SMS Dresden

The SMS Dresden was the name ship of the Dresden class of light cruisers built as part of the German 1905-06 naval programme (along with the more famous SMS Emden). The Dresden was laid down in 1907, launched in October of that year and completed in November 1908. Although the Dresden had more advanced engines than the Emden (Parsons turbines in the Dresden compared to a Vertical Expansion Engine in the Emden), she was only half a knot quicker than her sister ship, and had a slightly shorter cruising range (3,700 nautical miles compared to 3,760). Nor was she the first German cruiser to use turbines – the light cruiser SMS Lübeck of 1904 also used turbines.

SMS Dresden showing the white flag, Chile, 14 March 1915
SMS Dresden showing
the white flag, Chile,
14 March 1915

In 1914 the Dresden was present in the Caribbean, playing a role in the international response to the Mexican revolution. At the outbreak of the First World War she sailed down the east coast of South American and through the Magellan Straits into the Pacific. There she joined up with another light cruiser, the Leipzig, and then in October 1914 with Admiral von Spee’s cruiser squadron, joining them at Easter Island.

Von Spee’s radio messages organizing the rendezvous had been intercepted by the British. The British South American Squadron, under Admiral Cradock, sailed from the South Atlantic into the Pacific. There von Spee was able to ambush them, sinking two of Cradock’s ships (Battle of Coronel, 1 November 1914).

After Coronel, von Spee continued with his original plan to move into the South Atlantic. On 8 December he launched a raid on the British coaling station on the Falkland Islands. There he found the British squadron that had been sent south catch him, led by the battle cruisers HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible (Battle of the Falklands). In the ensuing fight, four of von Spee’s five ships were sunk. Only the Dresden escaped, possibly because her turbine engines had held up to the stresses of a long period at sea better than the older engines in his other light cruisers.

SMS Dresden at New York, pre First World War
SMS Dresden at New York, pre First World War

The Dresden survived for another four months, before she was trapped by a British squadron of three ships at the Chilean island of Mas a Fuera (14 March 1915). After a short bombardment the captain of the Dresden raised a white flag and negotiations began (the German negotiator was the then Lieutenant Wihelm Canaris, better known as Admiral Canaris, the Chief of German Counter-intelligence during the Second World War). Once the crew were safely off the ship, the Dresden was scuttled to avoid capture. Her crew spent the rest of the war interned in Chile.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



3,600 nautical miles at 14kts

Deck Armour


Conning Tower Armour

100mm/ 4inch


50mm/ 2 inch


386ft 10in


Ten 4.1in guns
Eight 2in guns
Two 17.7in submerged torpedo tubes on beam

Crew complement



5 October 1907


14 March 1915

German Commerce Raiders 1914-18, Ryan K. Noppen. Looks at the surface vessels that operated against Allied shipping during the First World War, a mix of warships, converted liners and converted freighters, including one fully masted sailing ship. Although nowhere near as successful as the later U-boat campaign, these surface ships did embarrass the Royal Navy, especially early in the war, and forced the diversion of sizeable RN and Allied naval forces, so they are well worth studying [read full review]
cover cover cover

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 August 2007), SMS Dresden,

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