Scharnhorst class armoured cruisers (1906)

Germany (1906)
Scharnhorst, Gneisenau

The last German armoured cruisers

Before the ones you probably know better from ww2, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau has been Imperial Navy’s most recognizable and famous German cruisers. Named after famous Prussian generals during the Napoleonic wars, they had been were the ultimate and very best German armoured cruiser, at the end of their lineage, just before the first battlecruisers came out (1906).

SMS Scharnhorst by Arthur Renard


They had been ordered at Blohm & Voss and Weser shipyards in 1905, launched in March-June 1906 and completed in 1907 and 1908. Much inspired by previous Roon class of 1903 they retained their general appearance. However, they were much larger, better protected and better armed, thanks to the choice of giving them a new battery of eight 210 mm in turrets and barbettes. They were designed specifically to successfully oppose their British equivalents, also end of their line, the Minotaur and Shannon.

The Roon class was in many ways similar to the Scharnhorst class.



Both ships had a Krupp armor belt, 150 mm (5.9 in) thick (center), decreasing to 80 mm (3.1 in) on both end of the citadel, down to nothing on ends, and backed with teak planking. The deck was protected from 60 mm (2.4 in) to 35 mm (1.4 in) and it sloped down to the belt at 40–55 mm thick. Forward conning tower was 200 mm (7.9 in) with a 30 mm roof. The rear one was 50 mm only with a 20 mm roof. Main battery was 170 mm (6.7 in) with 30 mm roofs. Amidships guns had 150 mm (5.9 in) shields and 40 mm roofs. The secondary guns had 80 mm shields.

Brassey’s diagram of the class


The machinery was globally the same as the previous Roon class: Three 3-cylinder triple expansion engines, that drove a single propeller each. Gneisenau’s screws were slightly smaller than her sister-ship. The engines were fed by 18 coal-fired marine-type boilers, and 36 fire boxes. Total output was about 26,000 metric horsepower (19,000 kW; 26,000 ihp), but on trials bot ships achieved higher speeds at 28,782 ihp for Scharnhorst and 30,396 ihp for Gneisenau.

Scharnhorst topped 23.5 knots and Gneisenau reached 23.6 knots (43.7 km/h; 27.2 mph). Both carried 800 t of coal but had a maximal storage for 2,000 tin case of war. This made for a 4,800 nautical miles (8,900 km; 5,500 mi) radius at about 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph). Their electrical plant was made of four turbo-generators for a total of 260 kilowatts at 110 volts, the last time this voltage was used. In the next Blücher, generators were rated at 225 volts.

Jane’s diagram of the class.


The main armament of these ships was equivalent to the interwar heavy cruiser standard, with eight 210 mm (8.3 in) SK L/40 guns. There were two main turrets fore and aft, and four under single wing turrets at each ends. Projectiles were 108 kg (238 lb) armor-piercing shells flying at 780 metres per second (2,600 ft/s). The guns achieved a 4–5 rounds per minute, and 700 rounds were carried total. With a 30° elevation, these guns achieved a 12,400 metres (single turrets) to 16,300 metres (17,800 yd) range.

Scharnhorst rear turret
Scharnhorst rear turret

Secondary armament comprises six 15 cm (5.9 in) SK L/40 guns in casemates, capable of 4-5 rpm, with 1,020 rounds in storage. With 20° elevation they were capable of a 13,700 metres (15,000 yd) range.
Their tertiary artillery, quick-firing for anti-torpedo warfare, comprised eighteen 8.8 cm (3.46 in) guns in casemates, firing 10 kg (22 lb) shells at 620 m/s (2,000 ft/s). There was a total of 2,700 rounds in store, and they can fire at 11,000 m (12,000 yd). There were also four 45 cm (18 in) submerged torpedo tubes, launching a C/03 type torpedo. The latter carried a 176 kg (388 lb) HE warhead at 31 knots (57 km/h; 36 mph), and a range of 1,500 metres (1,600 yd). 11 torpedoes were carried.

Active carrer

Of little use in the Hochseeflotte against because of the profusion of faster, modern battlecruisers, they were transferred to the Pacific squadron under the command of Von Spee, with whom they were going to forge a true legend. In 1909 they were based at Tsing-Tao. With the outbreak of the war and the entry of Japan into the central empires, their place was no longer secure, and the squadron began to wage war on commerce in the eastern Pacific and on the coast West of South America.

SMS Scharnhorst prewar
SMS Scharnhorst prewar

The following is known: The only possible pitfall in the Cape Horn area was Admiral Cradock’s squadron, based in the Malvinas Islands. The latter had no choice but to face his rival with inferior forces, in order to forbid him to cross the Atlantic. The clash took place at Coronel on Nov. 1, 1914. The Good Hope and Monmouth were sunk there, while the Germans took almost no damage. The squadron passed Cape Horn and found itself harassing convoys from Argentina and Brazil. But a British force was quickly assembled to track down Von Spee. The latter had to fight the awaited return battle on 8 August 1914 off the Falklands. Faced this time with battle cruisers, the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau stand little chance but fought with gallantry. Both were sunk but their crew was partly saved.

2-views of the type
Two views of the Scharnhorst type.

Blueprint two-views of the type

More on SMS Scharnhorst

Generalleutnant Gerhard von Scharnhorst laid down at Blohm & Voss, Hamburg on January 1905 was commissioned on 24 October 1907. She was Admiral Maximilian von Spee’s flagship at the German East Asia Squadron. Her crew was esteemed one of the best trained, and like her sister-ship, she won awards for their excellence at gunnery. The declaration of war caught her in the Caroline Islands on a routine cruise. Japan’s declaration of war soon convinced Spee to depart from Asia, and join Leipzig and Dresden from the American station, and heading for Chile to refuel. The goal was then to return to Germany via the Atlantic Ocean.

However en route he planned also to attack shipping and get rid of Admiral Christopher Cradock’s squadron. On 22 September, the Scharnhorst attacked Papeete but declined taking the coal stockpiled in the harbor by fear of mines, the coal being burnt anyway in the end. On 1st November 17H PM, Von Spee’s squadron met Admiral Cradock fleet off Coronel.

The German armoured cruiser excelled in this battle, engaging British cruisers at 18 kilometers, then closing to 12 km at about 19H PM. She scored 34 hits on the HMS Good Hope, at least on landing in the ship’s ammunition magazines, which detonated. The rest of the British ships escaped by the favor of night. While the result was perceived by the First Lord of the admiralty as “the saddest naval action of the war”, the Kaiser ordered 300 iron crosses for the crews upon return.

Scharnhorst sinking, with the Gneisenau behind.

However the squadron’s next objective was to destroy the Falklands island radio station after refueling in Valparaiso. Meantime Fisher ordered Admiral John Jellicoe to detach battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible to catch and destroy Von Spee, under the orders of Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee. The squadron also comprised cruisers Carnarvon, Cornwall, Defence, Kent, soon reinforced by the light cruisers Bristol and Glasgow, escaped from Coronel. They arrived at the Falklands by the morning of 8 December, spotting the Germans at 9H40 AM.

HMS Inflexible picking up Scharnhorst’s survivors.

In turn, Von Spee also spotted them and ordered a retreat. However the worn out ships could not escape the fast battlecruisers, that catch them at 13H20, opening fire at 14 km (8.7 mi), and not ceasing until 15H00, leaving the Scharnhorst a burning wreck, riddled of dozens of 305 mm impacts, listing and later sinking rapidly. Gneisenau was hit too, by no less than 50 rounds, and sank rapidly, her crew cheering the kaiser before going down. Although hundreds of survivors were picked up, some 2,200 men perished, among which Admiral von Spee, that became a tragic national hero back in Germany. His memory would be revived through a pocket battleships, one of the three Deutschland class, which also operated in the South Atlantic, while both cruisers would be revived in the next class of German interwar battleships.


HD picture
HD 1/400 Illustration of the Scharnhost in late 1914 by David Bocquelet, Naval Encyclopedia

Drake class Armoured Cruisers (1901)

United Kingdom (1901)
Drake, Good Hope, King Alfred, Leviathan.

A new class of large armoured cruisers

The 1897 Powerful class marked its era as the most impressive cruisers in the Western Hemisphere, but they has been considered since as one of a kind “white elephants”, leading to the construction of more reasonable series of the Diadem (1898) and Cressy (1900) classes, the first eight being the last massive protected cruisers, while the new ones were the first true “armoured cruisers”; They were to be designed by Sir William White, Chief Constructor of the Royal Navy, in response to the new French armoured cruiser Jeanne d’Arc. There was also the threat of new armoured cruisers being built in Russia, Italy or Japan that triggered plans for a larger class of ships anyway, leading to the Drake class. Two were sunk in action, two survived the war.

HMS Good Hope, the only one sunk in battle.


The Drake was provided under the 1898/99 programme, as armoured equivalent of the earlier Powerful class. Compared to the previous Cressy they were about 3000 tons more, most of the extra space being dedicated to boilers for an increase of 2 knots, at 23 knots. This extra space also helped stacking four more 6 in guns and improvements in protection. They has been started respectively at Pembroke (April 1899), Fairfield (Sept. 1899), Vickers (Aug. 1899) and J Brown Clydebank (Nov. 1899), launched in 1901 and accepted into service in 1902 (Good Hope) and 1903. On trials they all exceeded their expected top speed (24 knots for Drake), even achieving hours long cruises at full speed without incident. They were considered good steamers, excellent seaboats. Their large size meant their operational career was spent as cruiser squadron leaders.

King Alfred in construction – the ram bow


By size, these ships were much larger than the previous Cressy, in lenght particularly with 152 m instead of 134 m, and were wider also at 21,74 instead of 21,18 m, but the same draught. Their impressive machinery comprised 43 Belleville boilers, feeding four Triple expansion 4-cycle engines producing a total of 30,000 ihp for 23 knots. They carried 2500 tons of coal versus 1600 on previous ships, making them suited for far overseas stations.

Armour scheme was of a “all of nothing” type, based on the Cressy. However the protective deck was 2,5 in between the stern and aft bulkhead, side armour was 6 in, on 80 m, then reduced to 4 and 2 in on both ends. The bulkhead themselves were 5 in thick, the turrets were protected by 6 in cast armor, as well as the barbettes, 5 in for the casemates and 3in for the ammunition tubes while the conning tower was 12 in (305 mm) thick.

Armament was better than previous classes, with a total of two single turreted breech-loading 9.2 in (234 mm) Mk.X pieces, sixteen breech-loading 6 in (152 mm), and fourteen 12 pdr (76 mm) plus three QF Hotchkiss revolver 3-pdr for anti-torpedo boat warfare and two submerged 18 in (457 mm) torpedo tubes. The main guns fired 380-pound (170 kg) shells at 15,500 yards (14,200 m), while the 6 in range was only about 3,000 m shorter.

Kin Alfred 1901
King Alfred in 1901

Most of the ship superstructure amidship was omitted. Cowl ventilators were replaced by windsails while other fittings above the upper deck were reduced to the bare minimum.
In addition two more 12-pounder 8 cwt guns could be dismounted for service ashore. The lead ship, the Drake was the costier of them all, at £1,050,625.


Their operational life began as cruiser’s squadron leaders to justify their large size and cost. The King Alfred was the CinC in China until 1910, the Leviathan preceded her in 1903-1904, and was also CinC in the Mediterranean in 1905-1906, but the Good Hope and Drake spent their remaining carrer in Home Waters, until the first was sent as flagship of the South Atlantic squadron, under orders of Commander Kradock. Famously the latter sailed to battle with the Monmouth and Glasgow, facing two formidable German armoured cruisers that punched above her weight, and sank with all hands.


Drake class cruisers (wiki)

Drake class specifications

Dimensions 162.6 x21.7 x7.9m (533 x 71 x 26 ft)
Displacement 14,150 t FL
Crew 900
Propulsion 2 props, four 4-cyl TE, 43 boilers 30,000 hp
Speed 23 knots (43 kph, 26 mph)
Armament 2x 234mm, 16x152mm, 12x12pdr, 3x3pdr, 2 TT 450mm

Illustration of the Good Hope by naval encyclopedia

Battle of Coronel (1st November 1914)

German Navy vs Royal Navy
1st November 1914

Graf Spee’s far east squadron in Valparaiso, Chile, about to sail afte the battle, Nov. 3, 1914

The first British defeat since 100 years

Long before the famous 1980s Falklands conflict, the Royal Navy had already crossed fire in this remote corner of the globe. This time it was against German forces, Graf Von Spee’s Far Eastern Squadron arriving from the Pacific, that was going to sail into the Atlantic and cause havoc on trade.

Admiral Graf Von Spee Apart from the confrontation with Heligoland, which had limited results, the first battle of Coronel was the single greatest naval event before the end of 1914. Its main protagonist was a Prussian aristocrat of the old school, National hero in his country after his epic on the other side of the world: The Count (Graf) Maximilian Von Spee.

Admiral Von Spee

This man, born in Denmark in 1861 and who spent most of his career in Africa, had become rear-admiral at 49. He was 53 when he was about to deliver the two battles of his life in a few months. He was promoted Vice-Admiral in 1912 and was given the task of the Far East squadron, consisting of partly obsolete ships, light cruisers and cruisers, based at Tsing Tao, the old German trading post in China. In June 1914, far from the noises of war, the crew of the two armoured cruisers was all to the enthusiasm of a beautiful cruise in the turquoise waters of the South Pacific. Then by wireless, he is asked to return to the colony. At the time of the declaration of war, all that was not necessary for combat was landed, and the cruisers who had time were repainted in two shades of grey, the other retaining for some time their beautiful white colonial livery. But the squadron could not remain on the spot, for fear of being destroyed at anchor, or intercepted en route by Allied British, Australian, Russian and Japanese fleets.

Armoured Cruiser SMS Scharnhorst, named after a Prussian General in the Napoleonic wars.

Von Spee prepared to send part of his squadron, including the two cruisers of the Scharnhorst class cruisers (Scharnhorst and Gneisenau), light cruiser Nürnberg, two of the Dresden class (Dresden and Emden), and the old Leipzig. The rest of the squadron consisted of ships of lesser tonnage, four gunboats of the Iltis class, and three river gunboats, the Tsingtau, Otter and Vaterland, S90 torpedo boat and the tanker Titania.

German light cruiser SMS Nürnberg. Late into the fight, she nevertheless caught the escaping, badly damaged HMS Monmouth almost by chance in the obscurity, trying to reach the Canopus.

A trapped squadron

After having assembled all the officers in the square of the Scharnhorst, which bore his mark, he discussed the best possible options. 1-He could tried to return to Germany and add his forces to the Hochseeflotte, but the risk was far too great in view of the proximity of the Grand Fleet and several closely guarded roads at the approach of the North Sea. 2-He could also attempt a privateer’s war to weaken allied traffic on all the seas of the globe, especially in the heavily defended southern hemisphere. This option seems the least risky and the most promising, and eventually pass Cape Horn and carry the war into the Atlantic. It was a real convoy of more than twenty ships which had taken shape, counting the 5 cruisers (the Emden had detached from the group on 14 August to deliver its own racing war in the Indian Ocean and make diversion). Von Spee measured the risks: He was to cross the vast South Pacific, but at 10 knots to save coal and keeping pace with the oldest, slowest steamers.

From Samoa to Tahiti

On board German ships, sailors were eager to fight. Von Spee confered one more time with officers and decided en route to attempt a raid on the Samoa Islands with his two armoured cruisers, to draw the attention of the British Navy, while hoping to find some enemy vessels at anchor. He fell on the islands at dawn, September 14th, but only to find the Apia’s wharf empty, and the Union Jack floating on the city. Apart a bombardment that would surely hurt his fellow citizens more than the British troops, he can not seriously consider taking back the city with his only two marines companies.

Von Spee biopic – The Great War channel.

Reluctantly, he resolve to change course and join Tahiti in order to shell Papeete, where a few French ships reside. He arrived on September 22 at dawn. German ships were not expected, they were no lookouts, and the two ships just maneuvered between the shallows to stand in battle line. Once spotted at last, the French evacuated the city and prepared the meager “coastal batteries” available: Guns of the gunboat Zelée, which have been landed and camouflaged previously. They fired a few warning shots, but remained silent to avoid being spotted when the two German vessels replied with their heavy artillery.

Von Spee now seek to disembark a company, since he thinks he is dealing with a weak garrison – which is true. The French then maneuvered and scuttled the Zélée across the pass, obstructing it. The two German ships then open fire on the city, quickly set ablaze. Von Spee realized that he will no longer be able to land his troops, or proceed to supply coal and food, and retire. His ultimate goal became to return to Chile, refuel, and then cross Cape Horn before engaging in a much more fruitful trade war in the Atlantic. The British, who received report from the squadron’s position are preparing to block his way. Leaving the rest of the convoy and refueling, the three light German cruisers (Nürnberg, Leipzig, Dresden), joined the two armoured cruisers.

Von Spee’s ships path

Sir Cradock’s Falklands squadron

Sir Christopher Cradock Meanwhile, miles apart in Port Stanley, a British Navy squadron is awaiting orders from Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock. Nicknamed the “old Gentleman”, he is also an old refined aristocrat. Von Spee even knew him well personally during his stopovers in peace time. The two men respect each other. But now both are about to do their duty. Cradock’s squadron is the only one that can oppose the German ships on their way in the Atlantic. It consists of the Good Hope, an armoured cruiser, the cruisers Monmouth and Glasgow and the Otranto, an auxiliary cruiser, converted liner. Unfortunately, this squadron also includes the old battleship Canopus, but the latter had a considerable delay to heat his boilers, and would not sail in time. She only could make 12 knots and therefore layed behind.

Armoured cruiser HMS Good Hope

Cradock has been informed since the beginning of October of the imminent arrival of the Germans. He asked the Admiralty repeatedly for reinforcements, refused: The only other ships available were ordered to be kept in reserve on the other side of Cape Horn, in case the Germans passed in force. The old Admiral has no illusions about his fate: He has his own grave dug in the Falklands’s governor garden, deposited his medals, knowing his true steel sepulture would be at the bottom of the sea soon. He wrote his Testament, bids farewell to his family and the sailed following day for the cape of Good Hope (Even more Ironically named in this occurrence). His squadron set sail on October 22, headed southwest, crossed Cape Horn, and then headed north to cross the Germans.


He knows hen that Von Spee commanded two armoured cruisers, and that in the meantime his squadron was reinforced by the other three cruisers. This gives them a distinct advantage: HMS Good Hope had a more powerful artillery (240 mm) on paper, but these guns are old, with ancient sights, and can offer only one salvo for two for the Germans. As for the Monmouth, she was one of the least protected cruisers in the Royal Navy, an unfortunate experiment imposed by budget cuts. The HMS Glasgow was fairly well armed and fast, but less efficient in heavy weather. The Otranto has almost no military value. Worse still, Cradock’s ships are composed of reservists hastily mobilized and insufficiently trained…

Prelude to the battle

On 31 October, Von Spee was advised by wireless that an English cruiser had been seen entering the port of Coronel in Chile. Spee rallied directly the area from the northeast, leaving the Nürnberg behind off the Chilean coast, hoping to intercept the cruiser as it leaves. At the end of the afternoon (4:20 pm), Scharnhorst’s lookouts spotted three ships, later identified as British cruisers. HMS Monmouth and Glasgow are followed by the Otranto, sailing west-northwest, joined by the Good Hope at 17:20, taking the lead of the battle line, before changing course to present a broadside to the Germans. War pavilions are erected, and Von Spee prepares his ships for battle.

Armoured cruiser HMS Monmouth

A game of light and shadow

There is nearly a gale, disturbing lookouts of the two fleets, and making fire more imprecise, but the initial configuration is not clearly to the advantage of the Germans: The British ships indeed come from the south, far at sea compared to the Germans, which are coming from the North and arranged in a line along the coast. It is then 18:20. With the falling darkness, the Germans still have sunlight blinding their telemetric sights, while the British can see the metallic silhouette of the German ships shining out on the dark cliffs of Chile. Von Spee knows it, and try to stay out of reach as long as he can. The British are approaching, but not fast enough, allowing the setting sun to finally reverse the situation completely: Now the German ships are plunged in the dark and merging with the cliffs, while on the contrary Cradock ships are showing in Chinese shadows on the horizon. they are now a target of choice for the gunners of the two armoured cruisers who pass for the best of the fleet.

Rush hour

At 6.34 pm, the Scharnhorst, at the head, opened fire on the Good Hope, while the Gneisenau immediately followed on the HMS Monmouth and the Dresden on HMS Glasgow. SMS Nurnberg was still way behind. Cradock by then still hope to left the German ships and join the Canopus, which would have given him a decisive advantage, but the Germans stand precisely between him and the coast. The fight quickly turns to the advantage of the Germans who in the third salvo put the front turret of the Good Hope ablaze. The Monmouth is also also, loosing both turrets. The Otranto, in order not to be a useless victim, moves away from the battle.

As for the two light cruisers which clash at the end of the line, their salvos are lost at sea because of gale force waves. The struggle becomes fierce as the two British armoured cruisers takes more hits, burning wildly, all the communication lines destroyed. Gunners now shoot by view only. Distance soon fell to 6000 meters and the obscurity increase. Now the British ships are burning this makes the Germans firing much more precise and devastating. The secondary artillery of both English ships still cannot enter into action because or the high wave crests, and the main artillery soon silenced.

At 19:00, the distance fell to 5000 meters. Von Spee decides to take some distance, fearing a possible torpedo attack. The Gneisenau is hit by the Monmouth (three casualties). At 19:20, the Scharnhorst gives the coup de grace: One of her shells lands between chimneys 2 and 3 on the Good Hope which explodes and sank rapidly with all hands. As he foresaw, the “old Gentleman” followed his crew to the end… On the HMS Monmouth sides, things are equally gloomy. She fled, taking advantage of the falling night, at low speed, dodging the last shells.

British light cruiser HMS Glasgow

The end

The unequal battle is closing to its conclusion. The Monmouth takes advantage of the attention drawn for a while on the Good Hope, in an attempt to escape and extinguish its fires, as does HMS Glasgow in the dark. The commander of the latter then proposed to the Monmouth to take her in tow, but the latter refused, preferring to see the Glasgow escape sooner than risking to see both caught in such a bad posture. At 20:50, HMS Monmouth sails towards the coast at low speed, her blackened hull smoking, riddled with gaping holes through which yellow-orange lights still flickers.

Battleship HMS Canopus. She never was ready on time to join the battle

By then the Nürnberg just joined the fray, and by luck fall on the British ship, but she is unable to recognize the Monmouth and don’t open fire, fearing a friendly fire. Monmouth’s crew, rather than knocking down the flag and being rescued, decided to fight to the last man, despite having almost no cannon left but still one of their searchlights, which which they light their war pavilion. It’s an execution. The Nuremberg opens fire at point-blank range and achieve rapidly the sinking British ship. No survivors either. The Germans will later defend their non-assistance by pleading a nearly impossible rescue by night, in game winds and fearing possible British reinforcements (like the Canopus)… After this disaster the Otranto is left with HMS Glasgow, hit five times with low amage, that took a long loop in order to cross the HMS Canopus path.

Details of the battle

Night’s sorrow

Although reunited, the two ships would not find Von Spee in the dark. The German squadron is retreating to Valparaiso. The Count squashed a champagne bottle in the square of the officers of the Scharnhorst while Schnapps flowed for sailors mad with joy. For the first time in more than a century, the Royal Navy is defeated at sea. Plus, the whole squadron had only three wounded to deplore (none fatally). As for damages, they could be repaired within a few hours. To do this, the squadron stops in Valparaiso from 2 to 3, to respect the 24 hours regulations for any belligerent in a neutral port, after refueling and gathering food. Von Spee regretted to not find the Glasgow and complete his destruction. Moreover he was afraid of the 12 inches armed Canopus still was looking for him. He then began a cautious run in the South Pacific, temporarily avoiding passage through the Cape Horn.

Painting of the battle by Hans Bohrdt

The British are Stunned

On the British side, the battle results are appealing: On November 2, News Headlines all tells the Cape Horn squadron and its famous admiral final doom. The House of Commons is agitated, demands explanations from the Admiralty. But this one has changed minds since Lord Fisher is appointed on the eve of the battle, as first lord of the sea in place of the old prince of Battenberg. Teaming Sir Winston Churchill, he decide to “take things in hand”. Indeed, Von Spee threatens the Chilean nitrate (vital for English shells) route, and the Argentinian beef route, providing half the needs of the population. Von Spee fate is sealed. There will be a sequel, the second battle of the Falklands, in shape of a revenge…

First steamers (1801-1819)

Early Steamers of the Industrial Era

The Aerolipile was the earliest known attempt to devise a practical steam engine. This simple device created by Hiero of Alexandria in Hellenistic Egypt turned steam to a rotating motion in the 1st century AD. However there was no real control, and despite the speed of the contraption, brute horsepower was negligible. However some archeological researches and text re-reading (plus the amazing discovery of the Anthykitera mechanism) went as far as pretending the Greeks used routinely steam power to open doors or create special effects in Temples, 2400 years from now, not to mention Archimede’s “steam cannon” purposely built during the Siege of Syracuse.

In any case, this new form of energy was (re-)born after the intellectual bubbling of the Enlightenment. Despite the absolutism, such engineering was well seen by Royal power, especially in France. Experiments went in just about every field and names like Denis Papin and his steam digester, Faraday, Thomas Newcomen, Thomas Savery.

James Watt's engine animation
James Watt’s engine animation

The French Cugnot created the first “steam trolley”, great-great ancestor of the automobile. A steamboat was described and patented by John Allen in 1729. James Watt was the first to adapt a steam engine to a ship and transmitted the force (still derisory) to the rotation of two-wheeled blades, the first naval paddle wheels. William Henry of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, made an engine ans tested a steamboat in 1763. Twenty years after, he probably inspired D’Abbans Pyroscaphe. This will initiate exactly at the dawn of the nineteenth century an industrial revolution that will change the face of the world and make it a much smaller place.

1836 British patent for a steamship.

It will take another thirty or forty years before the steam was serviced daily in navigation. The regularity brought by steam power, this autonomy towards meteorology, was the only great revolution in naval transport, and will enable modern passenger transport.

Francis Petitt Smith patent for a screw propeller, 1836
Francis Petitt Smith patent for a screw propeller, 1836.

The mixed vessels sail/steam would become be a reality despite certain mistrust and strong traditionalism, conservatism of the maritime sphere. The “steam-only” ships from Fulton in 1801 were the few that followed were seen as a bit radical, as this new power took decades to reach reliability and power, both in the civilian and military fields. Until at least 1885 ships had been using a mixed solution. Although they were accepted for regular lines on the civilian lines from the 1830s, Navies only adopted it past the 1850s when the Crimean war broke out. That was only for the arrival of the propeller screw, since fragile paddle wheels were too unprotected for military purposes.

SS California, first Pacific line paddle steamer (1848)

First Steamers:

In short, here are the ships that will be covered:
First experiments by Symington, Fulton, Bell, and D’Abbans.
-Charlotte Dundas, Pyroscaphe, Clermont,Comet, Savannah.
-First Military Steamers like HMS Rising Star, Sphinx,
-American Paddle Steamers of the Mississippi.

SS Archimedes, the first screw-propelled ship.

First “packet-ships” (to come later)

  • Archimedes (1838): first propeller liner
  • The Great Western (1837): first regular line liner
  • The Great Britain (1843): First liner with iron hull and propeller


Pyroscaphe (1783)

Undoubtedly one of the first steamers, the Pyroscaphe was a riverine adaptation of the Newcomen steam engine perfected by Marquis Claude François de Jouffroy d’Abbans. As early as 1774, the engineer had attempted to sail a first ship, but the engine was so weak that the current countered her action. Later, he made a much more ambitious new endeavour by scaling up his whole design. The large vessel (45 meters long) was propelled by a double action cylinder, and two large paddle wheels. Built by Antoine Frerejean, his crew consisted of just three. He made a first attempt on the Saone on 15 July 1783, but the machine stopped working after 15 minutes, putting an end to the project.

Charlotte Dundas (1801)

The first “operational” steamship. Not the work of Thomas Fulton, but of another late-century pioneer enlightment, William Symington. He had specialized in the mechanics of water mills, mine pumps, and had derived from it a compact, reliable steam engine. Means of propulsion he imagined was rather the vane wheel, in which a cylinder rotated via an articulated shaft, as early as 1793. His sponsor having finally retired from the project, his system remained without application for years until the Director of the Forth & Clyde Channel Co., Lord Thomas Dundas, was drawn via Captain Schrank who had devised a model of a tugboat equipped by the Symington machine.

Named after the director’s daughter, the tug was successfully tested in 1801 on the Carron River, after being revised and corrected with a new horizontal machine. The wooden vessel was 17 meters long by 5.5 wide with a draft of 2.4 m. The hull was cut open for the paddle wheel. The final ship was built in 1803 by John Allan and the machine by the Carron Co., making its first crossing with several officials on board including Lord Dundas, the project leader. Two months later, he towed two 70-tonne barges along the Forth & Clyde Canal to Glasgow, with an average of 3 kph, despite a contrary wind that stopped all ships making the same voyage. Proof was made of the reliability and efficiency of steam.

Despite this success, there were no other uses of the tug, as the company feared an erosion of the banks of the canal because of the waves raised by the ship. The Duke of Bridgewater, who owned a company on another canal, was also interested, but he died before the project could succeed. The Dundas was abandoned by its owner until 1861, when it was demolished, and Symington was never paid to match his personal investments. But this brilliant British pioneer had paved the way and inspired other engineers, including the American Fulton

Clermont (1807)

Thomas Fulton is now considered the “steam pope”, but in reality he was only one of the many engineers who, from the beginning of the eighteenth century, had boldly set out to discover the energy of steam. On the other hand, he was the first to design a viable steam-powered ship, in a history marked by disappointments, capsizing, fires, explosions… An American, Fulton was merely a pragmatic observer inspired by inventions that synthesized the best mechanical compromise.

Fulton’s Clermont replica.

Robert Livingston, a wealthy politician and investor from New York who obtained exclusive Hudson navigation rights and was invited to attend Fulton’s demonstration on the seine in 1803. Impressed, he signed with Fulton a first Contract for the construction of a steamship derived from its experiments.

Called first North River Steamboat, then North River Steamboat of Clermont, and commanded by Captain Andrew Brink, the ship made a two-day connection between Abany and New York. It had been built at Charles Brown of New York with British machines of Boulton and Bimingham Watt. It measured 40 m by 4.90 m with 2.10 m draft. He carried two masts rigged with sails in the third, in case his machines stopped working…

Welcomed with skepticism, the ship was nicknamed “Fulton’s folly” or “Fulton’s monster”. During her crossing, she was met by weary sailors onboard other ships but was cheered by the public massed on the banks all along its route. After such spectacular success, Fulton secured the construction of two sister-ships for their operating company, Neptune’s chariot, and Paragon, in 1809 and 1811. None of them knew of any accident, and they survived their inventor, who died in 1817. Commercial exploitation of steam navigation had just begun.

Comet (1812)

Henry Bell was a famous Scottish engineer, born at Tophichen in 1767, and one of the great pioneers of steam in Europe. In 1808 he moved to Helensburg, with the takeover of a public bath establishment managed mainly by his wife, because the financial security that it was procuring allowed him to go about his experiments on steam…

In 1812 he made for Sir John Wood & Co at Fort Glasgow Clyde navigation company a 13-meter steamship equipped with a 3-horsepower engine, named after the great comet that had been visible that same year in The European sky. She made her first trip from Greenock to Glasgow, boarding passengers, and inaugurating the first regular steam line in Europe.

One of the original features of his ship was that it had no mast, the chimney in place, to the point where a square sail on a yard and a jib were attached. Propulsion was carried out by sidewall impellers. In spite of a derisory speed and a contrary wind, the first crossing was a great success, which was followed by the establishment of new companies and new steamers in record time. The Clyde quickly became the most steaming river in the world. However, the Comet was re-engineered in 1819, but eventually failed on benches of Craignish Point near Oban which it served. The Comet II, built in 1820, hit the steamer Ayr near Gourock in 1825 and sank rapidly, with its passengers and crew, making 62 casualties. This drama marked Bell deeply and prompted him to withdraw from the world of steam.

Savannah (1819)

This steamer, which can be considered the first transatlantic, was the common invention of the engineer Stephen Vail, who had worked with Stephens and Fulton, and Commander Moses Rogers, a visionary vapor-friendly. The two men founded the Savannah steamship Cie around the dream of building from operating the first transatlantic ship. Revolutionary, the ship was in relation to the vapors of his time in the sense that it retained the classical mature of a single-passenger ship of the time, its machine being seen as “auxiliary”. In this way, the sail carried out the main part of the propulsion, the machine taking over as soon as the wind conditions were no longer favorable.

It also saved space thanks to the lower quantity of coal on board, but also a regularity of service which opened up new prospects for commercial shipping. Finally the concept was relatively safe at the time or explosions and machine breakdowns were commonplace.
Built by the Fickett & Crockett shipyard in Corlears Hook, New York, the fairly conventional vessel had a slightly larger draft, which meant only 30 meters long for 8 wide and 320 tonnes. Modest, but the customers paid dearly for such a crossing, faster than any other ship, in facilities of a luxury novel at the time, only equaled by some yachts…

Its chimney’s top was steerable according to the wind force, in order to prevent its smoke from blackening the sails and its wheels actuated by chains, disassembled and placed on deck in case of sailing on wind power alone, their pivot and moorings being removable in the hull. Rogers, who was a mechanical enthusiast, took a close look at the construction, inspecting with great attention every piece of the machine built at Boulton and Watt in England, then the most famous firm in the world.

At the end of February 1819, the steamer made his first tests with a great success. The concept seemed validated for its promoters. On March 28, the ship left Savannah for her home port in New York, receiving enthusiastic press acclaim and President Monroe’s visit with War Minister John Calhoun. The former suggested that the government should exploit her on the Florida line, but Cuban piracy at that time made considered this exploitation too dangerous.

On the commercial side, however, Savannah’s beginnings has been calamitous. She first failed to find a crew, frightened by the mixture of steam and traditional rigging, and the nickname given by many sailors of “steam coffin”. Eventually men were recruited in the city of new London, where the first master Stephens Rogers thought finding reliable men. The crew recruited, remained to convince passengers, equally frightened by the concept and mixture sail/steam, despite the comfort announced.

Finally on May 22, 1819, the passengers and crew aboard, the ship made her first trip, an inaugural journey that would take her from New York to England, Sweden, Russia. The little habit of seeing smoke in the middle of sails would cause an Irish station lookout to report a fire. An epic attempt was made to “rescue” the presumed lost ship, shooting warning shots to the prow, as reported in his newspaper commander Rogers. The arrival in Liverpool was warm, the press being more enthusiastic than the officials. The voyage had lasted 28 days, of which 18 had been steamed, the machine proving reliable, but the voyage duration time was greater than that of many sailing ships over the same distance. This was attributed to contrary weather. The ship was in fact twice as fast than on sail power on a calm day.

Diagram of the Savannah

The relative coldness of official authorities, was imputed to insistent rumors that the ship was a gift from the American government to the Tsar, or was to be rented by Jerome Bonaparte to deliver his half-brother from his long exile in Saint Helena. The arrival of the Savannah in Sweden was no Less enthusiastic. King Charles XVI (formerly Marshal Bernadotte) offered to buy the ship for $ 100,000, which Major Rodgers declined, estimating the total cost of the ship and its operation, far superior…

During her crossing to Russia in the Baltic, she enthused one of his passengers, Lord Graham, a famous general of Wellington. He was astonished by the speed with which the ship changed from “sailing” to “steam” mode in less than a quarter hour.

At St. Petersburg the reception was even more grandiose. The Tsar and his court made numerous “sea parties” and cruises aboard the ship. The latter made an unprecedented proposal, not even dreamed of by a Fulton years earlier: The exclusive commercial concession of Russian waters, from the Baltic to the Pacific. As a good family man, who wants to remain in his country, Rodgers declined the offer, not without regrets. On his return the ship passed through Copenhagen and Norway. But in the long run the SS Savannah was a commercial failure. No doubt the clientele was not ready.

SS Savannah from Chatterton

There were no other attempts at transatlantic operations on the part of the Americans before 1845 on comparable ships. Stephen Veil was never totally paid for the investments made, and the situation even worsened for the company, victim of the serious fire that devastated the city of Savannah. Attempt was made to sell the ship to the government, but President Monroe finally declined it. The ship passed under a new commander, but after two years of service she was grounded and permanently lost on Long Island reefs. Thus ended a glorious pioneering attempt, before the frenzy of “steamships” that will explode much later in the century, and was definitely going to revolutionize the crossing of the Atlantic.

Edgar Quinet

France (1907)

France’s last armoured cruisers

The last French cruiser-battleships, and by far the most imposing, were the two Edgar Quinet (sister-ship Waldeck-Rousseau), which constituted at the same time a synthesis of all the acquired experience in design for this particular type and an additional milestone in the genre. Laid down in 1905 and 1906 they were launched in 1907-08 and completed in 1911, and had an active career lasting until the 1930s.

Edgar Quinet class Armoured cruisers
Edgar Quinet class Armoured cruisers


Jeune École (Young School)’s own Admiral Ernest François Fournier strongly advocated for a fleet of armored cruisers based on the Dupuy de Lôme type back in the 1890s, for long-range commerce raiding, dealing with older battleships, and reconnaissance. Twenty-four armored cruisers followed, the Edgar-Quinet being the last, and like the previous Ernest Renan, their design was revised during construction, causing a delay of delivery. Although they had been the most powerful armored cruisers built by France, they entered service two years after the first British battlecruiser of the Invincible class, and therefore were obsolescent when accepted in service.

Indeed, because of its “semi-experimental” shipbuilding practices, France was late in the game and lacked any battlecruisers, although they had been planned by 1912′ Durand-Viel program, not to mention the few dreadnoughts in service compared to Germany and UK. This was however not that crucial as most of the French fleet had to operate in the Mediterranean, against less advanced fleets, like the Austro-Hungarian Navy.

Brassey’s diagram of the previous Renan class (not one available of the Quinet)


Moving 14,000 tons and 160 meters long, they were among the largest French warships in 1914. They had been largely inspired by the Ernest Renan (1906), but were taller and better armed, including a uniform artillery distribution of the monocaliber type. One of their particular feature was the adoption of refrigerated ammunition holds, now a standard for French ships since the Battleship Iena explosion in 1907.


Their artillery was indeed simplified (this was less a nightmare for supply) with the suppression of 162 mm (6.3 in) guns for a complete fourteen 193 mm (7.5 in) battery (rate of fire, up to four rpm) complete with only 65 mm (2.5 in) QF guns to deal with TBs. The larger guns were divided into two double turrets, six single, and four in barbettes. The 65 mm (9-pounder guns) were distributed in casemates and the others on the superstructures. However in 1918 the threat of aviation made for a removal of 12 guns, replaced by tow 65 mm anti-aircraft guns and tow of 75 mm (3.0 in) AA guns. As customary, the two armoured cruisers were given also two 450 mm (17.7 in) TTs on each side, submerged.


Their armored belt was 150 mm (5.9 in), reduced to 70 mm (2.8 in) forward and 40 mm (1.6 in) aft. The lower main deck was 65 mm (2.6 in) thick. The upper deck was 30 mm (1.2 in) in thickness. Gun turrets were 200 mm (7.9 in), barbettes 200 mm, casemates 194 mm, however they were linked by transverse armored bulkheads ranging from 194 mm to 120 mm (4.7 in) internally. Conning tower was 200 mm. Rousseau survived two torpedo hits thanks to an efficient cofferdam built into the lower hull, doubled by a longitudinal watertight bulkhead.


Unable to sail past 23 knots, these ships arrived when the battle cruisers introduced turbines. They had three propellers, three 4-cylinder VTE (triple expansion) engines, 40 Belleville boilers, coal-fired, for a total output of 36 000 hp. The boilers were truncated into six funnels in two groups of three, characteristic of French cruisers at that time. All of these engines were separated in watertight compartments, to ensure at least the minimal propulsion of the ship was hit. In addition electrical systems were fed by six electric generators. Coal capacity amounted to 2,300 t, which made for a 5,100 nautical miles range (9,400 km; 5,900 land miles) at moderate cruise (10 knots).

The Quinet class in action

Their career was very active: Together with the Renan and the Michelet, they formed the 1st light division of the Mediterranean. They patrolled in the Straits of Otranto and ensured the Austro-Hungarian blockade. Both ships covered the seizure of Corfu in January 1916.

Waldeck Rousseau off Constantinople

Edgar Quinet

In August 1914 quinet took part in the pursuit of the German squadron of Admiral Souchon (SMS Goeben). She was present at the Battle of Antivari.
Quinet also carried out a rescue mission after the war of the population of Smyrna (Great Fire of Smyrna, Greek-Turkish War), embarking 1,200 civilians in 1922. In 1925-27, the Quinet underwent a complete overhaul, which made her a training ship, with a new weaponry, a new appearance, including seaplanes under shed. She hit a reef off Cape Blanc, Algeria and sank in 1930.


She served in the Adriatic and survived in 1914 two torpedo hits from Austrian U-Boats in October 1915 and duelled with several Austro-Hungarian destroyers. She served also in the Ionian and Aegean Sea until 1918. After the war she sent to the Black Sea to support the “whites” Russians of General Wrangel. At her arrival however her crew short-lived mutinied over poor conditions. At first assigned as flagship of the Far East fleet in 1929, she later returned to France to be disarmed in 1932 but was broken up only in 1941-44 to be sold fro scrap.

Edgar Quinet being launched
Edgar Quinet being launched


The Quinet class on wikipedia
Additional photos on
Combrig 1/700 Model kit review
Specs Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1906-1921.

Danton class specifications

Dimensions 159 x 21,5 x 8,4 m
Displacement 13 847 t. FL
Crew 892
Propulsion 3 screws, 4 VTE engines, 40 Belleville boilers, 36,000 hp.
Speed 23 knots. max. (40 km/h; 25 mph)
Range 5,100 NM (9,400 km; 5,900 miles) @10 knots
Armament 14 x 193 mm, 20 x 65 mm, 2 TT sides 457 mm
Armor Belt 150, turrets 200, blockhaus 200, barbettes 200 mm, Decks 65 mm


Illustration of the Edgar Quinet in 1914

Original Blueprint of the class

German mini-subs and human torpedoes

Nazi Germany (1944-45)

K-verband projects

Not a part of the series of famous “V-weapons”, these ultra-modern miracle weapons supposed to reverse the fate of the Reich, these very light units of the Kriegsmarine appeared late, as a last-ditch naval bulwark to the enormous means deployed by the allies. With the massive intensification of anti-submarine warfare in the Atlantic, the efficiency of classical U-Bootes – particularly those of type VII – was diminishing while seeing the losses increasing, at a point of rupture.

Classical U-boote operations shown their limitations. Costly in men, oil and raw materials, large U-boats were no longer efficient.

The general staff was beginning to think of a massive production of lightweight units, much more economical, in particular to meet well-localized objectives. These units were produced by the hundreds (in total more than 1200), and two main types could be distinguished: “Pocket subs” commonly called midget submersibles, and human torpedoes.

A serie of Seehunds – perhaps the best midget submarine of the war.

German Midget Submersibles:

Four types of “Kleine Unterseeboote” (KU) saw successively the day. They were characterized by a crew of one or two men, a classic or torpedoid hull, an electric or mixed gasoline propulsion, two torpedoes, built in prefabricated sections. Their handling was in principle easy and their hull was pressurized. They were not “disposable weapons” but rather reusable submersibles. Relatively light, they could be transported by rail to see by air, and thus operate from many defense zones including large rivers. In operations, however, they were rather disappointing.



The “Salamanders” were the first German pocket submersibles in use. They were inspired by torpedo technology and had a cylindrical hull, housing a huge Nickel-Cadmium battery. The latter gave them a great submerged autonomy, but a radius of action of only 40 nautical miles at 5 knots. The pilot was sitting behind the battery, between the two ballast tanks. In coastal use, submerged and silent, they were dedicated to special operations against allied landings. The first copy was only operational in June 1944, delivered by AG Weser in Bremen. In the south of France, 12 units entered operation during the desperate attempt of the flotilla K-Werband 411 to oppose the landing in Provence (operation Anvil-Dragoon).


The failure was total, with the loss of 10 units out of the 12, the other two being later destroyed by a bombardment of San Remo. Deployed in Holland, notably in Antwerp, other Molch attempted unsuccessfully to threaten the Allied transports. There were a total of 107 sorties until March 1945, with no notable success and most of the 393 Molch built went to training, an aspect previously neglected by Kriegsmarine cadres for this type of unit and which Would produce such low results.

-Dimensions 10,8 x 1,8 m
-Weight 11 tonnes
-1 Electric motor 13 hp, 4,3/5 kn surface/sub
-Armament 2 G7e 533 mm torpedoes (21 in)
-Crew 1



The “Castor” were created from a submersible captured in Norway on Nov. 22, 1943, the Welman W46, which was then trying to blow up the doors of the dry docks of Bergen. This type of single-seater, two-tonne British submersible was produced at more than 100 units and did not have a periscope or torpedoes. They simply had to approach his target and deliver his explosive head of 540 kg. Replicated satisfactorily from 1944, the Biber was the second German pocket submersible in use. Unlike the relatively poor English model, the Biber had two standard 533 mm torpedoes and a periscope, was capable of spinning 6 knots on the surface and traveling 130 nautical miles. It was the Flenderwerke shipyards in Lübeck which were responsible for its production series, starting in May 1944, after a prototype in March, and 24 of pre-production in April.

Biber at the Technik Museum Speyer in Germany, rear view.

A total of 324 units were produced, the last in December 1944. The massive raids on Lübeck and the surrounding area disrupted production, as the Biber was pre-assembled into three sections merely joined together. The operational career of the Biber was not to be significant: Apart from the cargo ship Alan A. Dale, sent by the bottom in 1944, the tonnage sunk was only 4910 tons. The Biber never worried about the allied lines of communication, particularly at the level of the landing craft. As for the Biber II and III future two-seaters, they never past the the drawing board stage.

Biber’s control surfaces

-Dimensions 10,4 x 1,6 m
-Weight 6,3 tonnes
-Prop. 1 Opel Blitz 32 hp, 13 hp electric generator, 6,5/5,3 kn surface/sub
-Armament 2 G7e torpedoes 533 mm (21 in)
-Crew 1

Bieber exhibited at the Imperial War Museum


These “pikes” were designed to deposit a time-lag explosive charge on the flank of a ship at anchor, a role entrusted by the British to their units of the Welman and X type, and dating back to the Fulton and Bushnell experiments in the eighteenth century. This kind of “mission-suicide” remains eminently random. In fact, these triple-shell units with cylindrical hulls, the front part of which (a 1000 kg suction cup) was detached, were practically never used in this role, any more than those carrying magnetic mines. They were therefore grafted two torpedoes, but in general these units were considered mediocre.

Their range was limited to 78 miles and their speed to 3 knots, or 6 submerged, with 40 miles in diving. Built at Germaniawerft in Kiel from May 1944, 53 units were created (numbered as U-2111, 2112 and 2113, and U2251-2300). Finally they were used for the training of the Seehund and Biber crews.

Hecht type at Dresden.

-Dimensions: 10,5 x 1,7 m
-Weight: 12,5 tonnes
-Propulsion: 1 Electric motor 13 hp, 5,6/6 knots surface/sub
-Armament: 2x G7e 533 mm torpedoes (21 in), or a mine
-Crew: 2

Seehund (Type XXVII)

Literally “sea dogs” these were the last, largest and best pocket submersibles built by Nazi Germany. While 138 units were eventually taken into account by the Kriegsmarine, an initial series of 1,000 units was planned, all in service for January 1945. This production began in September 1944 and ended in April 1945. With a solid hull welded by sections, Equipment simplified and automated to the extreme, it was even considered to be given to the Hitler youth. This was not the case because their handling required weeks of practice for every sailor.

They carried two standard G7a torpedoes 533 mm (21 in), dived at 38 meters, surfaced at 7 knots even with a force-formed sea on the Beaufort scale. However the simple relief when launching their torpedoes required a stationary position during firing. Two-seaters, designed as true submersibles with mixed propulsion, they should in principle successfully support the XXI and XXIII series, although limited to operations from the coast. Some 50 units in 1945 obtained a substantial extension of their oil tank, their autonomy rising to 300 nautical miles (550 km).

In the end, these units sank 8 allied ships for a total of 17,300 tons and damaged three others. It was the best performances of German mini-subs so far, for 142 sorties and 32 losses. They operated for the first time from the Banks of Holland on December 31, 1944, and throughout January. Kwinte’s raid on an allied convoy resulted in the loss of 16 units out of the 17 sent, most of which ran aground on sandbanks, others sunk by the RN, and others lost in heavy weather. The other raids were hardly happier.

In February 1945 (and as of late January), the units attempted to obstruct maritime traffic on the south-eastern coast of England, particularly in the Ramsgate area. Operations continued with a bit more success in March (3 sunken ships), while units based in Ijmuiden in Norway practically did not made any outings due to the heavy weather. The latter operated in the Danish Strait in April 1945. On the 28th, all exits were canceled. Most of the losses were due to poor weather conditions and the lack of experience of their operators. Many Seehunds have been captured or recovered, and are nowadays museum pieces.

-Dimensions 10,9 x 1,7 m
-Weight 14,9 tonnes
-Prop. 1x Büssing diesel 60 hp, 1x Electrical engine 25 hp, 6,5 to 5,3 knots surface/sub
-Armement: 2 G7e 533 mm (21 in) torpedoes.
-Crew 2

Human torpedoes:

Three types were tested during the war, and two series became operational. Overall, the concept of “torpedo carrier” was reduced to its simplest expression since the torpedo was launched from another torpedo summarily arranged to allow a basic piloting. They were not, however, genuine “suicide torpedoes” such as those used by the Japanese and in which the operator was directing the torpedo itself until explosion. Nevertheless, this type of arrangement, although very economical to produce in mass, proved practically unfit for service due to a far too small radius of action. The “cockpit” was submerged to allow pressure balancing, and the pilot was helmeted, equipped with a breathing apparatus borrowed from the Luftwaffe and a frogman suit. He launched his torpedo after monitoring summary graduations on the hood, but no navigation marks nor speed calculator (For moving ships).


The neger (“nigger”) was perhaps an extrapolation of the name of its inventor, Richard Mohr (“Moorish” in German, who headed the engineering firm Kleinkampfverbände). Moreover, these torpedoes were invariably black, for mostly nocturnal operations. This was the first type of steered torpedo. The first was operational in March 1944 and 200 were to follow. Equipped with an electric motor, the neger could sail at 3.7 to 4 knots over 48 nautical miles (88 km). At worst, given the rudimentary and economic nature of the craft, its pilot could bring it within range and then evacuate it once the batteries were empty, swimming for safety.

The pilot had a (relative) good vision thanks to a plexiglass bubble. Nevertheless, the respirator mask provoked several deaths by asphyxiation. The other big black dot was the inability of these units to dive. Their cockpit bubble, though small, was still very visible even at night, and in heavy weather this kind of craft was simply not maneuverable. In spite of these limitations, volunteers were recruited for missions intended to carry severe blows to the landing fleet.

The first intervention took place in front of Anzio, on April 20, 1944, 30 units were to attack the north of the bridgehead from Torre Vaianica. It was a total failure, only 17 were launched, losing their way en route, the commander of the squadron perishing from the beginning of the operation of a CO2 intoxication. Three units were lost, all the others ran aground and were captured. The second implementation began in June 1944, in the night of 5 to 6, from Villers-sur-mer in the Bay of Seine and north of Honfleur. This time the 26 units arrived in sight of their objectives in spite of the detestable weather, and sank three minesweepers (HMS Cato, Magic and Pylades) and several small transports, and from June 7 to 8 the best success was to damage The Polish Dragon cruiser, which was deemed unfit for service and was subsequently submerged as a breakwater of the artificial harbor, which earned medals for two of these pilots. Others gave up without having seen the objective.

-Dimensions: 8 x 0,53 m
-Weight: 2,7 tonnes
-Propulsion: 1 Elect. mot. 12 hp, 4,2/3,2 knots surface/sub
-Armament: 1 G7e torpedo 533 mm (21 in)
-Crew: 1


The Marder was simply an extrapolation of the Neger. Unlike the first, limited to the surface, the Marder could dive to 40 meters. This allowed her to escape a potential “predator” or in case of very bad weather. 500 units were produced, until May 1945. Again, equipments were reduced to the bare minimum, only a few graduations on the cockpit and a stem at the front of the nose which allowed to aim the enemy ship. Stress on board was considerable and many losses were due to physical exhaustion, despair, utter claustrophobia, carbon dioxide poisoning, or simply execrable weather (most volunteers were not even sailors).

Marder at the Bundeswehr Museum

Their first sortie was attempted on the night of August 2-4, 1944 from Houlgate, and Marders sank the escort destroyer HMS Quail, a minesweeper, an LST, a liberty-ship and another 7,000-ton transport, and damaged one cruiser. However, the Allied counter-attack was vigorous and only 17 units returned to port. This loss rate – which was not going to improve later – would quickly make these units, which were supposed to return to their base after the action, real one-ticket “coffins”, and volunteers quickly rarefied. Another action was attempted on 16-17 August, 42 Marders attacking the old French battleship Courbet (two hits with no great consequences), and the small balloon-boat HMS Fratton and a transport were also sunk. 26 Marder were lost during this attack. Finally in September 1944 another “K-Verbänd” of 30 units attacked the allied landing fleet in Italy. No victory was recorded and at the same time 17 units were lost at sea, the others who had survived the mission and hoisted dry were destroyed by a coastal bombardment at Vertimiglia.

-Dimensions: 8,30 x 0,53 m
-Weight: 3 tonnes
-Propulsion: 1 Elect.motor, 12 hp, 4,2/3,2 knots surface/sub
-Armement: 1 G7e 533 mm torpedo
-Crew: 1

Hai prototype schematics


The “shark” was a very improved model of the Marder, sometimes called “super-Marder”. Enlarged, and with bigger batteries, for a top speed of 20 knots in the final attack phase. Longer from 2.40 m, they also offered a radius of action of 78 km at 3 knots. However, its long development due to numerous technical problems resulted in the cancellation of the program in April 1945, which ended with just three prototypes.

other German pocket subs Projects

The Seeteufel was an interesting submarine tank, perhaps the only one of its kind built in ww2.


Experimental Delphin midget sub

Three prototypes of the Dauphin were produced. It was a derivative of the Marder, but with a specially designed hull and a bigger battery. He had to be able to sail at 17 knots at the time of the attack. The three prototypes were lost after the testing began in January 1945.


Blueprint of the Seeteufel

The “seas devils” were an interesting concept of “submersible tank” inspired among others special versions of Italian tracked MAS like the Grillo in 1917-18. Basically this was an amphibious unit capable of moving on the sea bottom to its objective before launching its two torpedoes. Two-seater, weighing 35 tons, 14.2 meters long, it was one of the most fantastic German submarine projects. The only prototype was deliberately destroyed in its test field near Lübeck at the time of the German surrender. A longer article will be done in collaboration with Tank Encyclopedia.


The “Orca” (or Grampus) also officially known as SW1 was a prototype of a fast mini-submersible equipped with a Walter turbine. It was on paper capable to sail 30 knots not only during its approach phase but cruising all the way while being submerged. The prototype made only rare attempts (known to be the problems of these revolutionary turbines) in Plöner’s seawater trial area before being scuttled in May 1945. British engineers sought it out and bailed it out for detailed study after the war.



There was also the V.80, a four man, 76-ton prototype completed in 1940 to test Walther geared turbine propulsion system. Her Range was 50 nautical miles at 28 knots. A serie named “Orca” were also built postwar. The midget submarines were swimmer delivery vehicle, for covert operations. Another cold war type called Narwal was also used until the Berlin wall fall.

V80 experimental midget sub, notice the camouflage

Blueprint of the V80

Sources and links

Re Umberto class ironclads (1883)

Italy (1883)
Re Umberto, Sicilia, Sardegna

A new kind of battleship

In 1883, the first two ships of this class, Re Umberto and Sicilia, were authorized in parliament by the Finance law. They had been designed by Benedetto Brin, then president of the naval projects committee. In 1885, the parliament also decided to vote for the construction of a third ship, the Sardegna, in order to create a complete squadron.

Sicilia, full speed


The Sardegna had for the first time, triple expansion engine and cylindrical boilers. She was heavier by nearly 1000 tons and larger by two meters. In common, they had several unique features: Three chimneys, two of them in tandem, raised barbette/turrets at the fore and aft, a relatively low caliber (343 mm against 430 on the previous Ruggero di Lauria) but fast-firing, at twice the speed of previous gun, with in addition the abandonment of the échelon disposition. The hull was therefore much longer, but stayed low. The Sardegna was also equipped for the first time with a Marconi wireless telegraphic station. All three ships had very thin armor protection and high top speeds.


Re Umberto

Re Umberto served with the two others in the same active squadron for more than 10 years. By 1905 this squadron became the reserve squadron. In fact they were used as training ships as the Italo-Turkish War erupted in 1911.

Sardegna in dry dock

In 1912, Re Umberto career was about to end. She was used as a floating tanker at anchor in Genoa. She was badly damaged in May 1914 and after repairs served as a supply vessel for La Spezia from June 1915. She was reactivated in December 1916, recommissioned and converted into a port defense battery at Brindisi and Valone. In 1918, she were once again converted for a final assault of Pola, and was to open the way through mines and nets like a bulldozer, followed by 40 MAS. She was totally disarmed except for eight shielded 76 mm gun, 240 mm Howitzers, but also turrets and bow blades. She was towed to Venice for the raid at the end of October, but the operation was canceled with the armistice and she was struck off in 1920.

Sicilia, as built.


On her side the Sicilia was reformed in July 1914, but resumed service as a tanker at Taranto, and a Workshop until the end of the conflict. She was destroyed in 1923. However Sardegna and Sicilia supported the Italian left flank and bombarded Tripoli on 23–26 October 1911.

Sardegna starboard size


Sardegna was the flagship of the northern Adriatic fleet, based in Genoa until 15 November 1917, and was sent to Brindisi as a coastal battery, her secondary armament reduced to four 76 mm guns, and 3 heavy machine guns for AA defense. On 10 July 1918 she was transferred to Taranto and then left for Constantinople in 1919, where she remained until 1922. Sicilia was removed from the lists in 1923.


Re Umberto 13.5 in barbette

Blueprint – Brasseys 1896.

Sardegna in 1914

Re Umberto in 1918

Sardegna (1914) specifications

Dimensions Length 130,7 m (428 ft), Beam 20,4 m (67 ft), Draft 8.84 m (29)
Displacement 13,600 T – 15,430 FL
Crew 794
Propulsion 2 screws, 2 TE engines, 18 boilers, 22 800 hp
Speed 23.3 knots (xx km/h; xx mph)
Range 4,000–6,000 nmi (7,408–11,112 km)
Armament 4 x 343, 8 x 152, 16 x 120, 20 x 57, 10 x 37 mm, 5 TT 450 mm
Armor Belt 102, Deck 76, Blockhaus 300, turret 102, barbettes 350 mm

Conways all the world’s fighting ships 1860-1906