SMS Derfflinger

SMS Derfflinger was the nameship of the Derfflinger class of battlecruisers, widely considered to be the best battlecruisers of the First World War. She fought at Dogger Bank and at Jutland, where she was badly damaged but survived.

SMS Derfflinger sinking, 21 June 1919
SMS Derfflinger
sinking, 21 June 1919

Perhaps rather disappointingly, the Derfflinger was named after Georg Reichsfreiherr von Derfflinger, a Brandenburg general of the seventeenth century. She entered service in November 1914, sixteen months before her sister ship Lützow. They had been laid down and launched four months apart, but at different shipyards. Derfflinger was built by Blohm & Voss at Hamburg, the same firm that had built every previous German battlecruiser, while the Lützow was built by Schichau at Danzig.

Soon after entering service the Derfflinger took part in the raid on the Yorkshire coast (16 December 1914), taking part in the bombardment of Scarborough and of Whitby.

She took part in the battle of Dogger Bank (24 January 1915). In the first phase of that battle she was not the target of any of the British battlecruisers, allowing her to fire undisturbed on the Lion. She caused much of the damage suffered by Admiral Beatty’s flagship, and in return was directly hit once when a 13.5mm shell burst on the main belt of armour. She was back in action by 14 February.

The same thing happened at the start of the battle of Jutland. For ten minutes the Derfflinger was not the target of any of Beatty’s battlecruisers, and was able to fire undisturbed. This error was soon rectified, and by 4.00pm she was under fire. Her first target was the Princess Royal, but her first victim was the Queen Mary. At 4.26 that ship exploded after being the target of both the Derfflinger and the Seydlitz.

Damage suffered by SMS Derfflinger at Jutland
Damage suffered by SMS Derfflinger at Jutland

At the start of the second phase of the battle the Derfflinger became involved in a battle with HMS Invincible, the flagship of Admiral Hood. At first the Invincible had the better of the battle, inflicting some serious damage on the Derfflinger, but at 6.30 a shell from either the Derfflinger or the König triggered an explosion that destroyed the British battlecruiser.

The Derfflinger took most damage during the second “battle turn away”, when Admiral Scheer was forced to order his battlecruisers to launch an apparently suicidal attack on the British fleet in order to cover the main battle fleet. The Derfflinger was hit nine times between 7.14 and 7.20, and had D and C turrets put out of action. Her fire control gear was knocked out and she was on fire. She only survived because Scheer was able to signal an end to the battlecruiser attack after the success of the second turn away. She came under fire again at 8.15, and was probably only saved by the action of the squadron of pre-dreadnought battleships, which stood its ground while the wounded battlecruisers escaped to safety.

The crew of the Derfflinger suffered 157 dead and 26 wounded, the highest number of casualties for any ship that survived the battle on either side. She took on 3,000 tons of water, and needed four and a half months worth of repairs. She was finally back at sea by mid-October, and rejoined the fleet in November 1916. She took part in most of the remaining sorties of the High Seas Fleet, including the final major sortie on 23-24 April 1918, an unsuccessful attempt to attack the ships escorting a Scandinavian convoy. After the war she was interned at Scapa Flow, and scuttled by her crew on 21 June 1919.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



5,600 nautical miles at 14kts

Armour – deck


 - belt


 - bulkheads


 - battery


 - barbettes


 - turrets


 - conning tower



690ft 3in


Eight 305mm (12in) SK L/50 guns
Twelve 150mm (5.9in) SK L/45 guns
Four 8.8mm (3.45in) SK L/45 guns
Four 500mm (19.7in) submerged torpedo tubes

Crew complement

1112 normal
1391 at Jutland


1 July 1913


November 1914


21 June 1919



Kapitän zur See von Reuter


Kapitän zur See Heinrich


Kapitän zur See Johannes Hartog


Kapitän zur See von Schlick


Kapitän zur See Walter Hidebrand


Korvettenkapitän Pastuszyk

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]
cover cover cover
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 (19 November 2007), SMS Derfflinger ,

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