SMS Meteor (1865)

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SMS Meteor (1865) .jpg
Ship data
flag North German ConfederationNorth German Confederation (war flag) North German Confederation German Empire
German EmpireGerman Empire (Reichskriegsflagge) 
Ship type Gunboat
class Camaeleon class
Shipyard Luebke , Wolgast
building-costs 94,400 thalers
Launch May 17, 1865
Commissioning September 6, 1869
Removal from the ship register November 27, 1877
Whereabouts As a coal in Gdansk depleted
Ship dimensions and crew
43.28 m ( Lüa )
41.02 m ( KWL )
width 6.96 m
Draft Max. 2.67 m
displacement Construction: 353 t
Maximum: 422 t
crew 71 men
Machine system
machine 2 suitcase boiler
2 horizontal 1-cyl steam engines
1 Rowing
320 hp (235 kW)
9.3 kn (17 km / h)
propeller 1 three-leaf Ø 1.9 m
Rigging and rigging
Rigging More beautiful
Number of masts 3
Sail area 350 m²
  • 1 pulled 24-pounder (= 15 cm)
  • 2 pulled 12 pounders (= 12 cm)

The SMS Meteor was the seventh ship of the Camaeleon class , a class of eight steam cannon boats, 1st class, of the Royal Prussian and Imperial Navy .

Construction and first term of service

The Meteor was laid down on June 17, 1861 by the Wolgast shipyard in Lübke . Due to financial difficulties caused by a conflict between the Prussian government and the House of Representatives , the ship could not be launched until May 17, 1865. Further delays meant that the Meteor could only be transferred to Dänholm in mid-April 1869 , where it was finally put into service for the first time on September 6th.

The first mission was to take the Meteor to the West Indies . Due to concerns about the seaworthiness of the ship when fully loaded, the 24-pounder gun was handed over to the accompanying Arcona for the Atlantic crossing . However, the Arcona received the order to take part in the inauguration of the Suez Canal , which is why the Meteor left Kiel alone on October 4th.

After a repair stay in Falmouth from October 12 to November 6 due to storm damage , the gunboat reached Bridgetown on November 19 , where it met the Niobe . Since riots broke out in Venezuela that endangered the lives and property of the Germans resident there, the Meteor was ordered immediately off the Venezuelan coast. The gunboat arrived in La Guaira on December 26th, 1869 and cruised in these waters until mid-March, interrupted only by short stays in Willemstad for repairs and to bunker coal. Due to the small bunker space, this happened more often, as the coal only lasted for four days even with economical consumption and Willemstad was the only coal field on the Venezuelan coast. To compensate for this disadvantage, sailing was done as often as possible, which was favored by the schooner rigging. The low draft of 2.67 m of the Meteor proved to be of great advantage, as it also allows sailing on shallow coastal waters of the Caribbean, e.g. B. in the Bay of Maracaibo, made possible. The stay of the Meteor in the West Indies from 1869–71 was the first ever overseas deployment of a German gunboat.

After the Meteor and the Niobe anchored off La Guaira in early March to enforce financial claims, the gunboat set sail for Port-au-Prince on March 16 to meet with the Arcona . On the way the ship ran into a coral reef near Gonâve , but was able to free itself on its own. In Port-au-Prince the commander of the Meteor , Kapitänleutnant Eduard von Knorr , only found the news that the Arcona had left for La Guaira and that the meeting was to take place there. But even this did not succeed because the corvette broke out with yellow fever and therefore went to the cooler North American coast.

On the way back, the meteor ran out of coal in front of Curaçao . As the sailing on the island failed due to the extreme wind conditions, Knorr was forced to call at the remote Colombian port of Santa Marta, where he could buy coal from an English mail steamer. Then Knorr was forced to return to Curaçao to repair the damaged ground. Then he returned to La Guaira. The city was now in the hands of the Liberals under Guzmán . This had forbidden all merchants, including northern Germans, to leave the harbor in order not to allow any of the conservative leaders to flee abroad. Since the mail steamer could not leave, the Meteor received the order to bring important dispatches and American and European diplomats to Saint Thomas . The gunboat left La Guaira on May 9, 1870 under the American flag and reached Saint Thomas on May 13. Here Knorr was able to take on board the 24-pounder gun stored by the Arcona in the port and was finally fully equipped.

On May 20, 1870, Meteor arrived again in La Guaira, where further orders for mediation missions were already waiting. First we went to the area of Puerto Cabello where Knorr brokered the handover of the contested Fort Libertador and was able to achieve compliance with the armistice by June 12, 1870. From June 18, the conservative war party had imposed a coastal blockade and when Meteor left Puerto Cabello on June 20, 1870, the ship was falsely shot at from the coastal fort there while entering La Guaira and received a hit. The projectile penetrated the hull, penetrated the cabin and eventually got stuck in a locker but did not explode. After the protection of foreign merchant ships from the coastal blockade was guaranteed, the Meteor stayed in Venezuelan waters until the beginning of August, where she was busy safeguarding German interests and mediating between fighting groups. This work brought the ship under foreign residents the name The Indefatigable ( The Seeker ) a.

On August 5th, the Meteor received the first news of the expected war with France . The fact that the French declaration of war had already been pronounced two weeks earlier was not yet known at the time due to the slow transmission of information. Without knowing the strength and distribution of the French ships in the Caribbean, the Meteor left La Guaira on August 7th and headed for Kingston , where, however, there was no new news about developments in Europe. Because of this, the ship went on to Key West, mostly under sail to save coal . From there a quick connection with the German embassy in Washington was possible. Knorr's proposal to abandon the Meteor and equip a fast merchant steamer with its artillery as an auxiliary cruiser was rejected because Berlin did not want any action against French merchant ships. News of the outbreak of war finally arrived on October 23. At the same time, the US administration issued a request to leave the port immediately. The following days the Meteor cruised in the shallow waters of the Bahamas , where it was safe from larger French ships. On November 7th, Havana had to be called to replenish the coal reserves. A few hours after the meteor , the French Aviso Bouvet arrived there.

Battle of Havana

The naval battle off Havana on November 9, 1870, left the Meteor , right the Bouvet . Drawing by Hermann Penner (? -1894)
The meteor in action
Battle off Havana on November 9th, 1870. SMS METEOR in the foreground. Painting by Hans Bohrdt

On the same day (November 7, 1870) at around 1 p.m., the Meteor left the port of Havana again and cruised outside the Spanish territorial waters before entering , where the Bouvet was waiting for battle. Since this had not left by 5 p.m., the Meteor returned to port. There Kapitänleutnant Knorr was informed that ships of a warring state were only allowed to leave the port 24 hours after opposing ships had left port. Accordingly, he waited for this time after the Bouvet left port at around 1:15 p.m. the following day and left port on November 9 exactly 24 hours after the French notification.

The Meteor in action off Havana on November 9th, 1870. From: Reinhold Werner: Pictures from the history of German naval warfare . 1899, p. 516.

Both ships were already in sight at 1.30 p.m. Approx. 10 nm off the Cuban coast, the Bouvet opened fire on the Meteor at a distance of 14.8  hm . The fire only returned when the Aviso had come up to 9 m. Due to the high swell , none of the ships scored a hit. When the distance had decreased to less than 400 m, the Bouvet suddenly turned to starboard . Captain Knorr initially assumed that the Aviso wanted to steam past his bow and shoot him lengthways. Accordingly, he ordered the Meteor to be turned to starboard as well. A short time later, however, he realized that his opponent's real intention was to ram his ship. Accordingly, he immediately turned to port on the opposite course to the Bouvet . The ramming attempt did not succeed, but both ships scraped past each other. The Bouvet's crane beam destroyed the port shrouds , the port wing of the navigating bridge and all the boats hanging on this side. In addition, the Fockrah was damaged, the mainmast snapped and the mizzen torn overboard. Moreover, were the stem the carriages of two guns from the pivot bolt lifted. During the passage, the French crew fired from the higher deck of their ship with rifles and grapeshots on the upper deck of the Meteor , which killed two German sailors and wounded another. Since the lanyard tore when the bow gun was fired, the German gunboat was only able to land one hit on the bouvet during the three-minute encounter , which carried the lifebuoy at the stern overboard.

Meteor in battle with Bouvet , painting

The Meteor turned to starboard again and completely lost the mainmast, which, however, benefited the maneuverability. The guns could quickly be made ready for action again. The 24-pounder gun fired when the Bouvet turned around 300 m away and the meteor turned the broadside. It scored a hit in the steam supply for the engine system, causing it to fail and the Aviso was solely dependent on its sails. The attempt of the German gunboat to approach its opponent at high speed was ultimately foiled at around 3:45 p.m. because the screw was unclear due to the rope hanging outboard and the ship was unable to move for half an hour. The Meteor then resumed the pursuit and the artillery fire again, but the Bouvet was able to reach Spanish territory around 4.40 p.m. The battle was over, both ships returned to Havana harbor.

The cover picture shows the battle of the North German gunboat Meteor against the French Aviso Bouvet in November 1870 off the port of Havana.

During the three-hour encounter, which took place after a prior agreement between the two commanders and is considered the last “gentleman’s battle” in naval history, the Meteor fired 22 shells, which left ten wounded on the Bouvet . Immediately after arriving, the wounded German sailor was transferred to a hospital, and the two dead were buried on November 10th. A small monument was later erected in their honor. Captain Knorr was promoted to Korvettenkapitän on January 1, 1871 , and he, two of his officers, the boatswain and a sailor received the Iron Cross, 2nd class. The commandant of the Bouvet , Capitaine de Frégate Franquet, was promoted to Capitaine de Vaisseau .

Further service time

The repair of the battle damage dragged on due to the behavior of the Spanish administration, which was under French pressure, so that the Meteor could only leave Havana again on April 13, 1871, i.e. after the preliminary peace had been concluded, and start her way home. A premature departure would have been difficult anyway, as three French warships constantly cruised in front of the port after the battle. The gunboat ran along the US coast to Newfoundland , started the Atlantic crossing from St. John's and reached Plymouth on June 13th . Twelve days later the Meteor arrived in Kiel, where it was decommissioned on July 20. From September 18 to October 14, it was used to train machinists at its berth.

On May 6, 1872, the Meteor was put back into service to carry out surveying work along the German coast together with the Drache . The surveying program was headed by Korvettenkapitän Knorr, who had meanwhile been appointed head of the hydrographic office of the Admiralty . This year they extended to the Mecklenburg part of the coast and lasted until October 20. On November 14th, Meteor and Salamander were called in to provide assistance in front of Friedrichsort , as water had penetrated into the fort buildings there due to a severe storm . After the storm had subsided, the meteor and the dragon , reinforced by the transporter Rhein , searched the sea area to Hiddensee for damaged ships, but unsuccessfully. On December 7, 1872, the Meteor was finally decommissioned.

In 1873, from April 16, the ship was used again for survey work. On September 22nd, the Meteor left for Spain, where the Third Carlist War took place. It was supposed to replace the Delphin stationed there to protect German citizens and economic interests. The Meteor arrived in Málaga on October 4, 1873, and remained in Spanish waters until March 1874. After the unrest subsided, the German squadron was disbanded and the gunboat continued to Constantinople to take over the station there. From April 12, the ship stayed in the Ottoman capital. Since there was unrest in the Balkans in the following years , attacks on resident Germans were possible there too, which is why the Meteor was temporarily supported by Comet , Nautilus and Pommerania . From mid-December 1876 to the end of February 1877, the ship stayed in Smyrna , where crew members of the Meteor were involved in a fatal fight for a German seaman by French warship sailors. This led to considerable diplomatic tension between Germany and France for several months. After returning to Constantinople, the Meteor received the order to travel home and left its station on June 3rd. She arrived in Kiel after a good two months and was decommissioned on August 16, 1877 in Danzig.


The Meteor was removed from the list of warships on November 27, 1877. Their machinery was expanded and partly used for the Iltis gunboat under construction at the Imperial Shipyard in Danzig . The hull of the ship was eventually used up as a coal hulk.


September 6, 1869 to July 20, 1871 Lieutenant / Corvette Captain Eduard Knorr
May 6th to December 7th, 1872 Captain Karl Eduard Heusner
April 16 to September 1873 Lieutenant Hohnholz
September 1873 to October 1875 Lieutenant Captain Otto Herbig
October 1875 to May 1877 Captain von Rössing
May to August 16, 1877 Lieutenant Georgi


  • Graetz, Mirko: Prince Adalbert's forgotten fleet. The North German Federal Navy 1867–1871. Lulu Enterprises Inc. Morrisville, NC (USA) 2008, ISBN 978-1-4092-2509-6 , pp. 49 and pp. 43-44.
  • Gröner, Erich / Dieter Jung / Martin Maass: The German warships 1815-1945 . tape 1 : Armored ships, ships of the line, battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, gunboats . Bernard & Graefe Verlag, Munich 1982, ISBN 3-7637-4800-8 , p. 161 f .
  • Hildebrand, Hans H. / Albert Röhr / Hans-Otto Steinmetz: The German warships . Biographies - a mirror of naval history from 1815 to the present . tape 6 : Ship biographies from Lützow to Prussia . Mundus Verlag, Ratingen, S. 76–79 (Approved licensed edition by Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft, Hamburg, approx. 1990).
  • Meister, Friedrich: The baptism of fire of the Meteor ( Under the German Flag , Vol. 4), Berlin 1910.
  • Schmidt, Jürgen W .: Chancellor Prince Bismarck and a sailors fight in Smyrna in 1877. The successful defusing of an impending Franco-German conflict. In: Deutsches Schiffahrtsarchiv - Wissenschaftliches Jahrbuch des Deutschen Schiffahrtsmuseum Vol. 33 (2010) Wiefelstede 2011 pp. 323–348
  • Wiechmann, Gerhard : The Prussian-German Navy in Latin America 1866-1914 . A study of German gunboat policy . Bremen 2002, ISBN 3-8258-6306-9 .

Web links

Commons : SMS Meteor  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Hildebrand / Röhr / Steinmetz: The German warships . tape 5 : Ship biographies from Kaiser to Lütjens . Mundus Verlag, Ratingen, S. 123 f . (Approved licensed edition by Koehler's Verlagsgesellschaft, Hamburg, approx. 1990).