Mackensen class battlecruisers

The four ships of the Mackensen class were almost the last battlecruisers to be laid down in Germany during the First World War and contained the last such ships to come close to being completed. Only two of them were launched during the war, and neither of them was completed. Work on their design began in 1913, and all four were laid down in 1915. Under peace time conditions it would have taken three years for them to come into action, so both the Mackensen and the Ersatz Freya would have joined the fleet early in 1918, but under wartime conditions their construction was delayed.

The Mackensen class ships were designed to carry eight 13.8in guns, making them the most powerfully armed battlecruisers yet designed for the German Navy. They were given the most power machinery of any German capital ships that began construction – a mix of thirty two coal and oil firing boilers, providing 90,000shp.

One ship of this class was ordered under the 1914-15 programme, one under the War estimates and five in April 1915. Three of the last five were later modified to form the Ersatz Yorck Class, armed with 15in guns, but only one of these ships was ever laid down, and work stopped after only 1,000 of its 33,000 tons had been assembled.

Despite never actually entering service, the Mackensen did have an impact on British planning. In January 1918 Admiral Beatty recommended that the Grand Fleet abandon its previous strategy of attempting to bring the enemy to battle at any cost, and replace it with one of containing the German fleet in its bases. One of the reasons for this change of plan was that the British believed that the Mackensen was already in service, giving the Germans a six to three advantage in high quality battlecruisers.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



8,000 nautical miles at 14kts

Armour – deck


 - belt


 - bulkheads


 - battery


 - barbettes


 - turrets


 - conning tower



731ft 8in


Eight 350mm (13.8in) SK L/45 guns
Twelve 150mm (5.9in) SK L/45 guns
Eight 8.8mm (3.45in) SK L/45 guns
Five 600mm (23.6in) submerged torpedo tubes

Crew complement




Not completed

Ships in class

SMS Mackensen
SMS Ersatz Freya
SMS Graf Spee
SMS Ersatz A

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 November 2007), Mackensen class battlecruisers ,

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