SMS Wettin

SMS Wettin NH 47897.jpg
SMS Wettin in 1907
German Empire
Name: Wettin
Namesake: House of Wettin
Builder: Schichau, Danzig
Laid down: 10 October 1899
Launched: 6 June 1901
Commissioned: 1 October 1902
Fate: Scrapped in 1921
General characteristics
Class and type: Wittelsbach-class pre-dreadnought battleship
Displacement: 12,798 t (12,596 long tons)
Length: 126.8 m (416 ft 0 in)
Beam: 22.8 m (74 ft 10 in)
Draft: 7.95 m (26 ft 1 in)
Installed power:
Propulsion: 3 shafts, triple-expansion steam engines
Speed: 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)
Range: 5,000 nautical miles (9,300 km; 5,800 mi); 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
  • 30 officers
  • 650 enlisted men
  • Belt: 100 to 225 mm (3.9 to 8.9 in)
  • Turrets: 250 mm (9.8 in)
  • Deck: 50 mm (2.0 in)

SMS Wettin ("His Majesty's Ship Wettin")[a] was a German pre-dreadnought battleship of the Wittelsbach class of the Kaiserliche Marine. She was built in Schichau, in Danzig. Wettin was laid down in October 1899, and completed October 1902. Her sister ships were Wittelsbach, Zähringen, Schwaben and Mecklenburg; they were the first capital ships built under the Navy Law of 1898, brought about by Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. The ship was armed with a main battery of four 24 cm (9.4 in) guns and had a top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph).

Wettin saw active duty in the I Squadron of the German fleet for the majority of her career, along with her sister ships. During this period, she was occupied with extensive annual training, as well as making good-will visits to foreign countries. The training exercises conducted during this period provided the framework for the High Seas Fleet's operations during World War I. The ship was decommissioned in June 1911 as newer dreadnought battleships began to enter service, though she was quickly reactivated for duty as a gunnery training ship between December 1911 and mid-1914.

After the start of World War I in August 1914, the ship was mobilized with her sisters as the IV Battle Squadron. She saw limited duty in the Baltic Sea, including during the Battle of the Gulf of Riga in August 1915, though she saw no combat with Russian forces. By late 1915, crew shortages and the threat from British submarines forced the Kaiserliche Marine to withdraw older battleships like Wettin. For the remainder of the war, Wettin served as a training ship for navy cadets and as a depot ship. After the end of the war, the ship was stricken from the navy list and sold for scrapping in 1921. Her bell is currently on display at the Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr in Dresden.


Line-drawing of the Wittelsbach class

After the German Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial Navy) ordered the four Brandenburg-class battleships in 1889, a combination of budgetary constraints, opposition in the Reichstag (Imperial Diet), and a lack of a coherent fleet plan delayed the acquisition of further battleships. The Secretary of the Reichsmarineamt (Imperial Navy Office), Vizeadmiral (VAdm—Vice Admiral) Friedrich von Hollmann struggled throughout the early- and mid-1890s to secure parliamentary approval for the first three Kaiser Friedrich III-class battleships, but in June 1897, Hollmann was replaced by Konteradmiral (KAdm—Rear Admiral) Alfred von Tirpitz, who quickly proposed and secured approval for the first Naval Law in early 1898. The law authorized the last two ships of the class, as well as the five ships of the Wittelsbach class,[1] the first class of battleship built under Tirpitz's tenure. The Wittelsbachs were broadly similar to the Kaiser Friedrichs, carrying the same armament but with a more comprehensive armor layout.[2][3]

Wettin was 126.8 m (416 ft 0 in) long overall and had a beam of 22.8 m (74 ft 10 in) and a draft of 7.95 m (26 ft 1 in) forward and 8.04 m (26 ft 5 in) aft. She displaced 12,798 t (12,596 long tons) at full load. The ship was powered by three 3-cylinder vertical triple expansion engines that drove three screws. Steam was provided by six naval and six cylindrical coal-fired water-tube boilers. Wettin's powerplant was rated at 14,000 metric horsepower (13,808 ihp; 10,297 kW), which generated a top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). The ship could steam for 5,000 nautical miles (9,300 km; 5,800 mi) at a cruising speed of 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph). She had a crew of 30 officers and 650 enlisted men.[4]

Wettin's armament consisted of a main battery of four 24 cm (9.4 in) SK L/40 guns in twin gun turrets,[b] one fore and one aft of the central superstructure.[6] Her secondary armament consisted of eighteen 15 cm (5.9 inch) SK L/40 guns and twelve 8.8 cm (3.45 in) SK L/30 quick-firing guns, all in individual mounts in casemates in the ship's hull and superstructure. The armament suite was rounded out with six 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes, all in above-water swivel mounts. The ship was protected with Krupp armor plate. Her armored belt was 225 millimeters (8.9 in) thick in the central portion that protected her magazines and machinery spaces and reduced to 100 mm (3.9 in) toward the bow and stern, and the deck was 50 mm (2.0 in) thick. The main battery turrets had 250 mm (9.8 in) of armor plating.[7]

Service history[]

Construction – 1905[]

Wettin's keel was laid on 10 October 1899, at the Schichau-Werke in Danzig, under construction number 676. She was ordered under the contract name "D", as a new unit for the fleet.[7][8] Wettin was launched on 6 June 1901; King Albert of Saxony, a member of the House of Wettin, gave a speech at the ceremony. In August 1902, a crew of 60 men took the ship to Kiel for sea trials, which were supervised by KAdm Hunold von Ahlefeld. During the trials, Kaiser Wilhelm II, aboard his yacht Hohenzollern, reviewed Wettin while she was in Swinemünde on 10 August. The ship was commissioned on 1 October 1902, the first member of her class to enter service.[8][9] After she was commissioned into the fleet, Wettin resumed sea trials, which were completed by January 1903. She was assigned to the I Squadron of the fleet, where she replaced the battleship Weissenburg.[8] That year, the squadron was occupied with the normal peacetime routine of individual and unit training. This included a training cruise in the Baltic, followed by a voyage to Spain that lasted from 7 May to 10 June. In July, she embarked on the annual cruise to Norway with the rest of the squadron. The autumn maneuvers consisted of a blockade exercise in the North Sea, a cruise of the entire fleet first to Norwegian waters and then to Kiel in early September, and finally a mock attack on Kiel. The exercises concluded on 12 September. The year's training schedule concluded with a cruise into the eastern Baltic that started on 23 November and a cruise into the Skagerrak that began on 1 December.[10]

Wettin and the I Squadron participated in an exercise in the Skagerrak from 11 to 21 January 1904. Further squadron exercises followed from 8 to 17 March, and a major fleet exercise took place in the North Sea in May. In July, the I Squadron and the I Scouting Group visited Britain, including a stop at Plymouth on 10 July. The German fleet departed on 13 July, bound for the Netherlands; the I Squadron anchored in Vlissingen the following day. There, the ships were visited by Queen Wilhelmina. The I Squadron remained in Vlissingen until 20 July, when they departed for a cruise in the northern North Sea with the rest of the fleet. The squadron stopped in Molde, Norway, on 29 July, while the other units went to other ports.[11] The fleet reassembled on 6 August and steamed back to Kiel, where it conducted a mock attack on the harbor on 12 August. During its cruise in the North Sea, the fleet experimented with wireless telegraphy on a large scale and searchlights at night for communication and recognition signals. Immediately after returning to Kiel, the fleet began preparations for the autumn maneuvers, which began on 29 August in the Baltic. The fleet moved to the North Sea on 3 September, where it took part in a major landing operation, after which the ships took the ground troops from the IX Corps that participated in the exercises to Altona for a parade for Wilhelm II. The ships then conducted their own parade for the Kaiser off the island of Helgoland on 6 September. Three days later, the fleet returned to the Baltic via the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal, where it participated in further landing operations with the IX Corps and the Guards Corps. On 15 September, the maneuvers came to an end.[12] The I Squadron went on its winter training cruise, this time to the eastern Baltic, from 22 November to 2 December.[13]

Wettin took part in a pair of training cruises with the I Squadron during 9–19 January and 27 February – 16 March 1905.[13] In March, Wettin was sent to assist her sister ship Mecklenburg, which had run aground in the Great Belt.[8] Individual and squadron training followed, with an emphasis on gunnery drills. On 12 July, the fleet began a major training exercise in the North Sea. The fleet then cruised through the Kattegat and stopped in Copenhagen and Stockholm. The summer cruise ended on 9 August, though the autumn maneuvers that would normally have begun shortly thereafter were delayed by a visit from the British Channel Fleet that month. The British fleet stopped in Danzig, Swinemünde, and Flensburg, where it was greeted by units of the German Navy; Wettin and the main German fleet was anchored at Swinemünde for the occasion. The visit was strained by the Anglo-German naval arms race. As a result of the British visit, the 1905 autumn maneuvers were shortened considerably, from 6 to 13 September, and consisted only of exercises in the North Sea. The first exercise presumed a naval blockade in the German Bight, and the second envisioned a hostile fleet attempting to force the defenses of the Elbe.[14][15] In October, the I Squadron went on a cruise in the Baltic. In early December, the I and II Squadrons went on their regular winter cruise, this time to Danzig, where they arrived on 12 December. While on the return trip to Kiel, the fleet conducted tactical exercises.[16]


The fleet undertook a heavier training schedule in 1906 than in previous years. The ships were occupied with individual, division and squadron exercises throughout April. Starting on 13 May, major fleet exercises took place in the North Sea and lasted until 8 June with a cruise around the Skagen into the Baltic.[16] The fleet began its usual summer cruise to Norway in mid-July. The fleet was present for the birthday of Norwegian King Haakon VII on 3 August. The German ships departed the following day for Helgoland, to join exercises being conducted there. The fleet was back in Kiel by 15 August, where preparations for the autumn maneuvers began. On 22–24 August, the fleet took part in landing exercises in Eckernförde Bay outside Kiel. The maneuvers were paused from 31 August to 3 September when the fleet hosted vessels from Denmark and Sweden, along with a Russian squadron from 3 to 9 September in Kiel.[17] The maneuvers resumed on 8 September and lasted five more days.[18]

The ship participated in the uneventful winter cruise into the Kattegat and Skagerrak from 8 to 16 December. The first quarter of 1907 followed the previous pattern and, on 16 February, the Active Battle Fleet was re-designated the High Seas Fleet. From the end of May to early June the fleet went on its summer cruise in the North Sea, returning to the Baltic via the Kattegat. This was followed by the regular cruise to Norway from 12 July to 10 August. During the autumn maneuvers, which lasted from 26 August to 6 September, the fleet conducted landing exercises in northern Schleswig with the IX Corps. The winter training cruise went into the Kattegat from 22 to 30 November. In May 1908, the fleet went on a major cruise into the Atlantic instead of its normal voyage in the North Sea, which included a stop in Horta in the Azores. The fleet returned to Kiel on 13 August to prepare for the autumn maneuvers, which lasted from 27 August to 7 September. Division exercises in the Baltic immediately followed from 7 to 13 September.[19] In early 1909, Wettin was rammed by the battleship Kaiser Karl der Grosse, though she was not damaged in the accident and was able to continue training that year.[8] During the annual maneuvers, Wettin won the Kaiser's Schießpreis (Shooting Prize) for excellent accuracy in the I Squadron.[8]

The year 1910 passed uneventfully for Wettin, with the same routine of training exercises and cruises as in previous years. By the time of the training exercises conducted in April, May, and June 1911, Wettin was the oldest battleship still in front-line service with the fleet, but on 30 June she was decommissioned in Kiel. Her place in the squadron was taken by the new dreadnought battleship Thüringen. Wettin was out of service for less than six months, however, since her sister ship Schwaben, which had been in service as the fleet's gunnery training ship, was in need of a major overhaul. Since Wettin was still in serviceable condition, she was reactivated on 1 December to replace Schwaben while the latter was being repaired. In March and April 1912, Wettin was transferred temporarily to the Training Squadron, along with the armored cruiser Blücher and the light cruisers Augsburg and Stuttgart, before returning to the artillery school. She was again transferred in August, this time to the III Squadron, where she took part in the annual fleet maneuvers.[8]

World War I[]

Map of the North and Baltic Seas in 1911

At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Wettin was mobilized into the IV Battle Squadron, under the command of VAdm Ehrhard Schmidt.[20] The IV Squadron also included her four sister ships and the battleships Elsass and Braunschweig. On 26 August, the ships were sent to rescue the stranded light cruiser Magdeburg, which had run aground off the island of Odensholm in the eastern Baltic, but by 28 August, the ship's crew had been forced to detonate explosives to destroy Magdeburg before the relief force had arrived. As a result, Wettin and the rest of the squadron returned to Bornholm that day.[21] Starting on 3 September, the IV Squadron, assisted by Blücher, conducted a sweep into the Baltic. The operation lasted until 9 September and failed to bring Russian naval units to battle.[22]

Two days later the ships were transferred to the North Sea, though they stayed there only briefly, returning to the Baltic on 20 September. From 22 to 26 September, the squadron took part in a sweep into the eastern Baltic in an unsuccessful attempt to find and destroy Russian warships.[21] From 4 December 1914 to 2 April 1915, the ships of the IV Squadron were tasked with coastal defense duties along Germany's North Sea coast against incursions from the British Royal Navy. The ships then participated in training exercises in the western Baltic with the ships of the VII Division of the IV Squadron, which included Wittelsbach, Schwaben, and Mecklenburg.[23]

The German Army requested naval assistance for its campaign against Russia; Prince Heinrich, the commander of all naval forces in the Baltic, made the VII Division, the IV Scouting Group, and the torpedo boats of the Baltic fleet available for the operation.[23][24] On 6 May, the IV Squadron ships were tasked with providing support to the assault on Libau. Wettin and the other ships were stationed off Gotland to intercept any Russian cruisers that might attempt to intervene in the landings; the Russians, however, did not do so.[25] After cruisers from the IV Scouting Group encountered Russian cruisers off Gotland, the ships of the VII Division deployed—with a third dummy funnel erected to disguise them as the more powerful Braunschweig-class battleships—along with the cruiser Danzig. The ships advanced as far as the island of Utö on 9 May and to Kopparstenarna (sv) the following day, but by then the Russian cruisers had withdrawn.[23] Later that day, the British submarines HMS E1 and HMS E9 spotted the IV Squadron, but were too far away to attack them.[25]

From 27 May to 4 July, Wettin was back in the North Sea, patrolling the mouths of the Jade, Ems, and Elbe rivers. During this period, the naval high command realized that the old Wittelsbach-class ships would be useless in action against the Royal Navy, but could be effectively used against the much weaker Russian forces in the Baltic. As a result, the ships were transferred back to the Baltic in July, and they departed Kiel on the 7th, bound for Danzig. On 10 July, the ships proceeded further east to Neufahrwassar, along with the VIII Torpedo-boat Flotilla. The IV Squadron ships sortied on 12 July to make a demonstration, returning to Danzig on 21 July without encountering Russian forces.[23]

Battle of the Gulf of Riga[]

The following month, the naval high command began an operation against the Gulf of Riga in support of the Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive that the Army was waging. The Baltic naval forces were reinforced with significant elements of the High Seas Fleet, including the I Battle Squadron, the I Scouting Group, the II Scouting Group, and the II Torpedo-boat Flotilla. Prince Heinrich planned that Schmidt's ships would force their way into the Gulf and destroy the Russian warships in Riga, while the heavy units of the High Seas Fleet would patrol to the north to prevent any of the main Russian Baltic Fleet that might try to interfere with the operation. The Germans launched their attack on 8 August, initiating the Battle of the Gulf of Riga. Minesweepers attempted to clear a path through the Irbe Strait, covered by Braunschweig and Elsass, while Wettin and the rest of the squadron remained outside the strait. After the Russian battleship Slava attacked the Germans in the strait, forcing them to withdraw.[23]

During the action, the cruiser Thetis and the torpedo boat S144 were damaged by mines and the torpedo boats T52 and T58 were mined and sunk. Schmidt withdrew his ships to re-coal and Prince Heinrich debated making another attempt, as by that time it had become clear that the German Army's advance toward Riga had stalled. Nevertheless, Prince Heinrich decided to try to force the channel a second time, but now two dreadnought battleships from the I Squadron would cover the minesweepers. Wettin was instead left behind in Libau.[26] This was in large part due to the scarcity of escorts. The increasingly active British submarines forced the Germans to employ more destroyers to protect the capital ships.[27]

Subsequent activity[]

On 9 September 1915, Wettin and her four sisters sortied in an attempt to locate Russian warships off Gotland, but returned to port two days later without having engaged any opponents. By this point in the war, the Navy was encountering difficulties in manning more important vessels.[26] Additionally, the threat from submarines in the Baltic convinced the German navy to withdraw the elderly Wittelsbach-class ships from active service.[28] Wettin and most of the other IV Squadron ships left Libau on 10 November, bound for Kiel; upon arrival the following day, they were designated the Reserve Division of the Baltic, commanded by Kommodore (Commodore) Walter Engelhardt. The ships were anchored in Schilksee in Kiel. On 31 January 1916, the division was dissolved, and the ships were dispersed for subsidiary duties.[26]

Wettin was subsequently used as a training ship for naval cadets; she also acted as a depot ship. The ship was stricken from the naval register on 11 March 1920 and sold to ship breakers on 21 November 1921. Wettin was broken up for scrap the following year in Rönnebeck, a part of Bremen. Her bell is on display at the Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr in Dresden.[9]



  1. ^ "SMS" stands for "Seiner Majestät Schiff" (German: His Majesty's Ship).
  2. ^ In Imperial German Navy gun nomenclature, "SK" (Schnelladekanone) 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 caliber, meaning that the gun is 40 times as long as it is in diameter.[5]