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Sunday Battleship Blogging: SMS Friedrich Der Grosse

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Part III of a four part series to commemmorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland.

Part I: SMS Lutzow
Part II: HMS Lion

The first eight German dreadnoughts followed the naming convention previously adopted for pre-dreadnoughts. Like in the US Navy, battleships were named after states. This changed with the construction of the Kaisers, the third class of German dreadnoughts. They, and their successors the Konigs, were named after general or specific monarchs. After nine ships the German Navy reverted to the practice of naming battleships after states with Baden and Bayern. Although one might suspect that the decision to name battleships after monarchs was designed to please William II, he had always been an ardent supporter of the naval program, and no such flattery was necessary.

Friedrich Der Grosse
was the second of the Kaiser class, commissioned in October 1912. Friedrich Der Grosse carried 10 12″ guns, displaced 25000 tons, and could make 22 knots. Her design included a couple of interesting points. The Germans abandoned the wasteful hexagonal turret distribution that they had used in the Nassau and Helgoland classes, instead carrying one twin turret forward, two turrets rear, and two wing turrets. Theoretically, the wing turrets could fire on either broadside, but such use put enormous strain on the hull and the superstructure. The arrangement was mildly better than that of her predecessors, but the Germans wouldn’t achieve a truly efficient turret arrangement until the completion of the Konig class. At one point during the war, Austrian naval engineers visited Kiel and discussed the relative merits of different turret designs. The Austrians, correctly, argued that the German turret distribution was wasteful. The Germans insisted that the triple turrets preferred by the Austrians could never work. The Austrians had a much better case; Szent Istvan could easily outgun Friedrich Der Grosse, despite being 20% smaller. The Kaisers were also the first class of German dreadnoughts to use turbines.

Friedrich der Grosse became flagship of the High Seas Fleet from roughly the date of her commissioning, and carried the flag of Admiral Reinhard Scheer at the Battle of Jutland. The German plan was to lure part of the Grand Fleet into a conflict with the whole of the High Seas Fleet. Pre-positioned U-boats would delay and weaken the Grand Fleet. On May 31, 1916, it seemed that this plan had worked. Six British battlecruisers and four battleships had been lured out of Rosyth to do battle with the German battlecruisers. Admiral Hipper, commanding from Lutzow, led David Beatty and Lion toward the oncoming German fleet, consisting of sixteen dreadnoughts. Upon sighting the High Seas Fleet, the battered British ships turned north and were relieved by the Fifth Battle Squadron, which exchanged fire for a while with the German battlecruisers and with the forward elements of the High Seas Fleet. Unbeknownst to Scheer, however, the Grand Fleet had been neither delayed nor weakened, and was in a position, with fully twenty-four dreadnoughts and three battlecruisers, to intercept Scheer’s fleet.

The High Seas Fleet continued to plug north in pursuit of Beatty’s ships, and briefly savaged a squadron of British armored cruisers that found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The crew of the cruiser Warrior was saved by a mechanical problem on board Warspite. Her rudder damaged, Warspite made two full turns in front of the German Navy, taking fifteen hits in the process but eventually limping away. As Warspite sped out of reach, however, Scheer became aware of the presence of the Grand Fleet, which was in the process of crossing the German “T”, the most advantageous possible tactical position.

Scheer knew that he couldn’t fight the Grand Fleet, and did the sensible thing. He ordered the High Seas Fleet to make a 180 degree turn in line; a very difficult maneuver that required a great deal of practice. Essentially, each ship turned at roughly the same time, rather than in formation. At the end of the turn, the trailing ship was in the lead, and Scheer’s fleet was moving to the southwest, away from the British fleet but also away from the German bases. In a move that has still not been fully explained, Scheer then ordered his fleet to execute a second 180 degree turn, back toward the British line. The Grand Fleet was in a perfect position to intercept this, and began hammering the head of the German line. Finally, Scheer ordered a third 180 degree turn to escape from the British. To cover the German escape, he ordered the destroyers and battlecruisers to launch an attack against the Grand Fleet, hoping that this would save the German battlefleet.

This still left the Germans on the wrong side of the British fleet. It was getting late in the day, however, and the Germans managed to avoid further combat before nightfall. During the night the High Seas Fleet took advantage of poor British communications to cross the British line and escape towards Germany. Although many of the German dreadnoughts had been heavily damaged (Friedrich Der Grosse had not suffered much damage), none were sunk.

The rest of Friedrich Der Grosse’s career was uneventful. She operated in the Baltic against the Russian Navy, and was interned by the Allies at Scapa Flow. On June 21, 1919 she was scuttled along with the rest of the High Seas Fleet. In 1937 the hulk was raised and scrapped by a British entrepreneur.

In 1928, Admiral Jellicoe invited Admiral Scheer to Great Britain for a visit. Sadly, Scheer died before he could travel to the UK.

Trivia: What British battleship was de-militarized in accordance with the London Naval Treaty of 1930?

UPDATE, 12/3/06: Out of curiosity, why the sudden interest in this post? Have received a bunch of hits from the UK on this post in the last hour…

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