(Many may not know this but she fired the opening shots of WWII)
She was one of the five Deutschland-class battleships, & was the last pre-dreadnought battleship built by the German Imperial Navy. Yet, with the arrival if the British Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnaught 1906; the ships of her class were already outdated when they entered service, being inferior in size, armor, firepower and speed to the new Dreadnought battleships.
She was laid down on 18 August 1905 at the Germaniawerft dockyard in Kiel.
Schleswig-Holstein was 127.6 m (418 ft 8 in) long, had a beam of 22.2 m (72 ft 10 in), and a draft of 8.21 m (26 ft 11 in). She had a full-load displacement of 14,218 metric tons (13,993 long tons; 15,673 short tons). She was equipped with triple expansion engines that produced a rated 16,000 indicated horsepower (12,000 kW) and a top speed of 19.1 kn (35.4 km/h; 22.0 mph). In addition to being the fastest ship of her class, Schleswig-Holstein was the second most fuel efficient. At a cruising speed of 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph), she could steam for 5,720 nautical miles (10,590 km; 6,580 mi).
Her armament consisted of 4 x 11” (28cm) SK L/40 main guns across two turrets. This was backed by 14 x 6.7” (17cm) casemate cannons, 22 x 3.5” (8.8cm) casemate cannons, and 6 x 18” (45cm) torpedo tubes (submerged in the hull).
She was launched on 17th of December 1906, and finally commissioned into the Imperial Navy on July 6, 1908.
On 21 September the ship was assigned to the II Battle Squadron of the High Seas Fleet, alongside her sister ships. In November, fleet and unit exercises were conducted in the Baltic Sea. The training regimen in which Schleswig-Holstein participated followed a similar pattern over the next five years. This included another cruise into the Atlantic, which was conducted from 7 July to 1 August 1909. Fleet maneuvers were conducted in the spring, followed by a summer cruise to Norway, and additional fleet training in the fall. On 3 October 1911, the ship was transferred back to the II Squadron. Due to the Agadir Crisis in July, the summer cruise only went into the Baltic. On 14 July 1914, the annual summer cruise to Norway began, but the threat of war in Europe caused the excursion to be cut short; within two weeks Schleswig-Holstein and the rest of the II Squadron had returned to Wilhelmshaven.
World War I
At the outbreak of war in July 1914, Schleswig-Holstein was on duty in the mouth of the Elbe River. In late October, Schleswig-Holstein was sent to Kiel to have to make her more resistant to torpedoes and mines. Once modifications were complete she rejoined the II Battle Squadron, then they rejoined the fleet.
She made up part of the battleship support for the battlecruisers that bombarded Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby on 15–16 December 1914. During the operation, the German battle fleet of some 12 dreadnoughts and 8 pre-dreadnoughts came to within 10 nmi (19 km; 12 mi) of an isolated squadron of six British battleships.
In April 1916, the ship had two of her 8.8 cm guns removed and replaced with 8.8 cm Flak guns.
Schleswig-Holstein then participated in a fleet advance to the Dogger Bank on April 21st-22nd 1915. On September 11th-12th, the II Reconnaissance Group did a minelaying operation off the Swarte Bank with the II Squadron in support. This was followed by another sweep by the fleet on October 23rd-24th that ended without result.
Then on March 5-7th 1916, the II and III Battle Squadron dreadnoughts conducted an advance into the North Sea. Schleswig-Holstein and the rest of II Squadron remained in the German Bight (the southeastern bight of the North Sea), ready to sail in support. She and the II Squadron later rejoined the fleet during the operation to bombard Yarmouth and Lowestoft on April 24th-25th 1916.
During Jutland, Schleswig-Holstein’s was still part of the II Battle Squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Franz Mauve, and she was assigned to the IV Division of the Battle Squadron. This not only placed her in the rear of the line, but also made her the tip of the tail of the German line.
During the "Run to the North," Admiral Scheer, ordered the fleet to pursue the retreating battleships of the British 5th Battle Squadron at top speed. Schleswig-Holstein and her sisters, being significantly slower than the dreadnoughts, quickly fell behind. During this period, Admiral Scheer directed Hannover to place herself behind Schleswig-Holstein so he would have a flagship on either end of the formation.
By 19:30, the Grand Fleet had arrived on the scene and confronted Admiral Scheer with significant numerical superiority. The German fleet was severely hampered by the presence of the slower Deutschland class ships; if Scheer ordered an immediate turn towards Germany, he would have to sacrifice these slower ships to make his escape. Admiral Scheer decided to reverse the course of the fleet with the Gefechtskehrtwendung, a maneuver that required every unit in the German line to turn 180° simultaneously.
As a result of their having fallen behind, the ships of the II Battle Squadron could not conform to the new course following the turn. Schleswig-Holstein and the other five ships of the squadron therefore were located on the disengaged side of the German line. Admiral Mauve considered moving his ships to the rear of the line, astern of the III Battle Squadron dreadnoughts, but decided against it when he realized the movement would interfere with the maneuvering of Admiral Hipper's battlecruisers. Instead, he attempted to place his ships at the head of the line.
Later on the first day of the battle, Hipper's badly damaged battlecruisers were being engaged by their British rivals. Schleswig-Holstein and the other so-called "five-minute ships" came to their aid by steaming in between the opposing battlecruiser squadrons. Yet, due to very poor visibility the slow ships were only briefly attacked by the RN; even the gunners aboard Schleswig-Holstein couldn’t make out a clear target. So she never fired off her main guns. She was however hit by a heavy caliber shell on the port side at about 21:35. The shell punched a hole approximately 40 cm (16 in) wide in the side of the ship before exploding against the inner casemate armor. The explosion tore apart 4.5 m (15 ft) of the superstructure deck and disabled one of the port side casemate guns. Admiral Mauve decided it would be inadvisable to continue the fight against the much more powerful battlecruisers, and so therefore ordered an 8-point turn to starboard and disengaged.
Late on the 31st, the fleet organized for the night voyage back to Germany; Schleswig-Holstein was situated towards the rear of the line, ahead of Hessen, Hannover, and the battlecruisers Von der Tann and Derfflinger. At around 03:00, British destroyers conducted a series of attacks against the fleet. Schleswig-Holstein suffered no damage but her sister ship, the Pommern was struck by at least one torpedo which detonated an ammunition magazine which destroyed the ship in a massive explosion.
Despite the ferocity of the night fighting, the High Seas Fleet punched through the British destroyer forces and reached Horns Reef by 4:00 on 1 June; the German fleet reached Wilhelmshaven a few hours later.
Over the course of the battle, Schleswig-Holstein had fired only twenty 17 cm rounds. The ship suffered three men killed and nine wounded.
Aftermath of the battle to Wars End
Schleswig-Holstein was put into dock for much needed repairs, which lasted from June 10-25, 1916. After repairs were completed, the ship was used as a target for U-boats. This was briefly interrupted when she entered hostile waters from 12–23 February 1917, when the ship was used as a guard ship.
In April Schleswig-Holstein was sent to Altenbruch at the mouth of the Elbe where she was decommissioned on the 2nd of May. Schleswig-Holstein was then disarmed and assigned to the 5th U-boat Flotilla to be used as a barracks ship in Bremerhaven. In 1918 the ship was moved to Kiel, where she remained for the rest of the war.
Following the German defeat in World War I, the German navy was reorganized as the Reichsmarine. The new navy was permitted to retain eight pre-dreadnought battleships two of which would be in reserve—for coastal defense. Schleswig-Holstein was among the ships that were retained, along with her sisters Hannover and Schlesien and several of the Braunschweig class battleships.
Between the war
Schleswig-Holstein was recommissioned as the new fleet flagship on 31 January 1926 following an extensive refit, including new fire controls and an enlarged aft superstructure for the admiral's staff. The secondary 17 cm guns were replaced with 15-centimeter (5.9 in) pieces and four 50 cm torpedo tubes were fitted in main deck casemates fore and aft, replacing the submerged tubes. In December 1927 Schleswig-Holstein went back into dock, re-emerging in January 1928 with the her forefunnel trunked back into the second and both remaining funnels heightened, as had previously been done in her sister, Schlesien.
With the delivery of the new Deutschland class Panzerschiffe from 1933, the older battleships were gradually withdrawn from front-line service. In May 1935, the Reichsmarine was reorganized as the Kriegsmarine after Hitler came to power, and she ceased to be the flagship on September 22, 1935. She was then refitted as a cadet training ship during January–March and May–July 1936.
Her remaining upper deck 15 cm guns and torpedo tubes were removed and her after two boiler rooms were converted to oil-firing, although the forward boilers remained coal-fired. The ship's complement was also altered: the standard crew had been 35 officers and 708 enlisted men; after the conversion, this was reduced to 31 officers and 565 sailors. The crew was supplemented by 175 cadets, who were taken on long cruises in Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein, the latter sailing in October 1936 on a six-month voyage to South America and the Caribbean. The following year, her cruise took her around Africa, and the one in 1938–39 went back to South American and Caribbean waters.
In the mid-1930s, Hitler began pursuing an increasingly aggressive foreign policy; in 1936 he re-militarized the Rhineland, completed the Anschluss of Austria and the annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1938. This culminated in a demand for the city of Danzig, which had become a free city after World War I.
The Second World War
Early on 1 September 1939, Germany launched an attack against Poland. Schleswig-Holstein had been positioned in the port of Danzig on what had been called a ceremonial visit in August. The ship was moored close to the Polish fortress at Westerplatte; at 04:47 on 1 September, Schleswig-Holstein opened fire with her main battery at the Polish positions on the Westerplatte, and in doing so fired the first shots of World War II. A force of German marines was landed to take the fortress. The Poles managed to hold off the Germans for seven days, but were forced to surrender on 8 September at 10:30.
The German military then turned its attention westward, and in April 1940, invaded Denmark. Schleswig-Holstein was assigned to the naval component of the invasion force. During the invasion, Schleswig-Holstein was briefly grounded off the Danish coast. Following the operation, Schleswig-Holstein was transferred back to training duties, as the flagship of the Chief of Training Units.
At the end of 1943, the reactivation of Schleswig-Holstein was once again contemplated. In her favor was the fact that she retained some coal-fired boilers, given the ever-worsening oil-supply situation. Thus, on 1 February 1944 she was once again recommissioned, taking up again her old role of a cadet training ship. Later in the year, however, the ship was taken in hand at Gdynia to be converted into a convoy escort ship with a greatly enhanced anti-aircraft armament. However, Schleswig-Holstein was hit three times by RAF bombers there on 18 December 1944 while still under refit, and eventually foundered in shallow water. As the ship was now permanently disabled, her crew was sent ashore to assist in the defense of Marienburg. Following the Soviet capture of Marienburg, the remaining crew scuttled the wreck.
After the war, between 1945-46 the ship was raised by the Soviet Navy and transferred to Talinn. Schleswig-Holstein was towed out in 1948 and beached for long-term use as a target in shallow water off the island of Osmussaar in the Gulf of Finland. She was last used as a target around 1966; decades later the remains of the ship came under the protection of the Estonian National Heritage Board as a “Historic shipwreck” which has been her title since 2006. The submerged remains still exist.
Class: Deutschland-class battleship
Type: Pre-dreadnought battleship
13,200 t (13,000 long tons) normal
14,218 t (13,993 long tons) full load
Length: 127.6 m (418 ft 8 in)
Beam: 22.2 m (72 ft 10 in)
Draft: 8.21 m (26 ft 11 in)
Installed power: 17,000 ihp (13,000 kW)
Propulsion: three shafts, three triple expansion steam engines, 12 boilers
Speed: 18 knots (33 km/h)
Range: 4,800 nautical miles (9,000 km); 10 knots (20 km/h)
708 enlisted men
Armament: At construction:
2 × 2 – 28 cm SK L/40 guns
14 × 17 cm (6.7 in) SK L/40 guns (casemated)
22 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/45 naval guns (shielded/casemated)
6 × 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes (submerged)
Armament in 1926:
2 × 2 – 28 cm SK L/40 guns
12 x 15 cm SK L/45 guns (casemated: removed 1940)
8 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/45 naval guns (shieded)
4 × 50 cm (20 in) torpedo tubes (casemated)
Armament in 1939:
2 × 2 – 28 cm SK L/40 guns
10 x 15 cm SK L/45 guns (casemated: removed 1940)
4 × 8.8 cm SK L/45 anti-aircraft guns
4 × 3.7 cm (1.5 in) guns (2×2)
Belt: 100 to 240 mm (3.9 to 9.4 in)
Turrets: 280 mm (11 in)
Deck: 40 mm (1.6 in)