Moltke Class battlecruisers

The Moltke class of battlecruisers were a significant improvement on the already impressive von der Tann, the first such ship produced for the German navy. Work on the new design was well underway by May 1907, ten months before work began on the construction of the von der Tann. The new ships were designed to satisfy the same requirements as the earlier ship, for a fast cruiser capable of acting independently, while also able to join the line of battle in any clash with the British battle fleet. As a result they were much better armoured than their British equivalents (and slightly better than von der Tann).

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

Although the General Navy Department wanted to use eight larger guns, they were overruled and the Moltke class ships were armed with ten 11.1in guns. These were carried in five turrets – one fore, two echeloned amidships and a superfiring pair at the rear. These guns were capable of firing 3 salvoes per minute (at least once the correct range had been found). The two ships carried 810 shells, enough for 80 full salvoes (or twenty six minutes of firing at full speed).

Like von der Tann, the Moltke class battlecruisers carried two sizes of secondary armament, with twelve 5.9in and twelve 3.45in (88mm) guns carried in addition to their main guns. In contrast the British battlecruisers carried a single calibre of secondary guns (4in on the Indefatigable class). During the war most of the 88mm guns were removed, and some were replaced with 88mm Flak L/45 anti-aircraft guns.

SMS Goeben
SMS Goeben

The two ships were built to the same design to reduce the amount of strain on the Navy’s design departments, already very busy designing Germany’s dreadnoughts. Both were built by Blohm & Voss, who gained the contract for the second ship after making a very low bid to build the first ship. Despite this, they each cost over 40 million marks – if the cruiser is defined as the largest ship a country can afford to build in large numbers, then these were most definitely not cruisers!

SMS Moltke, c.1914-1917
SMS Moltke, c.1914-1917

Plans of Moltke Class Battlecruisers
Plans of Moltke Class Battlecruisers

As with the von der Tann the Moltke class cruisers carried heavier armour than their British equivelents, more widely spread around the ship. Their belt was 10.7in thick around the central citadel and 4in thick outside it, at a time when the British battlecruisers had at best 6in armour. When the two types of battlecruisers clashed at Jutland, this difference in belt armour would not in fact be decisive. The fighting took place at long range, with shells hitting the armoured decks from above. In neither case was the deck or turret armour adequate, and both British and German ships would suffer damaging blows to their turrets. The key difference was that by 1916 the Germans had improved their cordite handling routines, preventing the resulting fires reaching their magazines.

SMS Goeben was sent to the Mediterranean in 1912 to protect German interests during the Balkan Wars. She was still there when the First World War broke out, with the light cruiser Breslau. After bombarding the French Algerian ports of Bone and Philippeville, they evaded a force of British battlecruisers, reaching the Dardanelles on 10 August. The two German ships were then offered to Turkey, to be manned and officers by German officers. They spend most of the war operating in the Black Sea, before making one final sortie into the Aegean in January 1918. After the war the Goeben was officially handed over to Turkey, surviving until 1971.

SMS Moltke had a rather more traditional career, serving with the Reconnaissance Forces of the Grand Fleet during the war. She fought at Dogger Bank and Jutland, surviving both in good condition. She also survived a torpedoing in August 1915. In April 1918, during a sortie against the British Scandinavian convoys she suffered serious engine damage after a propeller flew off, and was then torpedoed while under tow. Although she survived the experience, she was out of action from April until early September. The Moltke was amongst the German ships scuttled at Scapa Flow on 19 June 1919. 

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





Ships in Class

SMS Moltke
SMS Goeben

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), Moltke Class battlecruisers ,

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