SMS Gneisenau

The SMS Gneisenau was a Scharnhorst class heavy cruiser, one of the last of that type built by Germany before the emergence of the battlecruiser. The Gneisenau and her sister ship the Scharnhorst were not considered suitable for the fleet cooperation role, having limited armour protection, but they did carry considerably more firepower than earlier German cruisers, with eight 8.2in guns, double the number carried on the previous Roon or Prinz Adalbert class heavy cruisers.

The Gneisenau compared well to the older British cruisers that she would encounter at the battle of Coronel. Only one, the Good Hope, with two 9.2in guns, could outrange her 8.2in guns, while the best the rest of the British squadron could offer were 6in guns.

From 1911 the Gneisenau and the Scharnhorst were the station ships at the German colony of Tsingtao. At the outbreak of the First World War they were part of the East Asian Squadron under Admiral von Spee. His first priority was to escape into the south Pacific, away from the powerful Japanese fleet and the British cruisers on the China station, HMS Minotaur and HMS Defence, which outgunned him.

Von Spee did not have much success in the South Pacific and so decided to head into the South Atlantic. That brought his expanded squadron of five ships (Gneisenau, Scharnhorst, Liepzig, Dresden and Nürnberg) into contact with the British South American Squadron under Admiral Cradock. At the Battle of Coronel von Spee inflicted the first defeat on the Royal Navy for a century. The bigger guns on the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst outranged all but two guns in the British squadron. Two British heavy cruisers, the Monmouth and Good Hope were sunk with all hands.

The Gneisenau did not survive her triumph for long. On 8 December 1914 Admiral von Spee attacked the British coaling station on the Falkland Islands. There he discovered the British battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible. In the ensuing battle of the Falklands four of the five German ships were sunk (only the light cruiser Dresden escaped). Gneisenau survived longer than the Scharnhorst but was eventually scuttled by her crew. Only 190 of her 764 crew survived to be picked up by the British.

Displacement (loaded)

12,781t

Top Speed

23.5kts

Armour – belt

4in

 - turret

6in

 - deck

2in at thickest

Length

474ft 9in

Armaments

Eight 8.2in guns
Six 5.9in
Eighteen 3.5in
Four machine guns
Four 17.7in torpedo tubes

Crew complement

764

Launched

14 June 1906

Completed

6 March 1908

Sunk

8 December 1914

 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (22 August 2007), SMS Gneisenau , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_SMS_Gneisenau.html

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