Warship Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019: That time the Japanese (briefly) won a condemned (but free) secondhand battleship
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019: That time the Japanese (briefly) won a condemned but free battleship
Here we see the Brandenburg-class linienschiff /panzerschiff SMS Weißenburg of the Kaiserliche Marine with a bone in her mouth, likely while on trials in 1893. She would go on to live an interesting life that would leave her one of the last 19th Century battleships still afloat more than a half-century later.
These early German barbette battleships were the Imperial Navy’s first blue water capital ships when they were envisioned in the late 1880s. Stumpy by design, the quartet of Brandenburgers were 379-feet long and weighed 10,000-tons, roughly the same size as a smallish cruiser by the time WWI came around.
The class had an unusual layout for the main armament, mounting two twin 11″/40 cal gun turrets fore and aft with a third twin 11.1″/35 cal turret amidships, which is kinda funky.
However, they could make 17 knots and carried as much as 16-inches of armor, which was decent for their day.
Class leader SMS Brandenburg and our subject Weissenburg were laid down simultaneously at AG Vulcan Stettin in May 1890, followed by SMS Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm at Kaiserliche Werft Wilhelmshaven, and SMS Wörth at Germaniawerft, Kiel, which left them all to commission in 1893/94, staggered just months apart.
Differing from their sisters, Weissenburg and Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm carried lighter nickel (Harvey) steel plate rather than tougher Krupp-made plate, as the latter was in short supply (this will be important later).
When they joined the fleet, Kaiser Willy II and company loved the new toys, although they were outclassed by the comparable British and French designs of the day– e.g. the Royal Navy’s nine Majestic-class pre-dreadnoughts went over 17,000-tons and carried 12-inch guns, although they had thinner armor than the Brandenburgers while the French Charlemagne-class was marginally faster and also mounted 12-inch guns.
Still, until the Germans ordered their Nassau-class dreadnoughts in 1906, the Brandenburgers carried the largest guns in the fleet, as subsequent linienschiff only toted 9.4-inch or the same 11-inch guns as they did, and in smaller quantities. This left them popular for a decade. During that time, the class of sisters waved the flag as a quartet, forming the 1st Division under Konteradmiral Richard von Geißler, and sailed as a group for China in 1900 to exercise gunboat diplomacy using the Boxer Rebellion as a pretext.
Think of them as Kaiser Willy’s low-budget version of the Great White Fleet.
The Germans published and widely circulated many very nice period postcards and lithographs on the class which serve as classic maritime art today.
Although they were substantially modernized after their return from China (a second conning tower added, some torpedo tubes removed, boilers replaced, fire control upgraded etc.) the writing was on the wall for these dated bruisers, especially after the epic slaughter of pre-dreadnoughts observed during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. Shifted to the II Squadron and then the III Squadron, by 1910 they were listed as part of the Reserve Division.
Brandenburg and Worth were then relegated to training duties, passing in and out of ordinary, and later would form part of V Battle Squadron for coastal defense during WWI.
Meanwhile, with Berlin courting the Ottoman Empire, Germany made a deal to sell the two sisters with Harvey armor– Weissenburg and Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm— to the Turks in September-October 1910. Payment for the two battleships and four companion German-built destroyers amounted to 25 million marks. As the Germans paid about 10 million marks for each of the Brandenburgers‘ construction when new, they got the better end of the deal.
When compared to the rest of the Sultan’s fleet, whose most impressive vessel was the old (c.1874) 9,000-ton coastal defense battleship Messudiyeh and two Anglo-American protected cruisers– Medjidie (Mecidiye) and Hamidie (Hamidiye) — picked up around the turn of the century, the gently-used German battleships were the best things in the Turkish fleet until German Admiral Wilhelm Souchon showed up in 1914 (more on him later).
As the two German battleships required more than 1,800 sailors to crew them– a figure the Turks simply did not have– they were undermanned and filled with often raw recruits from the Empire’s maritime provinces. Within just a few years the lack of trained NCOs and officers meant the two ships had boilers and pipes that were broken, phones that no longer worked, and rangefinders and ammo hoists that could not be operated effectively.
Renamed Torgud Reis and Barbaros Hayreddin, respectively, after famous Ottoman admirals, they sailed for Constantinople just in time to see service against the Italians (then nominal German allies) and against the combined Greek-Bulgarian-Rumanian-Serbo-Montenegrin forces in the series of Balkan Wars, providing artillery support to Ottoman ground forces in Thrace and throwing shells at Greek ships during the ineffective naval skirmishes at Battle of Elli and Lemnos.
Unfortunately for the Turks, both of their new-to-them German battleships got the short end of the stick against the Greek’s Italian-built armored cruiser Georgios Averof and her companions and were peppered with shells in each of their meetings with the Hellenic Navy, leaving them in poor shape just two years after delivery. Due to a low number of 280mm shells available, most of the rounds fired by the ships in their career were from 150mm and 120mm secondary guns. At the Battle of Elli on 16 December 1912, Torgut Rus suffered 8 killed and 20 wounded. At the Battle of Lemnos on 18 January 1913, the Greeks inflicted another 9 killed and 49 wounded on our subject’s crew.
With little time to lick their wounds, the Ottomans were sucked into World War I on the German side, largely due to the machinations of the aforementioned Adm. Souchon, who showed up with the SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau at Constantinople just after the balloon went up with the British hot on his heels. Donning fez and raising an Ottoman crescent banner, Souchon on his own went on to raid the Russian coast in the Black Sea under the pretext of being in the Sultan’s navy, an act that brought the “Sick Man of Europe” into the hospice care of a conflict it could never hope to survive.
Nonetheless, both Torgud Reis and Barbaros Hayreddin managed to give a good account of themselves in the Dardanelles Campaign, shelling ANZAC troops along Gallipoli and dodging Allied submarines and battleships. Speaking of which, Barbaros Hayreddin was dispatched by a single torpedo from Royal Navy HMS E11, which had penetrated the Sea of Marmara, in August 1915, taking half her crew with her.
Her biggest contribution to the war would seem to come when she tied to Goeben/Yavuz on a rough day for the Turks in January 1918 during the Battle of Imbros and pull the stranded battlecruiser off Nagara Point before the Allies could kill her, as such preserving a fleet in being for the rest of the conflict.
For more on the Ottoman Navy of that period, click here for an excellent essay.
When the war ended, Torgud Reis was in exceptionally poor condition, lacking parts and shells, still suffering from damages inflicted in her wars with the Balkan states as well as a turret explosion in 1915. Following the Armistice of Mudros in October 1918 and the resulting Allied occupation of Constantinople– the first time the city had changed hands since 1453– the Ottoman fleet was disarmed and interned under British guns.
In the controversial Treaty of Sevres, signed on 10 August 1920, the victorious Allies divided the Ottoman fleet among the victors, with Britain to receive the ripest fruit including Yavuz Sultân Selîm (ex-Goeben), Hamidiye, Mecidiye, Muavenet-i, Millet, Numene, Tasoz, Basra, and Samsun. The French, Greeks and others were to split the destroyers Berk-i Efsan, Pelagni Deria, Zuhaf Peyk-i Sevket, and Nusret.
The Japanese, who never fired a shot at the Turks in anger as far as I can tell, was to get Torgud Reis. In fairness to the Emperor, it should be noted that the Japanese sent two squadrons of cruisers and destroyers to the Med in 1917-18 for escort duties for troop transports and anti-submarine operations, which included the destroyer Sakaki getting damaged by a torpedo from the Austro-Hungarian submarine U 27 off Crete.
Needless to say, the Japanese, who picked up the much nicer Jutland-veteran dreadnoughts SMS Nassau and SMS Oldenburg as well as the cruiser Augsburg and five destroyers from the Germans as reparations in the Treaty of Versailles– only to sell them for scrap– never took over the leaky and busted Torgud Reis.
Regardless, the Sevres pact never took effect, as the Greeks and Turks both balked at it although for different reasons, which in turn led to the milder Treaty of Lausanne, signed on 24 July 1923, that allowed the Turks to keep their ancient fleet. The treaty came into force on 6 August 1924 and soon after, Torguid Reis was refitted at the Gölcük Naval Shipyard through 1925 then returned to service as an armed training ship, still with at least two of her 11.1-inch guns working while two of her other turrets were removed and mounted ashore in concrete on the Asian coast of the Dardanelles as a coastal artillery battery.
Meanwhile, her two sisters still in Germany, Brandenburg, and Worth, were scrapped in Danzig just after the war.
Torgud Reis remained on active duty until at least 1933 and endured as an accommodations hulk for another two decades past that date, only being broken in the late 1950s. With that, I believe she was one of the final 19th Century pre-dreadnoughts left, as the USS Kearsarge (BB-5) which was converted to a heavy-crane ship in 1920, had been scrapped in 1955; and the hulk of the ex-USS Oregon (BB-3), which had been used as an ammunition barge at Guam until 1948, was scrapped in 1956. An honorable mention goes to the USS Illinois (BB-7), who was commissioned in 1901, disarmed in 1923, and ultimately sold for scrap in 1956. Only Togo’s Mikasa, which has been preserved as a museum ship at Yokosuka since 1923, remains of the era. Dewey’s 1898-era protected cruiser Olympia, remains as an honorable mention.
Nonetheless, the two turrets removed from Torgud Reis in 1925 and repurposed into coastal artillery, still endure, which counts for something.
Further, the Internationales Maritimes Museum in Hamburg has a set of very well done 1:100/1:250 scale models of the Brandenburgers by master model maker Thomas Klünemann on public display, keeping the memory of the class alive in their former homeland.
Displacement:10,670 t (10,500 long tons)
Length: 379 ft 7 in
Beam: 64 ft 0 in
Draft: 24 ft 11 in
Installed power: 10,000 ihp (7,500 kW)
Propulsion: 2-shaft triple expansion engines
Speed: 16.9 knots
Range: 4,300 nautical miles at 10 knots on 1050 tons coal
530 enlisted men
4 × 28 cm (11 in) MRK L/40 caliber guns (two removed 1925)
2 × 28 cm (11 in) MRK L/35 caliber guns (removed 1925)
8 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK L/35 guns
8 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/30 guns
5 × 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes (1 bow, 4 beam) (removed 1910)
Belt: 400 mm (15.7 in)
Barbettes: 300 millimeters (11.8 in)
Deck: 60 millimeters (2.4 in)
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