Gazelle class light cruisers

The German Gazelle class was the first large class of modern light cruisers. This type of ship was designed to operate with the battle fleet, acting as scouts, leading torpedo attacks and defending the fleet against enemy torpedo boats and destroyers. Earlier small cruisers had also been expected to perform trade protection duties, and had required greater endurance (although the light cruiser was also capable of performing this duty, and many became successful commerce raiders at the start of the First World War).

They appeared at a time when Britain was about to stop building second and third class cruisers, their rough equivalent. Lord Fisher believed that large armoured cruisers (and later battlecruisers) could perform the trade protection duties, and destroyers could act as fleet scouts. In both cases he was mistaken, and Britain soon had to begin constructing their own light cruisers.

The Gazelle class light cruisers began a series of five similar classes. They were armed with ten 4.1in guns, selected because of their high rate of fire. These were designed to deal with torpedo boat attacks, and in 1914 were largely replaced by bigger 6in guns (although not on the Gazelles). The guns were distributed evenly around the ship, with two on the forecastle, two on the quarterdeck and three on each side. The Gazelle class featured a pronounced ram bow, which slowly straightened out over the next four classes.

Nine of the ten Gazelle class cruisers served in the front line during the first half of the First World War. Three were lost during the war: Ariadne was sunk at Dogger Bank (28 August 1914), Undine was torpedoed on 7 November 1915 by the British submarine E 19, then raiding in the Baltic, and Frauenlob was torpedoed during the battle of Jutland.

Of the six survivors, three were scrapped between the wars. Medusa and Arcona were still afloat in 1942, when they were converted into anti-aircraft batteries, carrying eleven AA guns. Both survived the Second World War.

Niobe changed hands several times. In 1925 she was sold to Yugoslavia, where she became the school ship Dalmacija. In 1941 the Italians took her over, as the Cattaro. After the collapse of Italian resistance in 1943, she reverted to German control and to Niobe. She was sunk on 22 December 1943 by British motor torpedo boats.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed


Armour – deck

2in amidships


345ft 1in


Ten 105mm/ 4.1in guns
Ten machine guns
Three 450mm/ 17.7in torpedo tubes

Crew complement






Ships in class

SMS Gazelle
SMS Niobe
SMS Nymphe
SMS Thetis
SMS Ariadne
SMS Amazone
SMS Medusa
SMS Frauenlob
SMS Arcona
SMS Undine

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 September 2007), Gazelle class light cruisers ,

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