Scharnhorst class armored cruiser

The Scharnhorst class was the last traditional class of armored cruiser
Armored cruiser
The armored cruiser was a type of warship of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like other types of cruiser, the armored cruiser was a long-range, independent warship, capable of defeating any ship apart from a battleship, and fast enough to outrun any battleships it encountered.The first...

s built by the Kaiserliche Marine
Kaiserliche Marine
The Imperial German Navy was the German Navy created at the time of the formation of the German Empire. It existed between 1871 and 1919, growing out of the small Prussian Navy and Norddeutsche Bundesmarine, which primarily had the mission of coastal defense. Kaiser Wilhelm II greatly expanded...

. The class comprised two ships, and . They were larger than the that preceded them; the extra size was used primarily to increase the main armament of 21 cm (8.2 inch) guns from four to eight. The ships were the first German cruiser to reach equality with their British counterparts. The ships were named after 19th century Prussian army reformers, Gerhard von Scharnhorst
Gerhard von Scharnhorst
Gerhard Johann David Waitz von Scharnhorst was a general in Prussian service, Chief of the Prussian General Staff, noted for both his writings, his reforms of the Prussian army, and his leadership during the Napoleonic Wars....

 and August von Gneisenau
August von Gneisenau
August Wilhelm Antonius Graf Neidhardt von Gneisenau was a Prussian field marshal. He was a prominent figure in the reform of the Prussian military and the War of Liberation.-Early life:...


Built for overseas service, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were assigned to the East Asia Squadron
German East Asia Squadron
The German East Asia Squadron was a German Navy cruiser squadron which operated mainly in the Pacific Ocean between the 1870s and 1914...

 in 1909 and 1910, respectively. Scharnhorst relieved the old armored cruiser as the squadron flagship, which had been on station since 1900. Both ships had short careers; shortly before the outbreak of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, the ships departed the German colony at Tsingtao. On 1 November 1914, the ships destroyed a British force at the Battle of Coronel
Battle of Coronel
The First World War naval Battle of Coronel took place on 1 November 1914 off the coast of central Chile near the city of Coronel. German Kaiserliche Marine forces led by Vice-Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee met and defeated a Royal Navy squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher...

 and inflicted upon the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 its first defeat since the Battle of Plattsburgh
Battle of Plattsburgh
The Battle of Plattsburgh, also known as the Battle of Lake Champlain, ended the final invasion of the northern states during the War of 1812...

 in 1814. The East Asia Squadron, including both Scharnhorst class ships, was subsequently annihilated at the Battle of the Falkland Islands
Battle of the Falkland Islands
The Battle of the Falkland Islands was a British naval victory over the Imperial German Navy on 8 December 1914 during the First World War in the South Atlantic...

 on 8 December.


General characteristics

The ships of the class were 144.6 metres (474.4 ft) long overall, and 143.8 m (471.8 ft) long at the waterline. They had a beam
Beam (nautical)
The beam of a ship is its width at the widest point. Generally speaking, the wider the beam of a ship , the more initial stability it has, at expense of reserve stability in the event of a capsize, where more energy is required to right the vessel from its inverted position...

 of 21.6 m (70.9 ft), a draft
Draft (hull)
The draft of a ship's hull is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull , with the thickness of the hull included; in the case of not being included the draft outline would be obtained...

 of 8.4 metre, and displaced 11616 metric tons (11,432.5 LT) standard, and 12985 MT (12,779.9 LT) at full load. The ships' hulls were constructed of transverse and longitudinal steel frames, over which the outer hull plating was rivet
A rivet is a permanent mechanical fastener. Before being installed a rivet consists of a smooth cylindrical shaft with a head on one end. The end opposite the head is called the buck-tail. On installation the rivet is placed in a punched or pre-drilled hole, and the tail is upset, or bucked A rivet...

ed. The vessels had 15 watertight compartments and a double bottom
Double bottom
A double bottom is a ship hull design and construction method where the bottom of the ship has two complete layers of watertight hull surface: one outer layer forming the normal hull of the ship, and a second inner hull which is somewhat higher in the ship, perhaps a few feet, which forms a...

 that ran for 50% of the length of the hull.

The ships had a standard crew of 38 officers and 726 enlisted men. Scharnhorst, as the squadron flagship, had a larger crew, including an additional 14 officers and 62 men. Gneisenau, when serving as the squadron second command flagship, had an extra staff of 3 officers and 25 men. The ships carried a number of smaller vessels, including two picket boats, two launches
Launch (boat)
A launch in contemporary usage refers to a large motorboat. The name originally referred to the largest boat carried by a warship. The etymology of the word is given as Portuguese lancha "barge", from Malay lancha, lancharan, "boat," from lanchar "velocity without effort," "action of gliding...

, one pinnace
Pinnace (ship's boat)
As a ship's boat the pinnace is a light boat, propelled by sails or oars, formerly used as a "tender" for guiding merchant and war vessels. In modern parlance, pinnace has come to mean a boat associated with some kind of larger vessel, that doesn't fit under the launch or lifeboat definitions...

, two cutters, three yawl
A yawl is a two-masted sailing craft similar to a sloop or cutter but with an additional mast located well aft of the main mast, often right on the transom, specifically aft of the rudder post. A yawl (from Dutch Jol) is a two-masted sailing craft similar to a sloop or cutter but with an...

s, and one dinghy
A dinghy is a type of small boat, often carried or towed for use as a ship's boat by a larger vessel. It is a loanword from either Bengali or Urdu. The term can also refer to small racing yachts or recreational open sailing boats. Utility dinghies are usually rowboats or have an outboard motor,...



The Scharnhorst class ships used the same powerplant as in the preceding s: three 3-cylinder triple expansion engines. Each engine drove a single propeller; the center shaft on Scharnhorst was 4.7 m (15.4 ft) in diameter while the outer two were 5 m (16.4 ft) wide. Gneisenaus screws were slightly smaller, at 4.6 m (15.1 ft) wide on the center shaft and 4.8 m (15.7 ft) on the outer pair. The triple expansion engines were supplied with steam by 18 coal-fired marine-type boilers with 36 fire boxes. The engines were designed to provide 26,000 indicated horsepower, though on trials they achieved higher figures—28,782 ihp for Scharnhorst and 30,396 ihp for Gneisenau. The ships were rated at a top speed of 22.5 knots (12.2 m/s), though on trials Scharnhorst steamed at a maximum of 23.5 kn (12.8 m/s), while Gneisenau ran at 23.6 kn (12.8 m/s). The vessels carried 800 MT (787.4 LT) of coal normally, though they were capable of storing up to 2000 MT (1,968.4 LT) of coal. This provided a maximum range of 4800 nautical miles (8,889.6 km) at a cruising speed of 14 kn (7.6 m/s). The ships had a single rudder.

The vessels also carried the same electrical plant as in the older Roon class ships. It consisted of four turbo-generators that delivered 260 kilowatts at 110 volt
The volt is the SI derived unit for electric potential, electric potential difference, and electromotive force. The volt is named in honor of the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta , who invented the voltaic pile, possibly the first chemical battery.- Definition :A single volt is defined as the...

s. The Scharnhorst class ships were the last cruisers built by Germany to be equipped with generators that put out power at 110 volts; the subsequent design, , had generators that ran at 225 volts.


The ships' main battery armament consisted of eight 21 cm (8.2 inch) SK L/40 guns,In Imperial German Navy gun nomenclature, "SK" (Schnellfeuerkanone) denotes that the gun is quick firing, while the L/40 denotes the length of the gun. In this case, the L/40 gun is 40 calibers, meaning that the gun barrel is 40 times as long as it is in diameter. four in twin gun turret
Gun turret
A gun turret is a weapon mount that protects the crew or mechanism of a projectile-firing weapon and at the same time lets the weapon be aimed and fired in many directions.The turret is also a rotating weapon platform...

s, one fore and one aft of the main superstructure
A superstructure is an upward extension of an existing structure above a baseline. This term is applied to various kinds of physical structures such as buildings, bridges, or ships...

, and the remaining four were mounted in single wing turrets. The 21 cm guns fired a 108 kg (238 lb) armor-piercing projectile at a muzzle velocity
Muzzle velocity
Muzzle velocity is the speed a projectile has at the moment it leaves the muzzle of the gun. Muzzle velocities range from approximately to in black powder muskets , to more than in modern rifles with high-performance cartridges such as the .220 Swift and .204 Ruger, all the way to for tank guns...

 of 780 meters per second (2,559 ft/s). The guns had a rate of fire
Rate of fire
Rate of fire is the frequency at which a specific weapon can fire or launch its projectiles. It is usually measured in rounds per minute , or per second .-Overview:...

 of between 4–5 rounds per minute. The guns were supplied with a total of 700 rounds. The guns mounted in the twin turrets could elevate to 30 degrees, which enabled a maximum range of 16,300 m (17,830 yards). The single turrets could only elevate to 16 degrees, and so their range was correspondingly lower at 12,400 m (13,560 yards). The twin turrets could train to approximately 150 degrees in either direction from the centerline.

Secondary armament included six 15 cm (5.9 inch) SK L/40 guns in MPL casemate
A casemate, sometimes rendered casement, is a fortified gun emplacement or armored structure from which guns are fired. originally a vaulted chamber in a fortress.-Origin of the term:...

s.MPL stands for Mittel-Pivot-Lafette (Central pivot mounting). See These guns had a fired armor-piercing shells at a rate of 4–5 per minute. The ships carried 170 shells per gun, for a total of 1,020 rounds total. The guns could depress to −7 degrees and elevate to 20 degrees, for a maximum range of 13,700 m (14,990 yd). They were manually elevated and trained.

The ships were also armed with eighteen 8.8 cm (3.45 inch) guns mounted in casemates. They fired 10 kg (22 lb) shells at a muzzle velocity of approximately 620 m/s (2,034 f/s). The ship carried 150 shells per gun, for a total of 2,700 rounds. They were capable of engaging targets out to 11,000 m (12,030 yd). As with the larger 15 cm guns, the 8.8 cm weapons were manually elevated and trained.

As was customary for warships of the period, the Scharnhorst class ships were equipped with four 44 cm (17.3 in) submerged torpedo tubes. One was mounted in the bow, one on each broadside, and the fourth was placed in the stern. The ships were supplied with a total of 11 torpedoes. The weapons were the C/03 type, which weighed 662 kg (1,460 lb) and carried a 176 kg (388 lb) high explosive warhead. At a speed of 31 knots, the torpedoes had an effective range of 1,500 m (1,640 yd); when set at a slower speed of 26 knots, the weapons could hit targets out to twice the distance, at 3,000 m (3,280 yd).


As was the standard for German warships, the ships of the Scharnhorst class were protected by Krupp armor. They had an armor belt that was 150 mm (5.9 in) thick in the central portion of the ship, where the most important areas were located. The belt decreased to 80 mm (3.1 in) on either end of the central citadel, and down to nothing at the bow and stern. The entire belt was backed with teak
Teak is the common name for the tropical hardwood tree species Tectona grandis and its wood products. Tectona grandis is native to south and southeast Asia, mainly India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Burma, but is naturalized and cultivated in many countries, including those in Africa and the...

 planking. The main armored deck ranged in thickness from 60 mm (2.4 in) over critical areas and down to 35 mm (1.4 in) elsewhere. The deck sloped down to the belt; this portion was between 40–55 mm (1.6–2.2 in) thick. The forward conning tower
Conning tower
A conning tower is a raised platform on a ship or submarine, often armored, from which an officer can con the vessel; i.e., give directions to the helmsman. It is usually located as high on the ship as practical, to give the conning team good visibility....

 had 200 mm (7.9 in)-thick sides and a 30 mm (1.2 in)-thick roof. The rear conning tower was less well-armored, with sides that were only 50 mm (2 in) thick and a roof that was 20 mm (0.78740157480315 in) thick. The main battery gun turrets had 170 mm (6.7 in)-thick sides and 30 mm thick-roofs, while the amidships guns were protected with 150 mm-thick gun shields and 40 mm-thick roofs. The 15 cm guns were armored with 80 mm-thick shields.

Service history

Upon commissioning, both ships of the class were assigned to the German East Asia Squadron
German East Asia Squadron
The German East Asia Squadron was a German Navy cruiser squadron which operated mainly in the Pacific Ocean between the 1870s and 1914...

, with Scharnhorst serving as Admiral
Admiral is the rank, or part of the name of the ranks, of the highest naval officers. It is usually considered a full admiral and above vice admiral and below admiral of the fleet . It is usually abbreviated to "Adm" or "ADM"...

 Maximilian von Spee
Maximilian von Spee
Vice Admiral Maximilian Reichsgraf von Spee was a German admiral. Although he was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, the counts von Spee belonged to the prominent families of the Rhenish nobility. He joined the Kaiserliche Marine in 1878. In 1887–88 he commanded the Kamerun ports, in German West...

's flagship. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were regarded as well-trained vessels; both ships won awards for their excellence at gunnery. At the start of World War I, the two ships were in the Caroline Islands
Caroline Islands
The Caroline Islands are a widely scattered archipelago of tiny islands in the western Pacific Ocean, to the north of New Guinea. Politically they are divided between the Federated States of Micronesia in the eastern part of the group, and Palau at the extreme western end...

 on a routine cruise; the rest of von Spee's squadron was dispersed around the Pacific. The declaration of war by Japan on Germany convinced von Spee to consolidate his force with the cruisers and from the American station, and head for Chile to refuel. The flotilla would then attempt to return to Germany via the Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

. Admiral von Spee also intended to attack the three British cruisers under the command of Admiral Christopher Cradock
Christopher Cradock
Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher "Kit" George Francis Maurice Cradock KCVO CB was a British officer of the Royal Navy. He was born at Hartforth, Richmond, North Yorkshire...

, and any British shipping encountered. On 22 September, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau approached the island of Papeete
-Sights:* Interactive Google map of Papeete, to discover the 30 major tourist attractions in Papeete downtown.*The waterfront esplanade*Bougainville Park -Sights:* Interactive Google map of Papeete, to discover the 30 major tourist attractions in Papeete downtown.*The waterfront...

 in French Polynesia
French Polynesia
French Polynesia is an overseas country of the French Republic . It is made up of several groups of Polynesian islands, the most famous island being Tahiti in the Society Islands group, which is also the most populous island and the seat of the capital of the territory...

 with the intention of seizing the coal stockpiled in the harbor. The ships conducted a short bombardment
Bombardment of Papeete
The Bombardment of Papeete occurred in French Polynesia when German warships attacked on 22 September 1914, during World War I. The German armoured cruisers and entered the port of Papeete on the island of Tahiti and sank the French gunboat and freighter Walkure before bombarding the town's...

 that resulted in the sinking of the old gunboat
A gunboat is a naval watercraft designed for the express purpose of carrying one or more guns to bombard coastal targets, as opposed to those military craft designed for naval warfare, or for ferrying troops or supplies.-History:...

 Zélée. However, von Spee feared that the harbor had been mined
Naval mine
A naval mine is a self-contained explosive device placed in water to destroy surface ships or submarines. Unlike depth charges, mines are deposited and left to wait until they are triggered by the approach of, or contact with, an enemy vessel...

, and decided to avoid the risk. The French had also set fire to the coal stocks to prevent the Germans from using the coal.

Battle of Coronel

At approximately 17:00 on 1 November 1914, the East Asia Squadron encountered Craddock's ships off Coronel. Because the German ships had an advantage in speed, von Spee was able to keep the distance to 18 kilometers, before closing to 12 km to engage the British flotilla at 19:00. Scharnhorst hit some 34 times; at least one of the shells penetrated Good Hopes ammunition magazines, which resulted in a tremendous explosion that destroyed the ship. The light cruiser closed to point-blank range to attack ; after a severe pummeling, Monmouth sank as well. The British light cruiser and the auxiliary cruiser  both escaped under the cover of darkness. First Sea Lord
First Sea Lord
The First Sea Lord is the professional head of the Royal Navy and the whole Naval Service; it was formerly known as First Naval Lord. He also holds the title of Chief of Naval Staff, and is known by the abbreviations 1SL/CNS...

 Jackie Fisher remarked that it was "the saddest naval action of the war." The defeat was the first to be inflicted on the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 since the 1814 Battle of Plattsburgh
Battle of Plattsburgh
The Battle of Plattsburgh, also known as the Battle of Lake Champlain, ended the final invasion of the northern states during the War of 1812...

. After news of the battle reached Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin, he ordered 300 Iron Cross
Iron Cross
The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

es to be awarded to the men of von Spee's squadron. After refueling in Valparaiso
Valparaíso is a city and commune of Chile, center of its third largest conurbation and one of the country's most important seaports and an increasing cultural center in the Southwest Pacific hemisphere. The city is the capital of the Valparaíso Province and the Valparaíso Region...

, the East Asia Squadron departed for the Falkland Islands
Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands are an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean, located about from the coast of mainland South America. The archipelago consists of East Falkland, West Falkland and 776 lesser islands. The capital, Stanley, is on East Falkland...

, in order to destroy the British wireless transmitter located there.

Battle of the Falkland Islands

Some six hours after news of the battle reached England, Admiral Fisher ordered Admiral John Jellicoe
John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe
Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe, GCB, OM, GCVO was a British Royal Navy admiral who commanded the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland in World War I...

, the commander of the Grand Fleet, to detach the battlecruisers and to hunt down the German ships. Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee
Doveton Sturdee
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Frederick Charles Doveton Sturdee, 1st Baronet, GCB, KCMG, CVO was a British admiral.-Naval career:...

 was placed in command of the flotilla, which also included the armored cruisers , , , and , and the light cruisers and Glasgow, which had survived Coronel. Sturdee's ships reached the Falklands by the morning of 8 December, shortly before von Spee's squadron arrived. The British spotted the East Asia Squadron at 09:40; von Spee was unaware that the British had sent the two battlecruisers, and when he observed them, he ordered his ships to withdraw. Despite the head start
Head start (positioning)
In positioning, a head start is a start in advance of the starting position of others in competition, or simply toward the finish line or desired outcome...

, the fast battlecruisers quickly caught up with the worn-out German ships, which had just completed a 16,000 mile voyage without repairs.

At approximately 13:20, the battlecruisers opened fire at a range of 14 kilometers. After a two hour-long battle, Scharnhorst was dead in the water and listing heavily. The ship was sunk shortly thereafter. Gneisenau had been hit more than 50 times at close range; the crew gave three cheers for the Kaiser before the vessel sank. Nürnberg and were also sunk, though managed to escape temporarily, before she too was destroyed off Juan Fernandez island
Juan Fernández Islands
The Juan Fernández Islands are a sparsely inhabited island group reliant on tourism and fishing in the South Pacific Ocean, situated about off the coast of Chile, and is composed of three main volcanic islands; Robinson Crusoe Island, Alejandro Selkirk Island and Santa Clara Island, the first...

. Some 2,200 men were killed, among them Admiral von Spee.
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