Pillau class light cruisers

The two Pillau class light cruisers had been ordered by the Russian Navy in 1912. They were under construction at the F. Schichau yard at Danzig when war broke out – the future Pillau had already been launched, and Elbing was not far behind. The two almost completed ships were seized by the Germans, renamed and brought into service.

The original Russian order had been for two cut-down versions of their own Svetlana class cruisers, themselves ordered in 1912 from Russian shipyards. This Russian design was very similar to the line of German cruisers that had begun with the Magdeburg class, launched in 1911. They featured a similar cut-down quarterdeck, allowing them to carry 100 mines. Their eight guns were arranged in the same layout as on the German ships – two fore, two after and two on each side.

They were somewhat smaller than the most recent German cruisers of the Graudenz class (25 feet shorter and 1,130 tons lighter when fully loaded). They lacked the belt armour then standard on German designs, although in places their deck armour reached 3 inches thick.

The Russian design had called for eight 5.1in guns. Once taken into German service they were given eight 5.9in guns, the first German light cruisers to carry that gun instead of the lighter 4.1in gun that had been standard in earlier designs. All later classes would be armed with the 5.9in gun, and many older cruisers would be rearmed with them during the First World War.

Both ships served with the Scouting Forces of the High Seas Fleet during the First World War. Both were present at the battle of Jutland. During the battle Elbing was involved in a collision with the battleship Posen and had to be scuttled.  Pillau was hit once by a British heavy shell, but survived with minor losses (4 dead and 19 wounded). After the war she was given to Italy, where she was renamed the Bari. In Italian service she underwent a refit in 1934-35 and was in the process of being converted into an anti-aircraft cruiser when she was sunk by American bombers during an air raid on Livorno (September 1943).

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed


Armour – deck


 - belt


 - conning tower



443ft 11in

Armaments as built

Eight 5.9in guns
Two 3.45in (88mm) Flak guns
Two 19.7in torpedo tubes on deck
120 mines

Crew complement






Ships in class

SMS Pillau
SMS Elbing

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 September 2007), Pillau class light cruisers , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_pillau_class_cruisers.html

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