The first German protected cruisers
Irene and Prinzessin Wilhelm (Prince William) built respectively at Vulcan (Stettin) and Germaniawerft were indeed not only the first “cruisers” in the German Navy (“Kreuzer”) but also the first protected ones. Placed as second class cruisers they existed at a time the only “cruisers”, the Bussard class, were little more than glorified gunboats. They were built at a time the last German avisos (litt. dispatch vessels, French denomination) They were called at that time “cruiser-corvettes”.
They had a compound steel armoured deck 3 in thick amidships and wood sheated for colonial operations, in tropical waters. These were 4947 tons standard vessels, 103.7 m long overall (98.9 on the waterline) 114.2 m wide, and 7.63 m in draught. They were propelled by two shaft HC engines rated for 8000 ihp, enough for 18 knots. They were armed with fourteen 150 mm guns, which compensated for their poor speed, and completed by six revolver cannons to deal with torpedo boats.
For close quarters they also had three 350 mm torpedo tubes. The 150 mm guns (Krupp 6-in) were placed for the 15 cm RK L/30 guns in single pedestal mounts in sponsons fore and aft, while ten more short-barrel ones were placed along the broadside, three aft each side of the rear mast, one amidship between funnels and the last one in a bow barbette. The mast had a thick base, supporting fighting tops in which were mounted QF guns, whereas other were installed either side of the bridge forward or the rear superstructure aft. Complement was 365, possible reduced when the armament was altered.
In 1893 their “secondary” short-barrel 150 mm guns, which could have been better deployed as field guns, were replaced by lighter, fast-firing 105 mm guns, eight instead of ten, and the revolvers were replaced by conventional QF 50 mm Krupp guns. From 1903 Irene was taken in hands at Wilhelmshaven once again for another refit, completed in 1907, after her sister-ship (1899-1902).
Irene and Prinzess Wilhelm were obsolete when the great war broke out. Facing manpower shortages, both ships were relegated to secondary roles, Irene as U-Boat depot and P.Wilhelm as a minehulk (used to store mines for minelayers). Both only had reduced crews. They survived the war and were broken up in situ in 1921 and 1922.
Illustration of the Irene class in 1896 awaited
Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1860 -1905.