River gunboat SMS Tsingtau

The SMS Tsingtau river gun boat was one of the two ships of the Tsingtau class, which was specially designed and built for the rivers in China for the protection of German interests. The growing economic space of German trading companies required military protection against attacks, especially against pirates.


Launching and design:

Already in 1860 at the Beijing Convention it was decided that foreign military ships were allowed to use the Chinese rivers. Since the German interests of the economy at the end of the 19th century in this area also gained more and more importance and influence, the German companies called on the government to provide better protection against riots and against the river pirates.

For this purpose, in 1899, the steam launch Schamien and the riverboat Vorwärts were purchased and converted accordingly. But after a short time, it became apparent that both ships were completely inadequate for the tasks assigned. Thus, the Imperial Navy Office decided in 1902 to build their own, the appropriate ships. One of the ships was financed by the government, the second ship was financed by donations and funds from the German companies in China, which needed its protection.

During the construction, particular care was taken to keep the draft as low as possible, as the ships on the rivers also had to penetrate shallow waters. This was achieved by 9 individual steel pontoons, whereby these were in the disassembled state also well suited for the shipment from the Elbinger shipyard F. Schichau to Tsingtau.

The armament consisted of a 8.8 cm L / 30 and a 5 cm L / 40 fast charging cannon. In addition, 2 to 3 machine guns could be carried along.

The launching of SMS Tsingtau took place on 18 April 1903, the commissioning on 3 February 1904.


River gunboat SMS Tsingtau

River gunboat SMS Tsingtau




History of SMS Tsingtau:

After commissioning, the test drives were initially carried out in the German Empire. Then the ship was disassembled back into its 9 steel pontoons and brought with the steamer Prinzess Marie to Hong Kong, where it was rebuilt in a shipyard.

The official transfer to the Imperial Navy took place on 3 February 1904, the ship was also subordinated to the East Asia Squadron.

As operational area the ship was assigned the rivers Pearl River and West River as well as the estuary around Hong Kong and Macau. There it should represent the German interests and fight against the emerging pirates.

In the aftermath of the ship was also on extinguishing a fire in Macau in June 1906, the joint fight against pirates with British and French ships in the West River and Ostfluss estuary and at the transfer of the deceased squadron chief, Rear Admiral Erik Gühler, on the steamer Bülow of North German Lloyd on 21 January 1911 involved.

When the Xinhai revolution broke out in the area in October 1911, the SMS Tsingtau was used to protect the German consulate in Canton.

When political tensions in Europe increased after the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne in July 1914, Tsingtau was ordered to drive to Canton, where it arrived on 1 August. In the course of mobilization, the ship was launched and the crew, with the exception of a small remainder, withdrew from service on the ship.




Use in the war:

With the outbreak of the First World War broke the commander of the ship with parts of the former crew to reach the small cruiser SMS Emden and the coal steamer Hoerde. On the way there, the men were captured by Dutch soldiers and interned. A little later, the men managed to escape, whereby they could capture the schooner Marboek. With this they drove until early March 1915, where they finally reached the Arabian coast. On the way to the Ottoman Empire, the men were attacked and killed on 29 March 1915 north of Jeddah.

Another part of the former crew made their way to Tsingtau, where they embarked on the auxiliary cruiser SMS Cormoran and interned in the US at the end of the year.





A small part of the former crew remained with the ship. When China declared war on the German Empire on March 21, 1917, the crew decided to sink the ship itself so that it would not fall into the hands of the Chinese troops.

A later salvage of the ship failed.




Ship data:


SMS Tsingtau


German Empire

Ship Type:  

River gunboat




F. Schichau, Elbing


497.000 Mark


April 18th, 1903


February 3rd, 1904


Sunk on march 21st, 1917 near Kanton itself


50,1 meters


8 meters


Max. 0,94 meters


Max. 280 Tons


58 Men


2 Thornycroft Schulz boiler
2 standing 3-cylinder compound machines


1.300 PS (956 kW)

Maximum speed:  

13,0 kn (24 km/h)




1 × 8,8 cm L / 30 Rapid Fire Gun (100 shots)

1 × 5,0 cm L / 40 Rapid Fire Gun (200 shots)

2 to 3 Machine guns


Hull: 8-12 mm






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