Derfflinger class battlecruisers

The two Derfflinger class battlecruisers were amongst the most powerful warships to see service in the First World War. They were better armed and better armoured than their predecessors, while still maintaining a good top speed. However, at Jutland the Lützow became the only German battlecruiser to be lost in combat, after suffering serious flooding.

Work on the Derfflinger class battlecruisers began in April 1910 when the General Navy Department was asked to decide what features the new ships would need. They decided to change the main armament from ten 11.1in guns to eight 12in guns, in response to an increase in the thickness of the armour on British battleships. These guns were carried in two pairs of superfiring turrets, fore and aft. At first they were to be powered by a mix of diesel engines and turbines, but the diesel engines were not yet reliable enough for use in such important ships, and they reverted to a four turbine arrangement. Detailed design work began in October 1910, and took two years to complete. The new ships were made longer 33 feet long than the previous battlecruiser, SMS Seydlitz, given a flush-deck and a pronounced sheer, which gave them a distinctive and elegant profile.

As with earlier German battlecruisers, the Derfflinger class ships were better armoured than their British equivalents. Once again this was not at the expense of firepower – in fact a slightly higher percentage of the weight of the German ships was devoted to her guns – but came from the use of lighter machinery and a lighter hull construction. On the Derfflinger class ships this was achieved by used longitudinal frames for the entire structure rather than a mix of longitudinal and transverse frames.

In many respects these ships were fast battleships rather than cruisers of any sort. They were as well armoured as the Nassau and Helgoland class battleships, and had a better arrangement of guns than the Kaiser class battleships. Only the König and Bayern class ships were clearly more powerful than these two battlecruisers.

SMS Derfflinger took part in the raids on Scarborough and Whitby in December 1914 and the battle of Dogger Bank (24 January 1915). There she was hit by either one (German sources) or three shells (British sources), but without taking serious damage. At Jutland she was hit 21 times, losing both of her rear turrets, and suffering 157 dead and 26 wounded, the worse casualties on either side for a ship that survived the battle. She was out of action until November. After the war she was interned at Scapa Flow, and scuttled by her crew on 21 June 1919.

SMS Lützow was the only German battlecruiser to be lost in battle. She entered service two months before the battle of Jutland, where she was responsible for the destruction of HMS Invincible but took heavy damage herself. This caused uncontrollable flooding, and although she remained afloat at the end of the battle, it soon became clear that she would not reach port, and so the Germans sank her themselves.

The two Derfflinger class ships were followed by two half-sisters. SMS Hindenburg was slightly longer but otherwise similar. She entered service in October 1917, too late to make any real contribution to the war. SMS Mackensen was to have been the first member of a four-ship class. The British believed that she was in service by the start of 1918, but in fact she was never completed.

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


Eight 305mm (12in) SK L/50 guns
Fourteen 150mm (5.9in) SK L/45 guns
Four 600mm (23.6in) submerged torpedo tubes

Crew complement

1112 normal
1391 at Jutland





Ships in class

SMS Derfflinger
SMS Lützow

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), Derfflinger class battlecruisers ,

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