SMS Von der Tann

SMS von der Tann was the first German battlecruiser, and is widely accepted to have been a much more successful design than her British equivalents. She carried 50% more armour than the Indefatigable class battlecruisers (5,693 tons compared to 3,735 tons) without sacrificing speed. At the battle of Jutland she destroyed the British battlecruiser Indefatigable, while herself taking four serious hits.

Contrary to popular believe, the von der Tann did not sacrifice firepower to gain her extra armour protection. Eight German 12in guns would have only added 80 tons to the weight of her guns. Partly because of her battery of 5.9in guns, the armaments of the von der Tann actually weighed more than those of the British Indefatigable class. The 1,958 tons for the extra armour on von der Tann came from a combination of a lighter hull (1,000 tons), lighter machinery (600t) and an overall increase of 350 tons in weight. Her design would suggest that the British did not need to sacrifice quite so much armour to achieve the desired combination of firepower and speed.

SMS Von der Tann soon after completion
SMS Von der Tann
soon after completion

Plans of SMS Von der Tann
Plans of
SMS Von der Tann

The real motivation for the choice of 11.1in guns for von der Tann would appear to have been cost. The Naval budget was already stretched close to the limit by the need to build a fleet of dreadnoughts and so plans to use 12in or 13.8in guns were abandoned. The 11.1in guns proved to be perfectly capable of taking on the more lightly armed British battlecruisers, but they gave the von der Tann a broadside weight of 5,238lbs, compared to the 6,800lbs of the Invincible and Indefatigable class battlecruisers or the 7,144lbs offered by the main German 12in guns.

The saving in machinery weight came from the use of 18 Schultz-Thornycroft double boilers, which provided almost the same level of power as the 32 Babcock and Wilcox used on the Indefatigable ships.

During the First World War the von der Tann took part in the Gorleston Raid of 3 November 1914 and the raid on the Yorkshire coast of 16 December, bombarding Scarborough and Whitby. On 25 December she was damaged in a collision with another cruiser in the Schilling Roads while the German fleet was attempting to put to sea at high speed to catch the British ships that had just launched a seaplane attack on the Cuxhaven Zeppelin sheds. This damage meant that she missed the battle of Dogger Bank.

At Jutland the von der Tann became involved in a duel with the British battlecruiser Indefatigable. The duel began at 3.49pm, and at 4.03, after taking five 11.1in hits, the Indefatigable exploded. It is generally accepted that flash from one of the German hits reached her magazine.

SMS Von der Tann mid war
SMS Von der Tann mid war

The von der Tann was hit four times herself. The first hit came at 4.09, when she was hit by a 15in shell from HMS Barham of the 5th Battle Squadron. This hit penetrated her hull below the waterline letting 600 tons of water in. The second and third hits were scored by 13.5in shells from HMS Tiger. The first, at 4.23, knocked out C turret and damaged the starboard rudder engine room while the second, at 4.51, knocked out the A turret. B turret was also out of action, and half an hour later D turret failed, leaving the von der Tann without any of her main guns for over two hours.

The final hit came during the brief fight between the battleships. At 7.19 she was hit by a 15in shell from HMS Revenge, which knocked out her aft conning tower. By that time one turret was already back in use, and by the end of the battle D, B and C turrets had all been repaired. The von der Tann suffered 11 dead and 35 wounded during the battle, and was out of action until the end of July.

After Jutland the von der Tann was involved in most of the remaining sorties of the High Seas Fleet. She was one of the German ships interned at Scapa Flow after the war, and was scuttled by her crew on 21 June 1919.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



4,400 nautical miles at 14kts

Armour – deck


 - belt


 - bulkheads


 - battery


 - barbettes


 - turrets


 - conning tower





Eight 280mm (11.1in) SKL/45 guns
Ten 150mm (5.9in) SKL/45 guns
Sixteen 88mm (3.45in) SKL/45 guns
Four 450mm (17.7in) submerged torpedo tubes

Crew complement

923 normal
1174 at Jutland


20 March 1909


20 February 1911


21 June 1919



Kapitan zur See Mischke


Kapitan zur See Hahn


Kapitan zur See Zenker


Kapitan zur See Mommsen


Kapitan zur See Karl Feldmann

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 November 2007), SMS Von der Tann,

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