Small cruiser SMS Karlsruhe

The small cruiser SMS Karlsruhe belonged to the eponymous cruiser class, which consisted of only two ships. The SMS Karlsruhe led in the Atlantic at the beginning of the First World War successful trade war predominantly against British merchant ships. The early sinking of the ship was kept so secret by the German Empire that the British Admiralty searched in vain for half a year for the ship.


Launching and design:

The Karlsruhe class emerged from the Magdeburg class, was designed for 2 ships and differed from the predecessor ships only in the installation of an additional 2 oil-fired water tube boiler for the drive system, which increased their speed and range slightly. The rest of the construction of the ships was almost identical, also in terms of armament.

The launch of the SMS Karlsruhe took place on November 11, 1912, the commissioning on January 15, 1914.

Small cruiser SMS Karlsruhe

Small cruiser SMS Karlsruhe


Ship emblem of the SMS Karlsruhe

Ship emblem of the SMS Karlsruhe




History of SMS Karlsruhe:

After commissioning and test drives, the Karlsruhe was intended as a replacement for the small cruiser SMS Dresden, the site of which was the East American station and there should represent the imperial interests. Thus, the first trip abroad for the ship should lead to the opening ceremony of the just completed Panama Canal in Veracruz and then to the World Fair in San Francisco.

On the way across the Atlantic, the captain in Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands reached a telegram from the naval leadership on the assassination in Sarajevo and the order to fill up the coal reserves as soon as possible and leave the port to meet sooner than planned with the SMS Dresden. The meeting of the ships took place then on 26 July 1914 in Port-au-Prince in Haiti, where frigate captain Erich Köhler took command of the Karlsruhe. The ships left the harbor on the same day, whereby Dresden set off on its journey home and drove the Karlsruhe further west. On July 28, 1914, the radio message about rising tensions between Austria-Hungary and Serbia reached the ship, which is why the Karlsruhe in Havana in Cuba only one night remained to stock up on supplies. As war was imminent, Frigate Captain Erich Köhler did not want to be encircled in a harbor.




Use in the war:

When the First World War broke out in Europe on August 3, 1914, the SMS Karlsruhe received from the imperial navy the command to conduct cruiser warfare in the Central Atlantic. First, however, had to be converted on 6 August 1914, the steamer Crown Prince William of the North German Lloyd on command to an auxiliary cruiser. In addition, the two ships met east of the Bahamas, where the Crown Prince Wilhelm 2 8,8cm guns and ammunition from the Karlsruhe should take over. During the reconstruction, however, the British armored cruiser Suffolk came to meet them, so that the work was stopped and the two ships in the opposite direction drive. Although the Suffolk pursued the Karlsruhe, but this had a higher speed and was able to escape the British ship without much difficulty.

To replenish the coal reserves, frigate captain Köhler wanted to call the neutral port of Newport News, with him the British light cruiser Bristol cut the way. The Karlsruhe was able to achieve 2 hits on the Bristol without own damage, but then had to dodge towards San Juan in Puerto Rico.

On August 9, 1914, the ship arrived in the harbor, picked up coal from the Hapag steamer Odenwald and ran out the next day. After the Karlsruhe escaped the British pursuers, she first went to Willemstad on Curacao to record more supplies to then lead the cruiser war.

By the end of October 1914, Karlsruhe was able to raise 17 ships:
- August 18th, 1914 the British freighter Bowes Castle
- August 31th, 1914 the British freighter Strathroy
- September 3rd, 1914 the British freighter Maple branch
- September 14th, 1914 the British passenger ship Highland Hope
- September 17th, 1914 the British freighter Indrani
- September 21st, 1914 the British freighter Cornish City
- September 21st, 1914 the Dutch freighter Maria
- September 22nd, 1914 the British freighter Rio Iguassu
- September 22nd, 1914 the British freighter Fern
- October 6th, 1914 the British freighter Niceto de Larinaga
- October 7th, 1914 the British freighter Lynrowan
- October 8th, 1914 the British freighter Pruth
- October 9th, 1914 the British passenger ship Cervantes
- October 11th, 1914 the British freighter Condor
- October 18th 1914 the British freighter Glanton
- October 23rd, 1914 the British freighter Hurstdale
- October 26th, 1914 the British passenger ship VanDyck


The SMS Karlsruhe on 9 August 1914 in San Juan

The SMS Karlsruhe on 9 August 1914 in San Juan


The operations of SMS Karlsruhe





On November 4, 1914, the SMS Karlsruhe was accompanied by the Rio Negro and the Indrani to drive east of the island of Trinidad when it came to 18:30 clock to a strong explosion in the forecastle, with the command tower, the bridge, the foremast and the front Chimney from the ship flew and the rest sank within a short time in the Atlantic. The cause of the explosion was probably the self-ignition of the ammunition, since the cooling was not designed for tropical temperatures.

146 crew members could still be rescued by the escort ships and then brought back to the German Empire.

Since the naval command kept the loss of the Karlsruhe secret, the British ships searched until April 1915 for the SMS Karlsruhe.




Ship data:


SMS Karlsruhe


German Empire

Ship Type:  

Small cruiser




Germaniawerft in Kiel


8.100.000 Mark


November 11th, 1912


January 15th, 1914


On 4 November 1914 sunk by explosion in the foredeck


142,2 meters


13,7 meters


Max. 6,2 meters


Max. 6.191 Tons


373 Men




12 coal-fired steam boilers
2 oil-fired double-end steam boilers
2 sets of steam turbines


37.885 PSw

Maximum speed:  

28,5 kn


12 × 10,5cm L / 45 fast charging cannons

2 × 50cm torpedo tubes


Deck: 20 - 40 mm
Slope: 40 - 60 mm
Bulkheads: 40 mm
Command post:
horizontal: 20 mm
vertical: 100 mm
Shields: 50 mm
Belted armor: 60 mm
Bow tank: 18 mm






You can find the right literature here:


German Battleships 1914–18 (1): Deutschland, Nassau and Helgoland classes (New Vanguard)

German Battleships 1914–18 (1): Deutschland, Nassau and Helgoland classes (New Vanguard) Paperback – February 23, 2010

Supported by official documents, personal accounts, official drawings and specially commissioned artwork, this volume is an enlightening history of the Deutschland to Osfriesland classes. Detailing the last of the pre-dreadnaught battleship classes, this book goes on to explain the revolutionary developments that took place within the German Imperial Navy as they readied themselves for war. This included creating vessels with vast increases in size and armament. This account of design and technology is supplemented by individual ship histories detailing combat experience complete with first-hand accounts. The specially commissioned artwork also brings this history to life with recreations of the battleship Pommern fighting at Jutland and ships of the Osfriesland class destroying HMS Black Prince in a dramatic night-time engagement.

Click here!



The Imperial German Navy of World War I, Vol. 1 Warships: A Comprehensive Photographic Study of the Kaiser’s Naval Forces

The Imperial German Navy of World War I, Vol. 1 Warships: A Comprehensive Photographic Study of the Kaiser’s Naval Forces Hardcover – December 28, 2016

The Imperial German Navy of WWI is a series of books (Warships, Campaigns, & Uniforms) that provide a broad view of the Kaiser's naval forces through the extensive use of photographs. Every effort has been made to cover all significant areas during the war period. In addition to the primary use of photographs, technical information is provided for each warship along with its corresponding service history; with a special emphasis being placed on those warships that participated in the Battle of Skagerrak (Jutland). Countless sources have been used to establish individual case studies for each warship; multiple photos of each warship are provided. The entire series itself is unprecedented in its coverage of the Kaiser's navy.

Click here!



German Battlecruisers of World War One: Their Design, Construction and Operations

German Battlecruisers of World War One: Their Design, Construction and Operations Hardcover – November 4, 2014

This is the most comprehensive, English-language study of the German Imperial Navy's battlecruisers that served in the First World War. Known as Panzerkreuzer, literally "armored cruiser," the eight ships of the class were to be involved in several early North Sea skirmishes before the great pitched battle of Jutland where they inflicted devastating damage on the Royal Navy's battlecruiser fleet. This book details their design and construction, and traces the full service history of each ship, recounting their actions, drawing largely from first-hand German sources and official documents, many previously unpublished in English.

Click here!



The Kaiser's Battlefleet: German Capital Ships 1871-1918

The Kaiser's Battlefleet: German Capital Ships 1871-1918 Hardcover – March 15, 2016

The battleships of the Third Reich have been written about exhaustively, but there is little in English devoted to their Second Reich predecessors. This new book fills an important gap in the literature of the period by covering these German capital ships in detail and studying the full span of battleship development during this period. The book is arranged as a chronological narrative, with technical details, construction schedules, and ultimate fates tabulated throughout, thus avoiding the sometimes disjointed structure that can result from a class-by-class approach. Heavily illustrated with line drawings and photographs, many from German sources, the book offers readers a fresh visual look at these ships. A key objective of the book is to make available a full synthesis of the published fruits of archival research by German writers found in the pre-World War II books of Koop & Schmolke, Großmer's on the construction program of the dreadnaught era, Forstmeier & Breyer on World War I projects, and Schenk & Nottelmann's papers in Warship International. As well as providing data not available in English-language books, these sources correct significant errors in standard English sources.

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