SMS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse

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SMS Kaiser Friedrich III.PNG
SMS Kaiser Friedrich III
Career (Germany) Kaiser
Name: Kaiser Wilhelm der Große
Namesake: Wilhelm I
Builder: Germaniawerft, Kiel
Laid down: January 1898
Launched: 1 June 1899
Commissioned: 5 May 1901
Fate: Scrapped in 1920
General characteristics
Class and type: Pre-dreadnought battleship
Displacement: Standard: 10,790 t (10,620 LT; 11,890 ST)
Full load: 11,599 t (11,416 LT; 12,786 ST)
Length: 125.3 m (411 ft)
Beam: 20.4 m (67 ft)
Draft: 7.89 m (25.9 ft)
Propulsion: 3 shafts triple expansion engines
13,000 ihp (9,700 kW)
Speed: 17.5 knots (32.4 km/h)
Range: 3,420 nmi (6,330 km; 3,940 mi) at 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 658–687
Armament: 4 × 24 cm (9.4 in) 40 cal guns
18 × 15 cm (5.9 in) guns
12 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) guns
12 × 1-pdr guns
6 × 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes
Armor: Belt: 300 to 150 mm (12 to 5.9 in)
Deck: 65 mm (2.6 in)
Conning Tower: 250 mm
Turrets: 250 mm (9.8 in)
Casemates: 150 mm

SMS Kaiser Wilhelm der Große ("HMS Emperor William the Great") was a German pre-dreadnought battleship of the Kaiser Friedrich III class, built around the turn of the 20th Century. The ship was one of the first battleships built by the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) as part of a program of naval expansion under Kaiser Wilhelm II. Kaiser Wilhelm der Große was built in Kiel, at the Germaniawerft shipyard. She was laid down in 1898 and completed in May, 1901. The ship was armed with a main battery of four 24 cm (9.4 in) guns in two twin gun turrets.

Kaiser Wilhelm der Große served in the active fleet for ten years, during which time she participated in a number of the fleet's training maneouvers. By the early 1910s, however, the new dreadnought battleships had begun to come into service. As a result, the ship was decommissioned and placed in reserve. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the battleship and her sisters were placed back in active service as the V Battle Squadron of the High Seas Fleet and tasked with coastal defense. In 1915, the ships were again withdrawn from service and relegated to secondary duties. Kaiser Wilhelm der Große was used as a depot ship in Kiel and eventually a torpedo target ship. After the end of the war, the vessel was sold for scrapping to a German company and broken up in 1920.


Kaiser Wilhelm II, the emperor of Germany, believed that a strong navy was necessary for the country to expand its influence outside of continental Europe. As a result, he initiated a program of naval expansion in the late 1880s; the first battleships built under this program were the four Brandenburg class ships. These were immediately followed by the five Kaiser Friedrich III class battleships, of which Kaiser Wilhelm der Große was a unit.[1] Kaiser Wilhelm der Große's keel was laid in 1895, at the Kaiserliche Werft in Wilhelmshaven, under construction number 22. She was ordered under the contract name Ersatz König Wilhelm, to replace the obsolete armored frigate König Wilhelm.[2] Wilhelm der Große was launched on 1 June 1899 and commissioned on 5 May 1901.[3]

The ship was 125.3 m (411 ft) long overall and had a beam of 20.4 m (67 ft) and a draft of 7.89 m (25.9 ft) forward and 8.25 m (27.1 ft) aft. The ship was powered by three 3-cylinder vertical triple expansion engines that drove three screws. Steam was provided by four Marine-type and eight cylindrical boilers. Kaiser Wilhelm der Große's powerplant was rated at 13,000 indicated horsepower (9,700 kW), which generated a top speed of 17.5 knots (32.4 km/h).[2]

Kaiser Wilhelm der Große's armament consisted of a main battery of four 24 cm (9.4 in) SK L/40 guns in twin gun turrets,[Note 1] one fore and one aft of the central superstructure.[4] Her secondary armament consisted of eighteen 15 cm (5.9 inch) SK L/40 guns and twelve 8.8 cm (3.45 in) SK L/30 quick-firing guns. The armament suite was rounded out with six 45 cm torpedo tubes, all in above-water swivel mounts.[2]

Service history

After commissioning in 1901, the ship joined her sister-ships in the I Squadron of the Heimatflotte (Home Fleet).[5] She then replaced her sister Kaiser Friedrich III as the squadron flagship, under the command of Prince Heinrich, which had to be docked for repairs. In late August through mid September, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse conducted extensive training exercises with the rest of the German fleet.[6] That year, Erich Raeder—who would go on to command the Kriegsmarine in World War II, was promoted to serve as the watch officer aboard Kaiser Wilhelm der Große.[7]

On 31 August 1902, the fleet conducted the annual summer training maneuvers. Kaiser Wilhelm der Große was assigned to the "hostile" force, as were several of her sister-ships. The "hostile" force was first tasked with preventing the "German" squadron from passing through the Great Belt in the Baltic. Kaiser Wilhelm der Große and several other battleships were then tasked with forcing an entry into the mouth of the Elbe River, where the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal and Hamburg could be seized. The "hostile" flotilla accomplished these tasks within three days.[8] In 1903, the fleet, which was composed of only one squadron of battleships, was reorganized as the "Active Battle Fleet." Kaiser Wilhelm der Große remained in the I Squadron along with her sisterships and the newest Wittelsbach class battleships, while the older Brandenburg class ships were placed in reserve in order to be rebuilt.[9]

In October 1905, the Heimatflotte was again reorganized; Kaiser Wilhelm der Große was reassigned to the I Division of the II Squadron, alongside her sister-ship Kaiser Friedrich III and the older battleship Wörth. The Heimatflotte in 1905 consisted of another division of three battleships in the I Squadron and two more three-ship divisions in the II Squadron. This was supported by a cruiser division, composed of two armored cruisers and six protected cruisers.[10] In 1907, the newest Deutschland class battleships were coming into service; along with the Braunschweig class battleships, these provided enough modern battleships to create two full battle squadrons. As a result, the Heimatflotte was renamed the Hochseeflotte (High Seas Fleet).[9]

Wilhelm der Große was extensively modernized in 1908–1910 at the Kaiserliche Werft shipyard in Kiel. During the refit, four of the ship's 15 cm guns and the stern-mounted torpedo tube were removed. Two 8.8 cm guns were added and the arrangement of the tertiary battery was modified.[11] Kaiser Wilhelm der Große's superstructure was also cut down to reduce the ship's tendency to roll excessively.[12] The ship's funnels were also lengthened.[11] After Kaiser Wilhelm der Große emerged from the reconstruction, the ship was moved to the III Squadron, along with her sister-ships. However, in 1910, the new dreadnought battleships were beginning to come into service with the fleet. Thoroughly obsolete compared to the new "all-big-gun" battleships, Kaiser Wilhelm der Große was then decommissioned and placed into reserve.[5]

World War I

At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm der Große and her sisters were brought back to actice service and mobilized as the V Battle Squadron. They were assigned to coastal defense in the Baltic, though they served in this capacity for a very short time. In February 1915, they were again withdrawn from service and placed in reserve.[5] In 1916, Kaiser Wilhelm der Große was employed as a depot ship in Kiel. The following year, the ship was used as a torpedo target ship.[3] According to Article 181 of the Treaty of Versailles, signed on 28 June 1919, Germany was permitted to retain only six battleships of the "Deutschland or Lothringen types."[13] On 6 December 1919, the ship was struck from the naval list and sold to a ship-breaking firm based in Berlin. The following year, Kaiser Wilhelm der Große was broken up for scrap metal in Kiel-Nordmole.[3]


  1. Herwig, pp. 24–26
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Gröner, p. 15
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Gröner, p. 16
  4. Hore, p. 67
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Gardiner & Gray, p. 141
  6. Naval Notes: Germany, pp. 1504–1508
  7. Bird, p. 8
  8. German Naval Manoeuvres, pp. 91–96
  9. 9.0 9.1 Herwig, p. 45
  10. The British and German Fleets, p. 335
  11. 11.0 11.1 Miller, p. 97
  12. Burt, pp. 1–3
  13. See: Treaty of Versailles, Section II, Article 181


  • "German Naval Manoeuvres". R.U.S.I. Journal (London: Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies) 47: 90–97. 1903. 
  • "The British and German Fleets". The United Service (New York: Lewis R. Hamersly & Co.) 7: 328–340. 1905. 
  • "Naval Notes: Germany". R.U.S.I. Journal (London: Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies) 45: 1501–1508. 1901. 

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