SMS Goeben

SMS Goeben was a Moltke class battlecruiser that spent the First World War operating with the Turkish navy, mostly in the Black Sea. She had been sent to the Mediterranean in October 1912 as part of the German response to the First Balkan War, spending time at Constantinople, Venice, Pola and Naples. She was still in the Mediterranean, with the light cruiser Breslau when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo. Fearing war the commander of the squadron, Admiral Souchon, put into Pola for a refit. Despite only being three years old, the Goeben needed 4,460 new boiler tubes. She would soon benefit from the improved performance this gave.

At the end of July, the Goeben was at Messina. She then received orders to attack the ports about to be used to transfer units of the French army home from North Africa. Accordingly, the Goeben and the Breslau, sailed west, and on 4 August the Goeben bombarded the port of Philipeville, rather too soon to find any French troop ships. 

SMS Goeben
SMS Goeben

Having left Philipeville, the two German ships then ran into the British battlecruisers Indefatigable and Indomitable. War had not yet been declared between Germany and Britain, so the two squadrons warily circled each other, before the Germans continued east at high speed. The British attempted to shadow the German ships, but Goeben’s recent boiler refit meant that she had a significantly higher top speed than either of the British battlecruisers and the Germans soon pulled away. They then returned to Messina to take on more coal, a move that helped hide them from the British, who had decided to stay six miles off the Italian coast after Italy declared her neutrality. From Messina the two German ships escaped east towards Constantinople. This was one option that had not occurred to the British admirals in the Mediterranean, who believed the Dardanelles to be closed to either side after learning that the Turks had laid minefields.

Contrary to German expectations, as the Goeben and the Breslau entered the Aegean, they were denied permission to enter the Dardanelles. After spending a nervous couple of days in the Aegean, Admiral Souchon decided to risk a direct approach, arriving outside the straits at 5pm on 10 August and calling for a pilot. Much to his relief a Turkish steamboat came out and shepherded the two German ships through the straits.

Close view of SMS Goeben
Close view of SMS Goeben

Turkey remained neutral until November 1914. The status of the two German ships remained ambiguous. They remained under the command of Admiral Souchon and were manned by German crews, but were officially offered to the Turks, and flew the Turkish flag. They were even given Turkish names (the Goeben officially became theYavuz Sultan Selim), but many of their operations had more to do with German than Turkish interests. The most obvious example of this came on 29 October, when apparently without the knowledge of the Turkish government the Goeben bombarded the Russian port of Sevastopol and sank the Russian ship Prut, which may or may not have been a minelayer. The Turkish government responded by passing a motion of neutrality, but on 1 November the Russians declared war on the Ottoman Empire.

Kaiser Wilhelm II meets Enver Pasha on Yavuz Sultan Selim
Kaiser Wilhelm II meets Enver Pasha on Yavuz Sultan Selim

The Goeben spent most of the rest of the war operating in the Black Sea, taking part in a number of inconclusive clashes with the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Amongst them was a short duel with the Russian flagship Evstafi on 18 November, which saw both sides take minor damage. On 26 December the Goeben ran into two mines in the Bosporus, causing damage that kept her out of action until the following spring.

She was back at sea by the end of March, when she was sighted by Russian aircraft at the northern end of the Bosporus. She was also at sea on 3 April supporting an attack on Russian troop ships at Odessa. At the end of the month she made two appearances at the Dardanelles. On 27 April she was fired on by HMS Queen Elizabeth and on 30 April by HMS Lord Nelson, retreating quickly on each occasion.

Her final sortie came in January 1918. By this point the war with Russia was over, and so the new German commander, Vice-admiral von Rebeur-Pachwitz, decided to launch an attack on the British squadron outside the Dardanelles, apparently without Turkish knowledge. The Germans had very limited knowledge of the British minefields outside the straits. A recently captured map marked a number of previously unknown fields, but was itself not inclusive.

SMS Goeben flying the German Naval Jack
SMS Goeben flying
the German Naval Jack

The Goeben and the Breslau got under way at 4.00pm on 19 January. At 3.30am the next morning they exited from the Dardanelles, heading towards a weak British squadron at Kephalo. The first blow came at 6.10am, when the Goeben hit a mine, but without taking much damage. The sortie continued, and at 7.40am the two German ships opened fire on the British monitors Raglan and M 28, quickly sinking them. It was then decided to continue on to Mudros to bombard a more powerful British squadron known to be based there. This move turned out to be disastrous. At 8.30am the Breslau hit a mine. The Goeben attempted to tow her to safety, but at 8.55 hit a mine herself. Four more mines then exploded around the Breslau, and the Germans were forced to abandon her.

The Goeben’s troubles were not over. At 9.48am she hit a third mine, developing a list to port. Finally, at 11.30 she ran aground on Nagara Point (inside the Dardanelles). Here she was save from direct naval attack, but came under repeated attacks from British aircraft and from monitors firing over the Gallipoli peninsula. She was finally towed to safety by the Turkish battleship Turgut Reis at 3.45pm o 26 January. The next day a British submarine managed to get past the defences of the straits, only to find her target gone.

The Goeben was not fully repaired until after the end of the war. She then became fully Turkish property, remaining in service until 1948. She was not fully decommissioned until 1960, surviving until 1971.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



4,120 nautical miles at 14kts

Armour – deck


 - belt


 - bulkheads


 - battery


 - barbettes


 - turrets


 - conning tower



611ft 11in


Ten 280mm (11.1in) SKL/50 guns
Twelve 150mm (5.9in) SKL/45 guns
Twelve 88mm (3.45in) SKL/45 guns
Four 500mm (19.7in) submerged torpedo tubes

Crew complement

1053 normal
1355 at Jutland


28 March 1911


28 August 1912

Broken up




Kapitän zur See Phillip


Kapitän zur See Richard Ackerman


Kapitän zur See Stoelzel


Korvettenkapitän Lampe

British and German Battlecruisers - Their Development and Operations, Michele Cosentino & Ruggero Stanglini. A useful volume that covers the development, design and construction of British and German battlecruisers, their wartime deployments and both side's plans for the next generation of battlecruisers, of which only HMS Hood was ever completed. Having all of this material in a single volume gives a much better overview of the two Navy's battlecruisers, their advantages and flaws, and their performance in and out of battle. Concludes with a look at other nation's battlecruisers and battlecruiser designs [read full review]
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German Battlecruisers 1914-1918, Gary Staff. This book gives a very good history of each of the seven Battlecruisers that served with the Germany navy during the First World War, looking at the reasons they were built the way they were, the details of their construction, and their service careers before and during the war [see more]
cover cover cover

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 November 2007), SMS Goeben ,

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