Nassau class battleships

The Nassau class battleships were the first dreadnoughts built in German. The completion of HMS Dreadnought, with its all-big-gun armament and turbine engines made all previous battleships effectively obsolete.

The appearance of the Dreadnought caused a brief gap in the laying down of new German battleships, between the last of the Deutschland class (SMS Schleswig-Holstein) in 1905 and the start of construction on the Nassau class in the summer of 1907. The three year lag between the ships being laid down and entering service was the same as for the previous class, and only looks sluggish compared to the record breaking thirteen months taken for Dreadnought.

The Nassau class ships were a big improvement on the previous Deutschland class, but were not quite as advanced as their British contemporaries. The arrangement of the big guns, with one turret on the centre line fore and aft, and two on each side, meant they could only fire eight of their twelve guns in broadside. The Dreadnought and succeeded British ships carried six guns on the centre line with only four in side turrets, and could also fire an eight gun broadside with only ten guns, a significant saving in weight. The Nassau class ships also carried smaller main guns than the British (11.1in compared to 12in), but this difference was largely negated by the higher quality of German armour penetrating shells.

The Nassau class were powered by triple expansion engines, which provided 22,000ihp, giving them a speed of 19.5kts, a one knot increase over the Deutschland class. In contrast the turbines in the Dreadnought provided 23,000shp, the rough equivalent of 25,000ihp, giving her a speed of 21kts. 

The four Nassau class battleships made up half of the First Squadron of the High Seas Fleet during the First World War. They were all present at the battle of Jutland. Posen escaped without damage, and none were hit by the main British guns. Four smaller projectiles did hit them, hitting the forward funnels and searchlights, killing 23 and wounding 44 (Rheinland 10 killed and 20 wounded, Nassau11 and 16 and Westfalen 2 and 8 respectively).

Plans of Nassau Class Dreadnought Battleships
Plans of Nassau Class Dreadnought Battleships

All four ships survived the war intact, although Westfalen survived being torpedoed by E 23 on 19 August 1916 and Rheinland was badly damaged when she ran aground late in the war. They were broken up between 1921 and 1924.

Displacement loaded


Top Speed


Armour – belt


 - bulkheads


 - battery


 - barbettes


 - turrets


 - conning tower



479ft 4in


Twelve 11.1in guns
Twelve 5.9in guns
Sixteen 3.45in guns
Six 17.7in submerged torpedo tubes

Crew complement

1,008 normal
1,124 for battle





Ships in class

SMS Nassau
SMS Westfalen
SMS Rheinland
SMS Posen

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 September 2007), Nassau class battleships,

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