SMS Karlsruhe (1912)

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German EmpireGerman Empire (Reichskriegsflagge)
Bundesarchiv DVM 10 Bild-23-61-01, Small cruiser "Karlsruhe" .jpg
Ship data
Construction designation: Replacement sea ​​eagle
Ship type Small cruiser
Ship class Karlsruhe class
Keel laying : September 21, 1911
Launching ( ship christening ): November 11, 1912
Commissioning: January 15, 1914
Builder: Germania shipyard in Kiel, construction
number: 181
Crew: 373 men
Building-costs: 8.1 million gold marks
Fate: Sunk on November 4, 1914
Ship coat of arms: DEU Karlsruhe COA.svg
Technical specifications
Displacement : Construction: 4,900 t
maximum: 6,191 t
Length: KWL : 139 m
over all: 142.2 m
Width: 13.7 m
Draft : 6.2 m
Machinery: 12 coal-fired boilers and 2 oil-fired double-ended boilers
2 set of steam turbines
Power: 37885 PSW
Number of screws: 2 three-leaf Ø 3.5 m
Shaft speed: 444 / min
Top speed: 28.5 kn
Driving range: 5,000 nm at 12 kn
Fuel supply: 400–1,300 t coal and
70–200 t heating oil
Rapid fire cannons
10.5 cm L / 45:
Torpedo tubes Ø 50 cm 2
Frigate Captain Fritz Emil Lüdecke December 1913 - July 26, 1914
Frigate Captain Erich Koehler July 26 - November 4, 1914
The Karlsruhe on August 9, 1914 in San Juan

SMS Karlsruhe was a small cruiser of the German Imperial Navy which was used in the First World War . She was the type ship of the cruiser class named after her, to which SMS Rostock also belonged.


The construction of the cruiser, which bore the household name "Ersatz Seeadler ", began on September 21, 1911 at the Germania shipyard in Kiel. The launch took place on November 11, 1912 . The baptism was carried out by the mayor of the sponsored city of Karlsruhe , Karl Siegrist.

The Karlsruhe was the third German warship with a combined oil and coal firing. Due to some construction delays, it could not be put into service until January 15, 1914. After some modifications and the completion of the test drives, the Karlsruhe left Kiel on June 15, 1914 for her first and last assignment abroad. The commander at that time was frigate captain Fritz Lüdecke .

Prewar trips

The Karlsruhe was intended for the overseas service on the East American station, which had been carried out by the small cruiser Dresden until then . As the German representative, she was to be sent to the opening ceremonies of the recently completed Panama Canal in Veracruz and to the World Exhibition in San Francisco in the fall of 1914 .

Via Ponta Delgada ( Azores ) we first went to Saint Thomas ( Virgin Islands ), where the coal reserves were replenished. After the assassination attempt in Sarajevo, a telegram called for immediate continuation of the journey and for the fastest possible union with Dresden .

On July 4, 1914, the Karlsruhe met with the small cruiser Strasbourg . The latter stayed until July 20, 1914 to protect German interests in the Dominican Republic and to reinforce the Karlsruhe in the Caribbean. The actual station cruiser Dresden was mostly in Veracruz since January 1914 because of the Mexican Civil War . In July, the former Mexican President Victoriano Huerta fled into exile on the Dresden in Jamaica .

On July 25, 1914, the Karlsruhe arrived in the roadstead of Port-au-Prince ( Haiti ). After the arrival of the Dresden the next day, the planned change of commanders was carried out. Frigate captain Erich Köhler took over the command of the Karlsruhe , while frigate captain Fritz Lüdecke moved to the Dresden . Both ships left the roadstead that same afternoon. The Dresden began the journey home, while the Karlsruhe began its service on the East American station. On July 28, 1914, the ship intercepted a radio message that diplomatic relations between Austria-Hungary and Serbia had been broken off. The war was now imminent. At noon, the Karlsruhe arrived in Havana ( Cuba ), where the ship was once again equipped with everything necessary. The cruiser left the next morning in order not to be surprised by the outbreak of war in the port. He was now heading east towards the Atlantic.

First World War

The operations of the Karlsruhe

On August 3, 1914, the cruiser received news of the state of war with France and Great Britain . The Karlsruhe had to wage cruiser warfare in the mid-Atlantic. Accordingly, from that day on the cruiser was ready to march. On August 6, 1914, the steamer Crown Prince Wilhelm of North German Lloyd was met at a previously agreed position east of the Bahamas . He should be equipped as an auxiliary cruiser ; for this purpose, the Karlsruhe gave two 8.8 cm guns and ammunition. The navigation officer of the Karlsruhe , Kapitänleutnant Thierfelder, took over the leadership of the auxiliary cruiser . Both ships were surprised by the British armored cruiser Suffolk while they were being fitted out. The work was stopped immediately and the ships ran on different courses. The Suffolk pursued the Karlsruhe , which, however, was able to escape quickly thanks to its higher speed. Because the Karlsruhe needed oil as well as coal for its maximum voyage, the commander wanted to call at the neutral port of Newport News . This plan failed, however, because the light cruiser Bristol was encountered at around 7:30 p.m. This had received an order by radio to cut off the Karlsruhe route to the north, while the armored cruisers Berwick and Suffolk were to be positioned in the south. During the short battle with the Bristol , the Karlsruhe scored two hits and was able to escape to the east undamaged. Frigate Captain Koehler now decided to run to San Juan ( Puerto Rico ). Karlsruhe arrived there on August 9, 1914 and immediately took over coal. With the support of the crew of the Hapag steamer Odenwald , 550 tons of coal could be taken over in 11 hours. The Karlsruhe departed again the next morning . She managed to escape to the Caribbean through an island passage, which according to the sea manuals was not recommended for larger ships . The Karlsruhe continued to search for seven enemy ships in the Atlantic. After a last stay in Willemstad on Curaçao , she began her pirate voyage.

At sea she met the Hapag steamer Patagonia (3,016 GRT, Captain Kodewey), which had been dispatched from St. Thomas with 2,000 tons of coal and plenty of supplies. The first prize was the British freighter Bowes Castle on August 18, 1914 (4,650 grt, 1913). From August 21 to 23, the Karlsruhe took over 1,300 tons of coal from Patagonia near Maraca Island, 130 tons of which on deck. On the 25th, the city ​​of Schleswig, owned by the Horn shipping company, met the other two with 800 tons of coal near the Sao Joao Islands. Over the next few months, the Karlsruhe crossed between the northeastern tip of Brazil and the equator . On August 31, the Hamburg-Süd steamer Asuncion (4,665 GRT) and the NDL steamer Crefeld (3,829 GRT) joined the small association, which had been sent to Karlsruhe with coal and supplies . The last supplier was the mail steamer Rio Negro (4..556 GRT) from Hamburg-Süd.

The operations of the Karlsruhe from August 30 to October 25, 1914

On the sea route between the Río de la Plata and Europe , she was able to raise a total of 17 merchant ships (16 English and one Dutch) with a total tonnage of over 76,600  GRT . On September 3, she sank the Maple Branch (4,338 grt, 1888), on the 14th the Highland Hope (5,510 grt, 1903), on the 21st the Dutch Maria (3,648 grt, 1898), the Cornish City (3,816 grt, 1906 ) and the Rio Iguassu (3.817 grt). On October 6th she sank the Niceto de Larrinaga (5,018 grt), on the 7th the Lynrowan (3,384 grt), on the 8th then the Cervantes (4,635 grt, 1895) 100 miles off the Brazilian coast at the Sankt-Peter-und -Sankt-Pauls-Felsen and on the 9th 90 miles to the southwest the Prut (4,408 grt). On October 13th, the Crefeld was released with 419 prisoners, with whom they reached Santa Cruz de Tenerife on October 22nd .

On the 18th the Glanton (3,021 grt) and on the 23rd the Hurstdale (2,752 grt) were sunk. Three prizes ( Strathroy with 5,600 tons of coal, - since September 5th - fern with 7,000 tons of coal and Indrani ) served at times as auxiliary and coal ships. All other ships were sunk, including the passenger steamer Vandyck (10,328 GRT, 1911, 15 knots, for 200 passengers) operated by the Lamport & Holt Line on October 26, 1914. It was the largest and last ship that the Karlsruhe was able to sink . The crews and passengers of all the captured ships were rescued in full. The Asuncion was released at the end of the month with the next prisoners to Para / Brazil.

The Karlsruhe now set course for the island of Barbados . It was hoped to be able to capture more ships in their roads. On October 29, 1914, the coal bunkers on the São João Islands were filled with a pinch of fern . Three days later the last coal supply took place on the Maraca Island ( Amapá ), this time from the Indrani pinch . Thereafter, the Karlsruhe continued on her way to Barbados with the escort ships Rio Negro and Indrani . The prospects of a successful coup against the island were good, as there was no longer a British warship in their vicinity. Admiral Christopher Cradock was on his way to the Pacific with his ships to intercept the East Asia Squadron under Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee . In addition, the Karlsruhe had enough fuel available for a long time.


On November 4, 1914 at 6:30 p.m., east of the island of Trinidad , at the position 11 ° 7 ′ 0 ″  N , 55 ° 25 ′ 0 ″  W, coordinates: 11 ° 7 ′ 0 ″  N , 55 ° 25 ′ 0 ″  W , a very violent explosion in the forecastle. This immediately sagged. The command tower , bridge , foremast and front chimney flew overboard in a high arc. The Karlsruhe sank in just 27 minutes. 263 men, including the commander, were killed, many of those thrown overboard - the crews were in the forecastle below deck at this point - were still burned in the water. The cause of the sudden detonation could not be clearly established. On the one hand, it was suspected that the ammunition in the foredeck was igniting. Another possible cause was the explosion of the lubricating oil captured by the Condor Prize after decomposition at high temperatures, which, mixed with petroleum, had been used as heating oil for one's own boiler. The self-ignition of the artillery ammunition in tropical heat is more likely, since the Admiral Graf Spee also had difficulties cooling the ammunition during her war voyage in the tropics in 1939 in order to prevent it from spontaneously igniting, and the fate of the Karlsruhe was remembered.

146 survivors were able to start their journey home with the escort ship Rio Negro under the leadership of the chief officer, Kapitänleutnant Studt. For the crew, this was both a physical strain and a brilliant navigational achievement. Since the sinking took place in tropical waters, the rescued crew only had light clothing on and was very cold on the journey home. They made do with replacement clothing made of woolen blankets and canvas for the guards and sent the others to the warm boiler rooms. The Rio Negro was only intended for tropical service, so there was no map material for the northern regions around Iceland and Norway. It shows the seafaring ability that the Rio Negro reached Kiel on December 6, 1914, unnoticed by the enemy, despite the winter storms and the detour via the ice regions. It was then brought to the North Sea via the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal and anchored on the jade. The secrecy about the sinking of the Karlsruhe and the return of the survivors was so complete that the Royal Navy searched for the German cruiser until April 1915.

The Karlsruhe was after the Emden , which was the most successful German cruisers in distant waters to plunder.

Sinks and prizes of the cruiser Karlsruhe

17 ships:

Surname Type country date GRT charge
1 Bowes Castle Freighter
built in 1913
Great Britain August 18, 1914
9.54 N, 55.10 W
4650 on the way from Antofagasta to New York, cargo of nitrates and silver ore, occupation on September 2nd with the city ​​of Schleswig in San Luis de Maranho
2 Strathroy Freighter
built in 1909
Great Britain August 31, 1914
3.35 S, 34.35 W.
4336 with 6000 tons of coal from Norfolk to Rio de Janeiro, carried as a pinch of coal steamer KD 1 and unloaded until October 26th, sunk near Atol de Rocas
3 Maple branch Freighter
built in 1905
Great Britain September 3, 1914
1.59 S, 32.47 W.
4338 with breeding cattle and 2000 t cargo from Liverpool to Callao, cattle slaughtered, crew on Crefeld
4th Highland Hope Passenger ship
built in 1903
Great Britain September 14, 1914
1.03 S, 31.45 W.
5150 from Liverpool to Buenos Aires in ballast, crew on Crefeld
5 Indrani Freighter
built in 1912
Great Britain September 17, 1914
3.00 S, 35.40 W
5706 from Norfolk to Rio de Janeiro with 6700 tons of coal, carried as a prize as a coal steamer KD 2 Hope , sunk by Rio Negro on November 9th after the sinking of the Karlsruhe
6th Cornish City Freighter
built in 1906
Great Britain September 21, 1914
1.55 S, 32.05 W
3816 from Barry to Rio de Janeiro with 5500 tons of coal,
7th Maria Freighter
built in 1898
Netherlands September 21, 1914 3648
8th Rio Iguassu Freighter
built in 1898
Great Britain September 22, 1914
0.40 S, 31.20 W
3817 from Newcastle to Rio de Janeiro with 4800 tons of coal, some coal taken over
9 fern Freighter
built in 1910
Great Britain September 22, 1914
0.46 S, 30.50 W
4393 from Barry to Montevideo with 6000 tons of coal, carried as a pinch of coal steamer KD 3 , when Karlsruhe did not appear at the agreed meeting point, arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, interned there, returned to the owner in April 1917, sunk on November 19, 1917
10 Niceto de Larinaga Freighter
built in 1912
Great Britain October 6, 1914
0.35 S, 29.48 W.
5018 from Buenos Aires to London with forage, corn and grain; Groceries and supplies taken over
11 Lynrowan Freighter
built in 1907
Great Britain October 7, 1914
0.25 S, 29.54 W.
3384 from Buenos Aires to Liverpool with agricultural products, some boatloads of sugar taken over
12 Cervantes Passenger ship
built in 1907
Great Britain October 9, 1914
0.40 S, 29.40 W
4635 from Callao to Liverpool with farm produce
13 Pruth Freighter
built in 1905
Great Britain October 8, 1914
0.27 S, 29.46 W.
4408 from Meijillones to ?? taken with fertilizers and grain, supplies
14th Condor Freighter
built in 1893
Great Britain October 11, 1914
2.00 S, 34.00 W
3053 from Philadelphia to Valpareiso with a mixed load, 150 t of lubricating oil taken over as a coal additive, only on the 14th sunk
existing prisoners with Crefeld to Tenerife
15th Glanton Freighter
built in 1894
Great Britain October 18, 1914 3021 Taken from Barry to Montevideo with mixed cargo and 3800 tons of coal, oil and supplies,
16 Hurstdale Freighter
built in 1902
Great Britain October 23, 1914
1.11 S, 31.55 W
2752 from Rosario to Bristol with 4664 t of maize,
17th VanDyck Passenger ship
built in 1911
Great Britain October 26, 1914
1.14 S, 40.40 W
10328 from Buenos Aires to New York with 210 passengers, frozen meat and general cargo, frozen meat taken over by the cruiser and the suppliers, only on the 28th sunk
existing prisoners, crew and passengers with Asuncion to Belem
== Royal Scepter Freighter
built in 1906
Great Britain October 27, 1914
0.52 N, 41.37 W.
3838 from Santos to New York with a coffee load, onward journey permitted, as the load is American property and Canada is not recognized as the actual destination

Captured tonnage: 76,609 GRT


  • Hubert Aust: The war trips SMS "Karlsruhe" . G. Braunsche Hofbuchdruckerei, Karlsruhe 1916. ( Digital copy : Digital collections of the Berlin State Library: view of works )
  • Fritz Otto Busch: Our Navy in the World War. Brunnen Verlag, Berlin 1934.
  • Georg-Günther Freiherr von Forstner (Korvettenkapitän a. D.): The fighting fate of the German fleet in the world war. What we don't know about naval warfare. With 5 map sketches and 31 pictures on boards. Publisher EA Seemann Leipzig 1937.
  • Carl Herbert: War voyages of German merchant ships. Broschek & Co, Hamburg 1934.
  • Gerhard Koop / Klaus-Peter Schmolke: Small cruisers 1903-1918, Bremen up to the Cologne class. Bernard & Graefe Verlag, Bonn 2004.

Web links

Commons : SMS Karlsruhe  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ^ FW Rasenack: Ironclad Admiral Graf Spee. Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich 1981, ISBN 3-453-01268-2 , p. 57.
  2. ^ Jochen Brennecke: Black ships, wide seas - The mysterious journeys of German blockade breakers. 4th edition, Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich 1975, ISBN 3-453-00103-6 , p. 36.