SMS Moltke

SMS Moltke was the nameship of the Moltke class of battlecruisers, the second general of battlecruisers built for the German navy. She was a distinctive improvement on the already impressive von der Tann, carrying ten guns and reasonably heavy armour but still able to reach high speeds. She was commissioned for trials on 30 September 1911, and achieved a top speed of 28.4kts on the measured mile, where her engines produced 85,780shp.

The Molkte served as Admiral Hipper’s flagship until June 1914, when he transferred his flag to the Seydlitz. Plans to sent her to the Far East or to the Mediterranean came to nothing, and she was with the Grand Fleet at the start of the First World War. She took part in the Gorleston raid of November 1914 and the attack on Hartlepool on 16 December. There she was hit by one 6in shell from the coastal guns. She took part in the battle of Dogger Bank (24 January 1915), where she briefly came under fire from HMS Lion and HMS Princess Royal but without being hit by either ship.

SMS Moltke, c.1914-1917
SMS Moltke,

In August 1915 she was part of the German squadron sent to the Baltic to support an attack on the Gulf of Riga. On 19 August she was torpedoed by E 1, one of two British submarines then operating in the Baltic. The torpedo hit her by the bow torpedo room, killing eight and letting 435 tons of water into the ship, but she was still able to make 15kt under her own power.

At the battle of Jutland she was part of I AG (the 1st Reconnaissance Group). In the first phase of the battle she hit HMS Tiger thirteen times, while taking four hits herself (from the Tiger and the New Zealand). The first hit knocked out one of the 15cm guns and caused most of the 16 dead and 20 wounded she suffered during the battle. Just after 9.00pm Admiral Hipper transferred his flag to the Moltke after spending some hours in a destroyer. An earlier attempt to transfer to the Moltke had failed because she was under too heavy a fire to risk stopping.  

During 1917 the Moltke took part in the successful attack on the Baltic islands (October), acting as the flagship of Vice-admiral Ehrhard Schmidt. She was also present at the second battle of Heligoland Bight (17 November 1917), but didn’t come into action.

Moltke salutes USS Louisiana (BB-19), 1912
Moltke salutes USS Louisiana (BB-19), 1912

The most serious damage suffered by Moltke was accidental. On 23-24 April 1918 the High Seas Fleet made its last large scale sortie of the war, an attempt to attack the British Scandinavian convoys. Early on the morning of 24 April the starboard inner propeller flew off. Relieved of the weight of the propeller and the water resistance it provided, the turbine speed up disastrously. The wheel of the engine turning gear disintegrated and fragments from it caused more damage. Most seriously the outlet pipe of the auxiliary condenser was wrecked, allowing 2000 tons of sea water into the ship, flooding the middle engine room and switchboard. The boilers were polluted with salt water, and the engines had to be stopped. Divers had to be sent down to close the outer valves. The Moltke was then taken under tow, while her engines were repaired.

At 5.10pm the next day her engines were running again, and she was able to make way on her own power. At 7.37 she was torpedoed by the British submarine E 42. 1,761 tons of water flooded in and her speed was reduced to 4kts. She was towed to safety by tugs, but was out of action until 9 September. The Moltke was one of the 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


July April 1910


31 March 1912


21 June 1919



Kapitän zur See Ritter von Mann Edler von Tiechler


Kapitän zur See Magnus von Levetzow


Kapitän zur See von Karpf


Kapitän zue See Gygas


Korvettankapitän Hans Humann
& Korvettankapitän Schirmacher


Kapitänleutnant Crelinger

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 (18 November 2007), SMS Moltke ,

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