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SMS Schlesien

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Schlesien before World War I
German Empire
Name: Schlesien
Namesake: Schlesien
Builder: Schichau, Danzig
Laid down: 19 November 1904
Launched: 28 May 1906
Commissioned: 5 May 1908
Fate: Mined off Swinemünde in 1945, scrapped 1949–1956
General characteristics
Class & type: Deutschland-class battleship
  • 13,191 t (12,983 long tons) normal
  • 14,218 t (13,993 long tons) full load
Length: 127.60 m (418 ft 8 in)
Beam: 22.20 m (72 ft 10 in)
Draft: 7.70 m (25 ft 3 in)
Propulsion: 18,664 ihp (13,918 kW), three shafts
Speed: 18.5 knots (34.3 km/h; 21.3 mph)
Range: 4,770 nmi (8,830 km; 5,490 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 743
  • 230 mm in belt
  • 280 mm in turrets
  • 76 mm in deck

SMS Schlesien[lower-alpha 1] was one of the five Deutschland-class pre-dreadnought battleships built for the Kaiserliche Marine between 1904 and 1906. Named after the German province of Schlesien, she was built at the Schichau-Werke shipyard in Danzig, where she was launched on 28 May 1906. She was commissioned into the navy on 5 May 1908. The ships of her class were already outdated by the time they entered service, being inferior in size, armor, firepower and speed to the revolutionary new battleship HMS Dreadnought.

After commissioning, Schlesien was assigned to the I Battle Squadron of the High Seas Fleet. She served with the fleet throughout the first two years of World War I; by this time she had been transferred to the II Battle Squadron alongside her four sister ships. Schlesien was present at the Battle of Jutland on 31 May – 1 June 1916, where she was actively engaged only briefly. After Jutland, she was relegated to guard duties before being withdrawn altogether in 1917, when she became a training ship. The Treaty of Versailles permitted the German navy to retain eight obsolete battleships, which included Schlesien, to defend the German coast. She saw extensive service with the reorganized Reichsmarine; in the 1920s and 30s the ship was rebuilt and eventually converted back into a training ship.

Schlesien saw limited combat during World War II, including the invasion of Norway in 1940. After the conclusion of the operation, the ship was again given secondary duties. She ended her career as an anti-aircraft ship in the Baltic; in April 1945 Schlesien steamed to Swinemünde to restock her ammunition and evacuate wounded soldiers when she struck a mine on 3 May. She sank in shallow water, though much of her superstructure, including her main battery, remained above water. In the remaining days of the war, Schlesien used her heavy artillery to provide support for retreating German ground troops. After the end of the war, she was broken up, though some parts of the ship remained until the 1970s.


Line-drawing of the Deutschland class

Schlesien was intended to fight in the line of battle with the other battleships of the High Seas Fleet.[1] She was laid down on 19 November 1904 at the Schichau dockyard in Danzig.[2] She was launched on 28 May 1906, and in March 1908 was sent to Kiel, where her fitting out work was completed. She was commissioned for trials on 5 May, though these were interrupted from 6 July to 5 September when the ship was temporarily used as a torpedo trials vessel. Schlesien joined the fleet after the torpedo trials were completed in September.[3] The British battleship HMS Dreadnought—armed with ten 12 inch (30.5 cm) guns—had already been commissioned nearly two years prior, in December 1906.[4] Dreadnought's revolutionary design rendered obsolete every ship of the German navy, including the newer Schlesien.[5]

Schlesien was 127.60 m (418.6 ft) long, had a beam of 22.20 m (72.8 ft), and a draft of 8.21 m (26.9 ft). She had a full-load displacement of 14,218 metric tons (13,993 long tons; 15,673 short tons). She was equipped with three-shaft triple expansion engines and twelve coal-fired water-tube boilers that produced a rated 18,664 indicated horsepower (13,918 kW) and a top speed of 18.5 knots (34.3 km/h; 21.3 mph). In addition to being the fastest ship of her class, Schlesien was the most fuel efficient. At a cruising speed of 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph), she could steam for 4,770 nautical miles (8,830 km; 5,490 mi).[6] She had a standard crew of 35 officers and 708 enlisted men.[7]

The ship's primary armament consisted of four 28 cm SK L/40 guns in two twin turrets;[lower-alpha 2] one turret was placed forward and the other aft. She was also equipped with fourteen 17 cm (6.7 in) guns mounted in casemates and twenty 8.8 cm (3.5 in) guns in pivot mounts. The ship was fitted with six 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes, all submerged in the hull. One was in the bow, one in the stern, and four on the broadside. Her armored belt was 240 mm (9.4 in) thick amidships and she had a 40 mm (1.6 in) thick armored deck. The main battery turrets had 280 mm (11 in) thick sides.[8]

Service history

After commissioning, Schlesien was assigned to the I Battle Squadron. Her first year of service, 1909, saw a pattern of fleet maneuvers in the North and Baltic Seas as well as the Atlantic Ocean.[9] Her first cruise into the Atlantic was conducted from 7 July to 1 August. Another round of exercises followed in the autumn.[10] The I Battle Squadron was transferred from Kiel to Wilhelmshaven in April 1910.[9] The following month, in May 1910, the fleet conducted training maneuvers in the Kattegat, between Norway and Denmark. For the first time, the annual summer cruise went to Norway. Fleet training followed, and a training cruise into the Baltic took place at the end of the year.[10]

On 3 November 1911, Schlesien was transferred to the II Battle Squadron with the rest of her sister ships.[9] Training maneuvers in 1911 and 1912 followed the same pattern as in 1910, with the exception of the summer cruise in 1912; owing to the Agadir Crisis that year, the cruise only went into the Baltic, rather than to Norway.[10]

World War I

Schlesien remained with the High Seas Fleet throughout the first two years of the war. At the outbreak of war, the ship was deployed to guard the German Bight. She then rejoined the High Seas Fleet as part of the battleship support for the battlecruisers that bombarded Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby on 15–16 December 1914.[9] 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. However, skirmishes between the rival destroyer screens convinced Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl that he was confronted with the entire Grand Fleet, and so he broke off the engagement and turned for home.[11] Two resultless fleet advances followed on 17–18 and 21–23 April 1915. Another followed on 17–18 May, and another on 23–24 October.[9]

On 24–25 April 1916, Schlesien and her sisters joined the dreadnoughts of the High Seas Fleet to support the battlecruisers of the I Scouting Group on a raid of the English coast.[9] While en route to the target, the battlecruiser Seydlitz was damaged by a mine. The battlecruisers conducted a short bombardment of the ports of Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Visibility was poor, so the operation was soon called off before the British fleet could intervene.[12]

Battle of Jutland

The German fleet sailed to the north and met the British fleet sailing from the west; both fleets conducted a series of turns and maneuvers during the chaotic battle.
Diagram of the Battle of Jutland showing the major movements

Admiral Scheer immediately planned another foray into the North Sea, but the damage to Seydlitz delayed the operation until the end of May.[13] Schlesien was the second ship in the IV Division of the II Battle Squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Franz Mauve, positioned at the rear of the German line. Schlesien was the second to last ship in the German line, followed only by Schleswig-Holstein.[14] During the "Run to the North," Admiral Reinhard Scheer, the commander of the fleet, ordered the fleet to pursue the British V Battle Squadron at top speed. The slower Deutschland-class ships could not keep up with the faster dreadnoughts and quickly fell behind.[15]

Later on the first day of the battle, the hard-pressed battlecruisers of the I Scouting Group were being pursued by their British opponents. Schlesien and the other so-called "five-minute ships" came to their aid by steaming in between the opposing battlecruiser squadrons.[16] Schlesien and her sisters could barely make out a target in the darkness. Due to the poor visibility their shooting was ineffective.[17] The British battlecruisers scored several hits on the German ships; in the brief melee a near miss from a large-caliber gun sprayed shell splinters onto Schlesien's decks, killing one man and wounding another.[9] Admiral Mauve ordered an 8-point turn to the south, and the British did not follow.[18]

Late on the 31st, the fleet organized for the night march back to Germany; Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein fell in behind the mauled battlecruisers Von der Tann and Derfflinger at the rear of the line.[19] British destroyers conducted a series of attacks against the fleet, some of which targeted Schlesien.[9] Regardless, the High Seas Fleet punched through the British destroyer forces and reached Horns Reef by 4:00 on 1 June.[20] The German fleet reached Wilhelmshaven a few hours later, where the undamaged dreadnoughts of the Nassau and Helgoland classes took up defensive positions.[21]

Inter-war years

File:Schlesien Panama 2.jpg
Schlesien in the Panama Canal in 1937

Following the German defeat in World War I, the German navy, reorganized as the Reichsmarine, was permitted to retain three of the Deutschland-class battleships: Hannover, Schleswig-Holstein and Schlesien, along with several of the Braunschweig-class battleships.[22] Deutschland, the oldest and least advanced ship of the class, was instead scrapped in 1922.[23] Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein were modernized in the 1920s,[24] a process that included replacement of the ships' 17 cm guns with 15 cm (5.9 in) pieces.[25] Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein continued in their battleship configuration with the active fleet, while Hannover was intended to be rebuilt as a target ship, although this never occurred.[26]

Schleswig-Holstein was the flagship of the fleet until 1932 when she was taken in for another reconstruction that converted her into a training vessel.[27] As a result, Schlesien held the position of fleet flagship afterward.[28] In 1932, Wilhelm Canaris took command of the ship, a post he held for two years.[29][lower-alpha 3] In May 1935, the Reichsmarine was again reorganized as the Kriegsmarine.[24] Shortly after, Schlesien took part in extensive fleet maneuvers with the new heavy cruiser Deutschland.[30] Later that year, Schlesien was converted into a training ship.[27] Among the modifications were the installation of additional anti-aircraft guns and replacement of the ship's boilers. The newer boilers were more efficient, which allowed fewer of them to be used; the additional space this created was used as crew compartments for the cadets and an instruction room.[27][7] The crew was also altered; the standard crew had been 35 officers and 708 enlisted men; after the conversion, this was reduced to 29 officers and 559 sailors, supplemented by 214 cadets.[7] The following year, Schlesien toured the Americas; in March 1937 the ship stopped in Halifax, Nova Scotia.[31] Later that year in December, she stopped in Mar del Plata, Argentina.[32] In 1938, the ship visited Samaná Bay in the Dominican Republic.[33]

World War II

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 101II-MN-1585-09A, Linienschiffe "Schlesien", "Schleswig-Holstein".jpg
Schlesien (foreground) and Schleswig-Holstein in Westerplatte following the occupation of the port

During the invasion of Poland in September 1939, Schlesien initially remained in her training ship role, though she briefly acted as an icebreaker for U-boats.[34] Later in the month, Schlesien joined her sister Schleswig-Holstein to bombard Polish positions along the Baltic coast; the bombardments lasted from 25–27 September.[35] After the operation, Schlesien had six of her 15 cm guns removed to arm the new surface raider Pinguin.[36] In 1940, Schlesien took part in Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Denmark and Norway. Schlesien operated in Danish waters throughout the operation.[37] After the occupations were complete, Schlesien resumed her ice-breaking duties. In March 1941, Schlesien escorted mine-layers in the Baltic. After returning from this operation, she was to be converted into a barracks ship in Gotenhafen.[34] On 4 April 1942, Schlesien departed for Gotenhafen in company with the battleship Gneisenau and the icebreaker Castor.[38]

In mid 1944, Schlesien's and Schleswig-Holstein's anti-aircraft armaments were considerably strengthened so they could used as air defense ships in the port of Gotenhafen.[34] In April 1945, Schlesien was moved to Swinemünde to restock her ammunition supply as well as evacuate 1,000 wounded soldiers from the front.[39] On 3 May she struck a mine at Zinnowitz outside Swinemünde and beached in shallow water.[40] Much of the ship remained above water, including her main armament; she was able to provide artillery support for retreating German units.[39] Between 1949 and 1956, the wreck was demolished and then scrapped in situ by an East German company.[23][40] However, some remains from the ship were still visible in 1970.[23]



  1. "SMS" stands for "Seiner Majestät Schiff", or "His Majesty's Ship" in German.
  2. In Imperial German Navy gun nomenclature, "SK" (Schnelladekanone) denotes that the gun is quick loading, while the L/40 denotes the length of the gun. In this case, the L/40 gun is 40 caliber, meaning that the gun is 40 times long as it is in diameter.
  3. Canaris would subsequently be appointed chief of the Abwehr and use his position to support the German resistance during World War II. See Kahn, pp. 229–235.


  1. Herwig, p. 45.
  2. Staff, p. 5.
  3. Staff, p. 12.
  4. Gardiner & Gray, pp. 21–22.
  5. Herwig, p. 57.
  6. Gröner 1982, p. 44.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Gröner, p. 21.
  8. Gröner, pp. 20–21.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 Staff, p. 14.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Staff, p. 8.
  11. Tarrant, pp. 31–33.
  12. Tarrant, pp. 52–54.
  13. Tarrant, p. 58.
  14. Tarrant, p. 286.
  15. London, p. 73.
  16. Tarrant, p. 195.
  17. London, pp. 70–71.
  18. London, p. 71.
  19. Tarrant, p. 240.
  20. Tarrant, pp. 246–247.
  21. Tarrant, p. 263.
  22. Williamson, Battleships, pp. 5–6.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Gröner, p. 22.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Williamson, Battleships, p. 6.
  25. Proceedings, p. 1014.
  26. Gardiner & Gray, p. 141.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Gardiner & Chesneau, p. 222.
  28. Mueller, p. 89.
  29. Kahn, p. 229.
  30. Williamson, Light Cruisers, p. 36.
  31. Edwards, S., p. 68.
  32. Newton, p. 184.
  33. Leonard & Bratzel, p. 78.
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 Williamson, Battleships, p. 8.
  35. Rohwer, p. 5.
  36. Edwards, B., p. 11.
  37. Rohwer, p. 18.
  38. Garzke & Dulin, p. 151.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Williamson, Battleships, p. 9.
  40. 40.0 40.1 Slavick, p. 233.


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Media related to Schlesien (1906) at Wikimedia Commons

Further reading

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Online links