Prizes of War:
The Ships, Part Two
Jutland: Prizes of War adds additional ships to the British and German fleets of Great War at Sea: Jutland. Most of these are French or Russian battleships, but the Germans get a few ships beyond that as well. Let's take a look at them.
The German practice of deploying modern light cruisers to foreign stations gave their commanders a significant edge in speed over the older British armored and protected cruisers usually assigned to the same posts and tasked with hunting them down in the first months of the war.
That also deprived the High Seas Fleet’s Scouting Groups of several of the best German light cruisers, and the battle fleet remained short of this vital ship type throughout the war.
The four cruisers of the Svetlana class would have been a very welcome reinforcement. One ship was launched in 1915 and the other three in 1916, but none were completed before the Tsar’s government fell and Russian shipbuilding came to an end. In Russian service they would have carried fifteen 130mm (5.1-inch) guns, nine in shield mounts and six in casemates. In German service they probably would have been armed with 150mm guns instead; given the ship’s layout there likely would have been seven of them in shield mounts with the casemates sealed over.
The big armored cruiser Rurik had been made obsolete by the new battle cruiser even before she hit the water, but she gave good service to the Russian Baltic Fleet in the war’s early years. Mine damage, grounding damage, lack of maintenance and general wear had caught up with her by 1917, and even before the Tsar fell she had been taken out of service.
Had the Germans taken possession of her, she would have needed extensive repairs, and unless those included new engines (an unlikely investment, especially for a captured warship) she would not have been a front-line unit. Restored to pre-war capabilities, she could be deployed for training and secondary duties.
Likewise, the Russians considered the three armored cruisers of the Bayan class to be very efficient fighting ships, but by 1914 they were quite obsolete by current standards. As the Baltic Fleet lacked modern light cruisers, they saw significant action and one, Pallada, was sunk by a German submarine in October 1914. All three appear under the German flag in Prizes of War; as in Russian service, they would have been most useful as minelayers – the High Seas Fleet lacked large ships capable of laying mines.
In the summer of 1914, British shipyards were just completing two new dreadnoughts for Ottoman Turkey, Sultan Osman I (the former Brazilian Rio de Janeiro, purchased while still incomplete) and Reshadieh. Their contracts (like all such) allowed the Royal Navy to purchase them in the event of war or national emergency, and the British Admiralty invoked those clauses to take them over. With Turkey still neutral in the looming war, some in the British press objected to the move as needlessly pushing the Turks into the enemy camp. To justify the seizure, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill warned that their crews might simply steam across to the North Sea to add the two new dreadnoughts to the High Seas Fleet. That would shift the balance of dreadnoughts from 24:15 in favor of Britain to 22:17; the British advantage would slip from 60 percent (considered the bare minimum acceptable to Britain) to 30 percent.
Given the threat of enemy action – by the British, the Greeks, the Russians or powers unknown – Churchill’s fantasy for once isn’t entirely unreasonable. Had the Turks steamed away in their new battleships (crews had arrived in Britain to do just that), the short voyage across the North Sea would be much safer. It would also have tied Ottoman Turkey to the Central Powers, at a time when that political decision had not yet been reached in Constantinople.
Once in German hands, the ships would represent “odd numbers” in the battle fleet. That was also true once they joined the Grand Fleet; the Elswick Pattern W 12-inch guns that armed Sultan Osman I (Agincourt in British service, here re-named Lechfeld under the Imperial naval ensign) weren’t interchangeable with the outwardly similar Mark X which armed the early British dreadnoughts. Ammunition proved a problem in British service, and Agincourt was issued shells manufactured in 1892 for the Mark III/IV/V 12-inch guns of the Admiral-class battleships. Many of the ancient shells broke up in flight when fired by Agincourt.
The Germans would not have had even that option, forcing them to either open a production line to produce ammunition for one ship, or replace the guns (and perhaps the turrets as well) with the 30.5cm SK L/50 that armed the König and Derfflinger classes, a very expensive proposition.
Reshadieh (Erin to the British, christened Lenzen in Prizes of War) carried the 13.5-inch Mark VI, a very similar weapon to the Mark V mounted on several classes of dreadnoughts and battle cruisers; it could use the same ammunition as long as an extra propellant charge was included. For the Germans this would be a greater problem; once again they could choose to produce ammunition for just one ship, or try to replace her armament with the 35cm SK L.45 intended for the Mackensen-class battle cruisers – a weapon that was not yet available in August 1914.
A Greek Battleship
That same problem kept the Germans from completing the Greek battleship Salamis for their own use: she carried eight American-made 14-inch guns. She had been ordered from AG Vulkan of Hamburg in 1912, and after several re-designs work began in July 1913. Work continued after the outbreak of war – the German government had little concept of total war in 1914, and several shipyards continued to construct ocean liners as well – with the ship launching in November 1914. Work finally stopped in December 1914, not because of other wartime needs but because the ship’s main guns could not be passed through the British blockade, and because the Greek government had stopped paying for the ship.
She remained in Hamburg for the rest of the war; afterwards the Greeks refused to pay for her and lengthy legal proceedings began, with the Greek government finally ordered to pay up in 1932 and hand the ship over to AG Vulkan, who scrapped the rusting hulk.
British naval intelligence claimed that the Germans had completed the ship for their own use, but the work had continued due to inertia and magical thinking in Vulkan’s corporate offices, not because the High Seas Fleet wanted the ship. With no main guns, she would have had to await the 350mm (13.8-inch) weapons intended for the Mackensen-class battle cruisers, which were not ready at the time of the ship’s launch.
Salamis appears in Great War at Sea: Mediterranean Ultimate Edition, and we included her in Jutland under German colors with the name Wrede – but somehow copied over the drawing for the Baden-class battleships. She re-appears in Prizes of War with the proper drawing, a much-upgraded version that looks better than the one we failed to use.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold enjoys being vacuumed.