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So, today once again a lot of very nice ships to choose from, with more pretty old ladies to coven than I have time for today! So I'll just bore you all with one, quite long, article on one of the biggest shell magnets of WW1. But first...STATS!
Ships/events of interest for today
1902 - SMS Kaiser Karl der Grosse - Kaiser Friedrich III-class - Commissioned
1902 - HMS Irresistable - Formidable-class - Commissioned
1902 - HMS Britannia - King Edward VII-class - Laid Down
1911 - SMS Seydlitz - Seydlitz-class - Laid Down
1914 - SMS Rostock - Karlsruhe-class - Commissioned
1925 - USS Memphis - Omaha-class - Commissioned
1942 - Battle of Makassar Strait
1943 - HMS Swiftsure - Minotaur-class - Launched
1944 - USS Salamaua - Casablanca-class - Laid Down
Allies: 19 surface ships laid down, 30 launched, 30 commissioned, 1 sunk
Germany: 1 ship laid down, 2 commissioned
Great Britain (pre-ww2): 1 laid down, 1 commissioned
So, today I can finally write about one of the most badass battlecruisers of WW1. A shell magnet extraordinaire, suffering multiple critical hits during her carreer yet always living to tell the tale.
I am, ofcourse, talking about SMS Seydlitz, who’s keel was laid down today in 1911.
As with all dreadnoughts and battlecruisers, the tale of Seydlitz begins in 1906 when HMS Dreadnought was launched. Outclassing everything afloat, Dreadnought caused a total reset of the balance of power on the oceans. The power to rule the waves was once again up for grabs, all one had to do was spend an insane amount of money and make sure you built more and stronger ships than your competitors.
But beside Dreadnought the Royal Navy had another trick up their sleeves, for in 1908 they commissioned the first ship in a whole new class of ships: the battlecruisers of the Invincible-class. Faster than the big dreadnoughts by a whole 4 knots, but with the same heavy guns as a dreadnought the battlecruisers were the ultimate cruiser killers.
With the ships of the Invincible-class coming into service, Germany was contemplating its next move. When the ships of the Invincible-class were still rumoured to be “regular” cruisers, the Germans built SMS Blücher, the biggest and strongest armoured cruiser built up to that time. But Blücher was no match for these new British behemoths (as would be proven in the Battle of Dogger Bank), so the Germans needed to respond to the British with battlecruisers of their own.
This sparked a fierce debate in the German admiralty on how battlecruisers would have to be used. Chancellor of the navy Großadmiral Tirpitz favoured the British approach: fast, heavily armed ships with little armour. The rest of the admiralty, backed by Kaiser Wilhelm II, disagreed. They reasoned that because the German fleet would always have less ships than the Royal Navy, a battlecruiser should be able to hold its own in fleet actions. This meant that they had to be well protected in order to survive a battle like that.
This debate raged for some time until ultimately the Kaiser and the admiralty won the debate and in 1908 the first German battlecruiser was ordered: SMS Von der Tann.
Germany's first battlecruiser: SMS Von der Tann
While it was roughly a knot slower than the ships of the Invincible-class and had 11” guns instead of 12” guns, it was a LOT better protected. The belt alone was almost twice as thick than that of its British counterpart. In fact, the British battlecruisers wouldn’t have the protection Von der Tann had until the Admiral-class (of HMS Hood fame) came along.
Von der Tann’s design still had some room for improvement though. So within a year two more battlecruisers were laid down: SMS Moltke and SMS Goeben. They were bigger, had more powerful engines and, of course, more armour!
With three battlecruisers under construction, the German government wasn’t very keen on spending more money on these expensive ships and it would take until 1911 when the keel of the next ship was laid down. And that ship was our subject of today: SMS Seydlitz.
SMS Seydlitz in all her glory
The design of Seydlitz was essentially and improved version of the Moltke-class. More powerful engines were fitted, which supplied an additional 11,000shp resulting in the top speed increasing with a whopping 1 knot (totalling 26.5kn), armour thickness was again improved, with the armoured belt now being 300mm (11.8”) at its thickest and the hull was made slightly longer and thinner compared to the Moltkes so everything would fit.
Something one has to keep in mind is that when the Seydlitz was ordered, the British were already busy completing the brand new HMS Lion. Lion was loosely based on the brand new British super-dreadnoughts which were armed with 13.5” guns. Seydlitz, on the other hand, had to make do with ten 280mm (11”)/50 SK L/50 guns.
Now, one can say the Germans were crazy fitting such small guns on their battlecruisers, but you have to consider a few things:
While German battlecruisers were supposed to be capable of taking part in fleet actions, this was not the primary role of a battlecruiser. And the 11” were more than capable of taking care of anything with less armour than a battleship.
At the time the German 11” guns actually outperformed the British 12”/50 Mark XI and Mark XII (which suffered from very bad shells up to and during Jutland) while having nearly double the rate of fire
They were powerful enough to take care of the only thing that could pose a threat to the German battlecruisers outside of fleet action: the British battlecruisers (as would be proven during the Battles of Dogger Bank and Jutland)
The weight saved by using smaller guns could be used elsewhere, like for more armour!
The secondary battery was made up of twelve of the new standard guns for the Hochseeflotte: the 15cm (5.9”)/45 SK L/45. These were all placed in barbettes spread out over the broadsides. For smaller stuff there were 88mm (3.5”)/45 SK L/45 guns, also in barbettes and of course there were the mandatory 500mm (19.7”) torpedo tubes.
Seydlitz in drydock
So, on the really interesting stuff! For unlike a lot of the big ships in WW1, Seydlitz actually had quite the active and interesting carreer!
From the moment that she was commissioned she was made part of the 1st Scouting Group of which all German battlecruisers would become a member. While in this unit she would take part in all the raids in which the battlecruisers would be used.
Her first chance to do battle with the British came during the Battle of Heligoland Bight. While initially a cruiser vs cruiser battle, the arrival of British battlecruisers changed everything and the Germans gave the order for their own battlecruisers to come to the aid of the cruiser. However, due to it being low tide it took two full hours until the ships could leave the Jade Estuary in which the fleet was anchored and by the time they joined up with their cruisers, the battle was already over.
A few months later Seydlitz finally had the chance to fire her guns in anger…at the British town of Yarmouth. She would repeat that during the raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby. As British intelligence knew about this raid, they sent admiral Beatty’s battlecruiser squadron and a few dreadnoughts to intercept them. However, due to some odd decisions and some sheer luck both sides never engaged eachother.
Things would go differently during the battle of Dogger Bank though! (as described HERE) During this battle the German battlecruisers were successfully engaged by their British counterparts of Beatty’s squadron. It was during this battle that the differences between the British and German battlecruisers would become apparent. While the British had the advantage of speed (especially due to SMS Blücher slowing the German group down), the Germans had the better armour and the more durable ships.
During the battle, Seydlitz was engaged by two of the British battlecruisers (HMS Lion and HMS Tiger), both armed with 13.5” guns. While numerous shots were fired on Seydlitz, only two found their mark. The first one hit the superstructure, causing only minor damage. The second one hit the barbette of the rear turret. While it failed to penetrate the 230mm (9.1”) of armour, the explosion did set off the ready propellant charges in the nearby working chamber. This caused a flash fire which burned out the turret and spread through an open door into the next turret, killing everyone inside. It was that the executive officer, Wilhelm Heidkamp, managed to open the red-hot valves and flooded the magazines, otherwise the ship would not have survived.
While Heidkamp survived, he had severe injuries to his hands and lungs. He died of a consequential lung disease in 1931.
Seydlitz on fire during the battle of Dogger Bank
Even though both her rear turrets were out of action, this did not keep Seydlitz from returning the favour to Lion. One of her 11” shells penetrated Lion’s belt and knocked out two of her engines. Lion was later severely hit by 12” shells from Derfflinger, putting her out of action.
It was due to an error in communication that the British ships focussed on the slow (and badly damaged) Blücher that the German battlecruisers could escape. It would take three months to repair Seydlitz and make her once again ready for action.
After a short and uneventful stay in the Gulf of Riga, Seydlitz was once again used for raids on the British coast. While underway to the British coast, konteradmiral Bödicker ordered a change of course in order to evade Dutch observers on the island of Terschelling. While this was a smart plan, it also made Seydlitz run straight into a mine, creating a 15 meter large hole in her hull, killing 11 crewmembers and causing 1,200 tons of water to enter the ship. One can imagine that this pretty much ended the operation for Seydlitz.
Her last moment of glory was during the Battle of Jutland. Seydlitz, along with the rest of the German battlecruisers were the first major German units to make contact with their British counterparts. As she engaged her British opposite, HMS Queen Mary, she was hit twice by the British ship. One round hit the superstructure, causing some fires, while the second one hit and penetrated one of her aft turrets. Like during the Battle of Dogger Bank this once again started a fierce fire, but the Germans had learned their lessons well and had closed all bulkhead doors, preventing the fire from spreading to other rooms.
As the battle progressed (and with HMS Indefatigable going up in an explosive way) the British battlecruisers turned away in order to lure the Germans towards the British grand fleet. As they turned, both Seydlitz and Derfflinger concentrated fire on the Queen Mary. With just two salvo’s the Germans scored five hits on the lightly armoured British battlecruiser and while the Germans had implemented extensive protection against flash fires, the British were to experience just why such protection was so important. The hits caused the bags of cordite (which were stored pretty much everywhere in order to keep the rate of fire as high as possible) to ignite, causing a flash fire which in turn caused the ship to go up in a big ball of fire.
One might think that having a turret knocked out would be enough suffering for the Seydlitz, but the British destroyers escorting the battlecruisers had another idea. A torpedo launched by possibly HMS Petard or HMS Turbulent hit her just below the foreward turret, creating a 12 meter (40 feet) wide gap and causing a slight list.
The gaping hole the torpedo left behind
And the list of hits suffered goes on! Around 18:00, Seydlitz was targeted by the British dreadnoughts of the Queen-Elizabeth-class and a few minutes later she was hit by a 15” shell from HMS Barham or HMS Valiant, with the hit putting the guns on the port wing turret out of action. A few minutes later she was hit by another 15” shell, but this time in the already disabled aft turret which caused the cordite charged that hadn’t burned up yet to explode (note: the Germans used brass casings to store their cordite, causing it to be less vulnerable to fire). Other, smaller, rounds managed to knock out two secondary guns and disabled one gun on the remaining aft turret.
So at this point, Seydlitz had already lost five 11” guns and two 15cm guns.
Around 19:00 Seydlitz was hit another six times in quick succession, causing even more flooding in the forward sections of the ship (next to the gaping hole of the torpedo hit) resulting in a serious list to starboard.
As battle progressed, the German position became critical and Admiral Scheer ordered his famous combat turn. But in order to give his main force time to escape, he ordered his battlecruisers to make the well-
known “death ride of the battlecruisers”. Seydlitz, Von der Tann, Moltke and Derfflinger charged the British Grand Fleet and engaged them at ranges of just 7,700 yards. Seydlitz engaged the British dreadnought HMS Colossus and managed to hit her once, but only caused minor damage.
And impression of the damage taken by Seydlit
After just three minutes of intense fighting, the German battlecruisers withdrew, but that wasn’t the end of it! Beatty, out for vengeance, spotted the German ships and another battlecruiser vs battlecruiser battle began…with Seydlitz once again acting as the shell magnet. She was hit multiple times, one striking the bridge (killing everyone inside) while another hit the aft turret, also putting that one out of action.
While badly damaged and suffering from severe flooding, Seydlitz was still capable of making 20 knots. As the Germans managed to evade the British fleet, the bow of Seydlitz was almost completely submerged as the only buoyancy left in that section came from just one room: the torpedo room. With all navigation equipment knocked out and in danger of sinking she was lucky enough that two pump steamers came to her rescue to help pump out water.
Seydlitz, struggling to stay afloat. Note how low she is in the water.
As she slipped into Wilhemshaven she had taken on 5,224 tons of water and had taken 22 hits: eight 15”, six 13.5” and eight 12”. Beside the large calibre hits she was also hit twice by secondary battery shells and once by a torpedo. She was the most severely damaged ship of the battle that managed to survive the fight.
Seydlitz herself fired 376 main battery shells, claiming ten hits. 98 of her crew were killed with another 55 wounded. Repair work would take roughly five months to complete.
After Jutland, she only took part in a failed attempt to intercept Allied convoys to Norway and was supposed to take part in the planned “death ride” of the hochsee flotte in which they were supposed to fight themselves to death against the British and American ships.
That battle never took place and after the war ended Seydlitz was interned with the rest of the fleet at Scapa Flow and was scuttled on June 21st, 1919. Her wreck was raised in 1928 and was scrapped in 1930.
Length (total): 200.5m
28cm(11”)/50 SK L/50: 10
15cm (5.9”)/45 SK L/45: 12
8.8cm (3.5”)/45 SK L/45: 12
500mm (19.7”) torpedo tubes: 4
Conning tower: 80mm-350mm
Type: Parsons steam turbines
Total Performance: 63,000shp
Max speed: 26.5kts
Range: 4,700 nautical miles at 14kn
Total: 1068 men (1425 at Jutland)
Conway’s Battleships revised edition