SMS König: Wikis

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A large battleship sits motionless, black smoke billows from its funnels
Career Kaiserliche Marine Jack
Builder: Kaiserliche Werft Wilhelmshaven
Laid down: October 1911
Launched: 1 March 1913
Commissioned: 10 August 1914
Fate: Scuttled 21 June 1919 in Gutter Sound, Scapa Flow
General characteristics
Class and type: König-class battleship
Displacement: 25,390 long tons (25,800 t) standard
28,600 long tons (29,100 t) full load
Length: 175.4 m (575 ft 6 in)
Beam: 29.5 m (96 ft 9 in)
Draught: 9.19 m (30 ft 2 in)
Propulsion: 3 shaft Parsons turbines
3-bladed 3.8 m screw propellers, 43,300 shp (32.3 MW)
Speed: 21.2 knots (39.3 km/h)
Range: 8,000 miles (13,000 km) at 12 knots (22 km/h)
Complement: 1,136
Armament: 10 × 305 mm (12.0 in) L/50 guns in five dual turrets
14 × 150 mm (5.9 in)/45 cal guns in single casements
10 × 88 mm (3.5 in)/45 cal guns in single mounts
5 × 500 mm (20 in) underwater torpedo tubes
Armour: Belt: 350 mm (14 in)
Turrets and conning tower: 300 mm (12 in)
Deck: 30 mm (1.2 in)
Service record
Part of: Third Battle Squadron
Operations: Bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft
Battle of Jutland
Battle of Moon Sound

SMS König[Note 1] was the first of four König class dreadnought battleships of the German Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial Navy) during World War I. She was named in honor of one of the titles of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany; in addition to being the Emperor of Germany he was also the King (König in German) of Prussia, as well as the Markgraf of Brandenburg. Laid down in October 1911, the ship was launched on 1 March 1913. Construction on König finished shortly after the outbreak of World War I; she was commissioned into the High Seas Fleet on 9 August 1914.

König, along with her three sisters Großer Kurfürst, Markgraf, and Kronprinz, took part in most of the fleet actions during the war. On 31 May 1916, König was the leading ship in the German line during the Battle of Jutland. In October 1917, she sank the Russian pre-dreadnought battleship Slava during Operation Albion. König was interned, along with the majority of the High Seas Fleet, in Scapa Flow in November 1918 following the Armistice. On 21 June 1919, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter gave the order to scuttle the fleet while the British guard ships were out of the harbor on exercises. König slipped beneath the waters of Scapa Flow at 14:00. Unlike most of the other scuttled ships, König was never raised for scrapping; the wreck remains on the bottom of the bay.

Contents

Construction

König was ordered under the provisional name "S".[Note 2] She was built at the Kaiserliche Werft Wilhelmshaven dockyards in Wilhelmshaven, under construction number 33.[1] Her keel was laid in October 1911 and she was launched on 1 March 1913. Fitting out work was completed by 9 August 1914, the day she was commissioned into the High Seas Fleet.[2] She had cost the Imperial German Government 45 million Goldmarks.[1][Note 3] The first of what were eventually four ships in her class, König would later be joined in service by Großer Kurfürst, Markgraf, and Kronprinz.[Note 4]

König displaced 25,796 t (28,435 short tons) as built and 28,600 t (31,500 short tons) fully loaded, with a length of 175.4 m (575 ft), a beam of 19.5 m (64 ft) and a draft of 9.19 m (30.2 ft). She was powered by three Parsons steam turbines, which developed a total of 43,300 hp (32.3 MW) and yielded a maximum speed of 21 kn (39 km/h).[1]

She was armed with ten 30.5 cm (12 in) guns arranged in five twin gun turrets: two superfiring turrets each fore and aft and one turret amidships between the two funnels. Like the earlier Kaiser class battleships, König and her sisters could bring all of her main guns to bear on either side, though König enjoyed a wider arc of fire. Her secondary armament consisted of fourteen 15 cm (5.9 in) guns, six 8.8 cm (3.5 in) guns and five 50 cm (20 in) underwater torpedo tubes, one in the bow and two on each beam. On commissioning she carried a crew of 41 officers and 1,095 enlisted men.[2]

Service

Upon commissioning, König was attached to the V Division of the III Battle Squadron of the German High Seas Fleet, where she would later be joined by her sister-ships.[3]

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Bombardments of the British coast

König took part in several fleet sorties in support of the battlecruisers of the I Scouting Group. The I Scouting Group was tasked with bombarding the English coast to draw out a portion of the British Grand Fleet, which would then be destroyed by the German fleet. The first of these operations was conducted on the night of 15–16 December 1914; the targets were the coastal towns of Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby. The battlecruisers shelled the towns and did in fact draw out the British 1st Battlecruiser Squadron and the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet. However, the timidity of Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl resulted in the withdrawal of the German fleet.[4]

König and her sister ships took part in another raid on the English coast, again as support for the German battlecruiser force in the I Scouting Group. The battlecruisers left the Jade Estuary at 10:55 on 24 April 1916, and the rest of the High Seas Fleet followed at 13:40. The battlecruiser Seydlitz struck a mine while en route to the target, and had to withdraw.[5] The other battlecruisers bombarded the town of Lowestoft largely without incident, but during the approach to Yarmouth, they encountered the British cruisers of the Harwich Force. A short artillery duel ensued before the Harwich Force withdrew. Reports of British submarines in the area prompted the retreat of the I Scouting Group. At this point, Admiral Reinhard Scheer, who had been warned of the sortie of the Grand Fleet from its base in Scapa Flow, also withdrew to safer German waters.[6]

Battle of Jutland

König was present during the fleet operation that resulted in the battle of Jutland on 31 May–1 June 1916. The German fleet again sought to draw out and isolate a portion of the Grand Fleet and destroy it before the main British fleet could retaliate. König, followed by her sisters Großer Kurfürst, Markgraf, and Kronprinz made up the V Division of the III Battle Squadron, and they were the vanguard of the fleet. The III Battle Squadron was the first of three battleship units; directly astern was the Kaiser-class battleships of the VI Division, III Battle Squadron. Directly astern of the Kaiser class ships were the Helgoland and Nassau classes of the II Battle Squadron; in the rear guard were the obsolescent Deutschland class pre-dreadnoughts of the I Battle Squadron.[7]

Shortly before 16:00 CET,[Note 5] the battlecruisers of I Scouting Group encountered the British 1st Battlecruiser Squadron, under the command of David Beatty. The opposing ships began an artillery duel that saw the destruction of Indefatigable, shortly after 17:00,[8] and Queen Mary, less than a half an hour later.[9] By this time, the German battlecruisers were steaming south in order to draw the British ships towards the main body of the High Seas Fleet. At 17:30, König's crew spotted both the I Scouting Group and the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron approaching. The German battlecruisers were steaming to starboard, while the British ships steamed to port. At 17:45, Scheer ordered a two-point turn to port to bring his ships closer to the British battlecruisers, and a minute later at 17:46, the order to open fire was given.[10]

König, Großer Kurfürst, and Markgraf were the first to reach effective gunnery range; they engaged the battlecruisers Lion, Princess Royal, and Tiger, respectively, at a range of 21,000 yards.[11] König's first salvos fell short of her target, and so she shifted her fire to the nearer Tiger. Simultaneously, König and her sisters began firing on the destroyers Nestor and Nicator with their secondary battery.[12] The two destroyers closed in on the German line, and after having endured a hail of gunfire, maneuvered into a good firing position. Each ship launched two torpedoes apiece at König and Großer Kurfürst, although all four weapons missed. In return, a secondary battery shell from one of the battleships hit Nestor and wrecked her engine room. The ship, along with the destroyer Nomad, was crippled and lying directly in the path of the advancing German line. Both of the destroyers were sunk, but German torpedo boats stopped to pick up survivors.[13] At around 18:00, König and her three sister ships shifted their fire to the approaching Queen Elizabeth class battleships of the V Battle Squadron. König initially engaged Barham; though the range widened too far, at which point she shifted to Valiant. However, the faster British battleships were able to move out of effective gunnery range quickly.[14]

Shortly after 19:00, the German cruiser Wiesbaden had become disabled by a shell from the British battlecruiser Invincible; Rear Admiral Behncke in König attempted to maneuver his four ships in order to cover the stricken cruiser.[15] Simultaneously, the British III and IV Light Cruiser Squadrons began a torpedo attack on the German line; while advancing to torpedo range, they smothered Wiesbaden with fire from their main guns. König and her sisters fired heavily on the British cruisers, but even sustained fire from the battleships' main guns failed to drive off the British cruisers.[16] In the ensuing melee, the British armored cruiser Defence was struck by several heavy caliber shells from the German dreadnoughts. One salvo penetrated the ship's ammunition magazines and, in a massive explosion, destroyed the cruiser.[17]

Shortly after 19:20, König again entered gunnery range of the battleship Warspite and opened fire on her target. She was joined by the dreadnoughts Friedrich der Grosse, Ostfriesland, Helgoland, and Thüringen. However, König rapidly lost sight of Warspite, as she had been in the process of turning east-north-east.[18] Nearly simultaneously, British light cruisers and destroyers attempted to make a torpedo attack against the leading ships of the German line, including König. Shortly thereafter, the main British line came into range of the German fleet; at 19:30 the British battleships opened fire on both the German battlecruiser force and the König class ships. König came under especially heavy fire during this period. In the span of 5 minutes, Iron Duke fired 9 salvos at König from a range of 12,000 yards; only one shell hit the ship. The 13.5 inch shell struck the forward conning tower but instead of penetrating, the shell ricocheted off and detonated some 50 yards past the ship. Rear Admiral Behncke was injured, though he remained in command of the ship. The ship was then obscured by smoke, and was granted a temporary reprieve.[19]

By 20:00, the German line was ordered to turn eastward to disengage from the British fleet. König, at the head, completed her turn and then reduced speed in order to allow the vessels behind her to return to formation. Shortly thereafter, four British light cruisers resumed the attacks on the crippled Wiesbaden; the leading German battleships, including König, opened fire on the cruisers in an attempt to drive them off.[20] The pursuing British battleships had by this time turned further south, and nearly managed to "cross the T" of the German line. To rectify this situation, Admiral Scheer ordered a 16-point turn south, and sent Hipper's battlecruisers on a charge towards the British fleet.[21] During the turn, König was struck by a 13.5 inch shell from Iron Duke; the shell hit the ship just aft of the rearmost gun turret. König suffered significant structural damage, and several rooms were filled with smoke. During the turn to starboard, Vice Admiral Schmidt, the commander of the I Battle Squadron, decided to turn his ships immediately, instead of following the leading ships in succession. This caused a great deal of confusion, and nearly resulted in several collisions. As a result, many of the German battleships were forced to drastically reduce speed, which put the entire fleet in great danger.[22] In an attempt to mitigate the predicament, König turned to port and laid a smokescreen between the German line and its British opponent.[23]

During the battle, König suffered significant damage. A heavy shell penetrated the main armored deck towards the bow. Another shell hit one of the armored plates in the main belt, and shoved it back five feet. Shell splinters penetrated several of the casemates that held the 15 cm secondary guns, two of which were disabled. The ammunition stores for these two guns were set on fire and the magazines had to be flooded in order to prevent an explosion. Other areas of the ship had to be counter-flooded in order to maintain stability; 1,600 tons of water entered the ship, either as a result of battle damage or counter-flooding efforts.[24] The flooding rendered the battleship sufficiently low in the water to prevent the ship from being able to cross the Amrun bank until 09:30 on 1 June.[25] König was taken to Kiel for initial repairs, as that was the only location that had a floating dry dock large enough to fit the ship. Repairs were conducted there from 4 June to 18 June, at which point the ship was transferred to the Howaldtswerke shipyard. König was again ready to join the fleet by 21 July.[26]

Operation Albion

In early September 1917, following the German conquest of the Russian port of Riga, the German navy decided to eliminate the Russian naval forces that still held the Gulf of Riga. In order to achieve this goal, the Admiralstab (the Navy High Command) planned an operation to seize the Baltic island of Ösel, and specifically the Russian gun batteries on the Sworbe peninsula.[27] On 18 September, the order was issued for a joint Army-Navy operation to capture Ösel and Moon islands; the primary naval component was to comprise the flagship, Moltke, along with the III Battle Squadron of the High Seas Fleet. The V Division included the four Königs, and was by this time augmented with the new battleship Bayern. The VI Division consisted of the five Kaiser class battleships. Along with several 9 light cruisers, 3 torpedo boat flotillas, and dozens of mine warfare ships, the entire force numbered some 300 ships, and were supported by over 100 aircraft and 6 zeppelins. The invasion force amounted to approximately 24,600 officers and enlisted men.[28] Opposing the Germans were the old Russian pre-dreadnoughts Slava and Tsarevitch, the armored cruisers Bayan, Admiral Makarov, and Diana, 26 destroyers, and several torpedo boats and gunboats. The garrison on Ösel numbered some 14,000 men.[29]

The operation began on 12 October, when Moltke, Bayern, and the Königs began firing on the Russian shore batteries at Tagga Bay. Simultaneously, the Kaisers engaged the batteries on the Sworbe peninsula; the objective was to secure the channel between Moon and Dagö islands, which would block the only escape route of the Russian ships in the Gulf. Both Großer Kurfürst and Bayern struck mines while maneuvering into their bombardment positions; damage to the former was minimal, but Bayern was severely wounded; the ship had to be withdrawn to Kiel for repairs.[29]

On 16 October, it was decided to detach a portion of the invasion flotilla to clear the Russian naval forces in Moon Sound; these included the two Russian pre-dreadnoughts. To this end, König and Kronprinz, along with the cruisers Strassburg and Kolberg and a number of smaller vessels were sent to engage the Russian battleships. They arrived by the morning of 17 October, but a deep Russian minefield kept the ships temporarily at bay. A rude surprise came to the Germans, when they discovered that the 30.5 cm guns of the Russian battleships out-ranged their own 30.5 cm guns. The Russian ships managed to keep the distance wide enough to prevent the German battleships from being able to return fire, while still firing effectively on the German ships—at several points the Germans had to take evasive maneuvers to avoid the Russian shells. However, by 10:00, the minesweepers had cleared a path through the minefield, and König and Kronprinz dashed into the bay. By 10:13, König was in range of Slava and quickly opened fire. Meanwhile, Kronprinz fired on both Slava and the cruiser Bayan. The Russian vessels were hit dozens of times, until at 10:30 the Russian naval commander, Admiral Bakhirev, ordered their withdrawal. Slava had been hit too many times, and was unable to make good her escape; instead, she was scuttled and her crew was evacuated on a destroyer.[30]

On 20 October, König was towed by mine sweepers into the Kuiwast roadstead. By that time, the fighting on the islands was winding down; Moon, Ösel, and Dagö were in German possession. The previous day, the Admiralstab ordered naval actions to be ceased, and that the dreadnoughts be returned to the High Seas Fleet as soon as was possible.[31]

Fate

A map designating the locations where the German ships were sunk
Map of the scuttled ships; König is #7

Following the capitulation of Germany in November 1918, the majority of the High Seas Fleet, under the command of Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, was interned in the British naval base in Scapa Flow.[32] Once the ships were interned, they had their guns disabled through the removal of their breech blocks.[33] The fleet remained in captivity during the negotiations that ultimately produced the Versailles Treaty. It became apparent to Reuter that the British intended to seize the German ships on 21 June, which was the deadline for Germany to have signed the peace treaty. Unaware that the deadline had been extended to the 23rd, Reuter ordered his ships be sunk. On the morning of 21 June, the British fleet left Scapa Flow to conduct training maneuvers, and at 11:20 Reuter transmitted the order to his ships.[34] König sank at 14:00; the ship was never raised for scrapping, unlike most of the other capital ships that were scuttled. The rights to future salvage operations on the wreck was sold to Britain in 1962.[2]

Notes

  1. ^ "SMS" stands for "Seiner Majestät Schiff", or "His Majesty's Ship" in German.
  2. ^ German warships were ordered under provisional names. For new additions to the fleet, they were given a single letter; for those ships intended to replace older or lost vessels, they were ordered as "Ersatz (name of the ship to be replaced)"
  3. ^ At the time, 1 Goldmark was the equivalent of US$0.288; this amounted to $12,960,000. Adjusted for inflation, König cost $295,395,429 in 2009 dollars. See: Herwig "Abbreviations and Conversions" section
  4. ^ Kronprinz was later renamed Kronprinz Wilhelm.
  5. ^ The times mentioned in this section are in CET, which is congruent with the German perspective. This is one hour ahead of UTC, the time zone commonly used in British works.

Footnotes

  1. ^ a b c Gröner, p. 27
  2. ^ a b c Gröner, p. 28
  3. ^ Tarrant, p. 286
  4. ^ Tarrant, pp. 31–33
  5. ^ Tarrant, p. 53
  6. ^ Tarrant, p. 54
  7. ^ Tarrant, p. 286
  8. ^ Tarrant, pp. 94–95
  9. ^ Tarrant, pp. 100–101
  10. ^ Tarrant, p. 110
  11. ^ Tarrant, pp. 110–111
  12. ^ Tarrant, p. 111
  13. ^ Tarrant, p. 114
  14. ^ Tarrant, p. 116
  15. ^ Tarrant, p. 137
  16. ^ Tarrant, p. 138
  17. ^ Tarrant, p. 140
  18. ^ Tarrant, p. 142–143
  19. ^ Tarrant, p. 145
  20. ^ Tarrant, p. 169
  21. ^ Tarrant, p. 173
  22. ^ Tarrant, p. 175
  23. ^ Tarrant, p. 177
  24. ^ Tarrant, p. 188
  25. ^ Halpern, p. 327
  26. ^ Campbell, p. 336
  27. ^ Halpern, p. 213
  28. ^ Halpern, pp. 214–215
  29. ^ a b Halpern, p. 215
  30. ^ Halpern, p. 218
  31. ^ Halpern, p. 219
  32. ^ Tarrant, p. 282
  33. ^ Herwig, p. 255
  34. ^ Herwig, p. 256

References

  • Campbell, John (1998). Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 1-55821-759-2.  
  • Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0870217909. OCLC 22101769.  
  • Halpern, Paul G. (1995). A Naval History of World War I. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557503524.  
  • Herwig, Holger (1980). "Luxury" Fleet: The Imperial German Navy 1888-1918. Amherst, New York: Humanity Books. ISBN 9781573922869.  
  • Tarrant, V. E. (1995). Jutland: The German Perspective. Cassell Military Paperbacks. ISBN 0-304-35848-7.  

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