted and headed towards the Thames with a mission to establish there a minefield. The Thames was a deep and well dredged river and probably the most vital artery for the British trade towards the interior of Sussex and London in particular. The traffic there was so much that Königin Luise traveling at 16 knots was not even spotted when crossing an upcoming squadron of destroyers, thanks to her new, hastily painted livery that betrayed her identity, and went on her way unmolested to its objective.
There she spent the afternoon quietly and eventually laid her mines off the estuary, crossing rare ships without awakening suspicion. However in the British Admiralty, intelligence services report stated that German missions were underway, or warned of expected German mines being laid down.
The SS Königin Luise is often mismatched with the much larger Barbarossa class liner (1897). More on this
Light cruiser HMS Amphion (1911)
The British counterstroke
The squadron of the Thames, composed of Amphion, and two flotillas of destroyers (height in all) is eventually informed, and headed full speed ahead to the mouth of the Thames. The German ship was currently completing its mission and was preparing to return to Cuxhaven. At 11:40 p.m., HMS Amphion made eye contact with the ship, which then immediately leaved, and a hot pursuit ensured.
Faster, destroyers Lance and Landrail running at 29 knots were the first to catch the German ship (only capable of 21 knots). These made a few warning shots with their 102mm forward of the ship to order her stopping. Then both destroyers went parallel to KL, still firing warning shots at a distance, while HMS Amphion, slower, fired to the rear. The German ship could only answer with its 37 mm and had to prepare for torpedoes at close range. The duel was uneven and eventually SMS KL took many hits 102 mm from the destroyers cross-sides.
Light cruiser HMS Amphion (1911)
The end of the Königin Luise
Pounded at the rear in addition, the KL receives the final blows of Amphion, as dark fell at 0:00 at 51 ° 52 ‘north and 02 ° 30’ east. Survivors were rescued until dawn, and then the squadron set sail to its base. The Amphion will – ironically – be responsible for rescuing other sailors victims from the minefield laid by Königin Luise, and was struck at 18:00 by several of them, sinking in no time with great loss of life. So it was the most prized victim of the German ship. The destroyers, who strived to recover survivors were running slowly, watching cresting waves that indicate position of the mines, helping to spot and sweep these the day after, while many transport passing by were duly notified. Such event served as a lesson also to the Royal Navy, that, duly warned, from then on multiplied patrols, and was more suspicious about possible misidentified civilian ships.
The last prewar scout cruisers
This class of three ships were closely derived from previous Blonde/Boadicea scout cruisers. This third group only counted Amphion and Active, but the Fearless was built on similar plans a few months later. These three units were operational in 1913. With a few adjustments in armour, the main observable difference from previous classes were an arched bow of the new “breakwater” model. These ships also received extra AA 76mm guns during the war.
The Active served in the 2nd destroyers flotilla, being transferred to Harwich. Then, after a quick mission in the Grand Fleet, joined the fleet division 4 in Portsmouth, and after 1917 in Queenstown, and after that was based in the Mediterranean. She was withdrawn from service in 1920 and later sold for scrap.
The HMS Amphion was assigned to the 3rd fleet Division in Harwich, engaged and later was sunk in August 6, 1914 by one or several of the mines laid by German auxiliary cruiser Königin Luise, becoming the first naval loss of the war.
The HMS Fearless served with the 1st Fleet division in Harwich before becoming leader of the 12th squadron of submarines, and finally served as flotilla leader for destroyers of the “K” class. She was took part in the Battle of May Island January 31, 1918, spurring the K17, and was withdrawn from service in 1921.
St Vincent specifications
|Dimensions||163,4 x25,6 x8,5 m|
|Displacement||19 560t, 23 030t FL|
|Propulsion||4 screws, 4 Brown-Boveri turbines, 18 Wagner boilers, 24,500 hp|
|Range||6,900 nmi (12,800 km; 7,900 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)|
|Armament||10 x305mm (5×2), 20 x102mm, 3 TT 457mm (port, starboard and aft)|
|Armor||Belt 250, Battery 200, Barbettes 230, turrets 280, blockhaus 280, bridge 75 mm.|
HMS Amphion illustration in august 1914.
Germany’s first dreadnoughts
The four Nassau (Nassau, Westfalen, Rheinland, Posen) were the first monocaliber battleships of the German Navy. They arrived after the completion of the HMS Dreadnought, and had their own configuration (more faithful to Cuniberti’s armoured cruiser original plans) of 6 turrets (one for and aft, four sides), but equipped with 280 mm caliber cannons rather than 305 mm. That gave these ships a broadside of 8 cannons, like the Dreadnought.
However comparisons halt there as the German Battleships had a secondary artillery consisting of 150 mm guns in barbettes, and the conventional battery of QF 88 mm, 10 in barbettes and the other on deck houses, plus six SM torpedo tubes. Wide, these ships had such a limited roll that they were provided no keels. Good walkers, forcing their boilers to 26-28 000 hp, they reached more than 20 knots.
Tests lasted for long and the last two were not accepted in September 1910. Their active service was uneventful. In August 1916, Westfalen was torpedoed by the E23. She took 800 tonnes water at the rear, but returned safely. The Rheinland struck a reef off Lagskär (Norway) in April 1918, and filled with 6,000 tons of sea water. Subsequently unable to sail again she was left there. Eventually part of her armor and all its guns had to be removed on site to gain some buoyancy back, before the power was reengaged and she can be towed up to Kiel. She was never repaired. Nassau and Posen took part in the inconclusive Battle of the Gulf of Riga in 1915, engaging the Russian pre-dreadnought Slava. Unlike other modern battleships of the Hochseeflotte, none sailed to Scapa Flow in 1919: The allies instead ordered these to be demolished in 1920-1924.
Nassau class on wikipedia
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.
Nassau class specifications
|Dimensions||146 x 27 x 9 m|
|Displacement||18 750 t – 21 000 t FL|
|Propulsion||3 screws, 3 TE 3 cyl. engines, 12 Schulz-Thornycroft boilers, 22 000 hp|
|Speed||20.2 knots (37.4 km/h; 23.2 mph) (19 knots as designed)|
|Range||8,300 nmi (15,400 km; 9,600 mi) @12 knots|
|Armament||12 x 280 (6×2), 12 x 150, 16 x 88 mm, 6 TT 450 mm Sub|
|Armor||Belt 300, Battery 160, Internal bulkheads 210, Turrets 280, Blockhaus 300, Barbettes 280 mm|
Illustration of the posen in 1918