The Bayern Class
German 15-inch Gunned Superdreadnoughts - 1916

German battleship BAYERN on trials, 1916
Photo copyright © by HDW GmbH. Enlarge

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German super-dreadnought battleship Bayern, completed June 1916. Like the contemporary Queen Elizabeths, Baden and Bayern mounted eight 38-cm (15-in) guns in centerline twin turrets. They compared very favorably with their British competitors. Extremely well-protected and well-compartmented hulls are a good place to start comparing. Gunnery was always a German strong point, and the 15"/45 SK L/45 guns and turret machinery were a credit to Germany's precision engineering. Seen above in a shot taken during trials, Bayern and her sister were the last dreadnought battleships to join the Kaiser's fleet in WWI, and the only 15"-gunned vessels in the German Navy prior to the Bismarck and Tirpitz of 1939. Do the math: two German super-dreads versus ten British (plus four British 15-inch battlecruisers and seven more a-building): Despite a creditable effort, Germany had lost the naval arms race. The two remaining members of the class, having been laid down in 1914, were partially completed at war's end; both had been launched in 1916-17. They were to have been called Sachsen and Württemberg.

Plans and Specifications

Schematic of the BADEN of 1916
Schematic from Jane's 1914 edition, marked "details very approximate." Enlarged view

Specifications for the Bayern class:
Dimensions: 590'7" OA x 98'5" x 30'10"   Displacement: 32,200 tons deep laden. Armament: (8) 15"/45 (42); (16) 5.9"/45 in single mounts; and (10) 3.5" guns; (4) 24mm AA; (5) 24" torpedo tubes (610 mm). Armor: Krupp type. Belt: 15.75"/4.7"; turrets: 15.75"/3.94"; conning tower: 15.75"; deck: 4"/1.18"   Fuel capacity: 1,000 tons of coal, 200 tons of oil. Maximum: 4,800 tons of coal. Propulsion: 14 coal-fired Schulz-Thornycroft boilers; (3) geared turbines developing 55,967 SHP, triple screw. Speed: 22 kts. Tactical radius: 5,000 nm @ 12 kts. Crew: 1,187 - 1,271.

Metric specifications:
Dimensions: 180m x 30m x 9.39m   Displacement: 32,200 tons deep laden. Armament: (8) 38 cm/45 (4x2); (16) 15 cm/45 in single mounts; (10) 88 mm guns in single mounts; (5) 61 cm torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp type. Belt: 350/120 mm; turrets: 350/100 mm; conning tower: 400 mm; deck: 102/30 mm. Fuel capacity: 1,000 tons of coal, 200 tons of oil. Maximum: 4,800 tons of coal. Propulsion: 14 coal-fired Schulz-Thornycroft boilers; (3) geared turbines developing 41,734.6 kW, triple screw. Speed: 41 km/hr. Tactical radius: 9,300 km @ 22 km/hr. Crew: 1,187 - 1,271.

Schematic of the BADEN of 1916
Rendering of Baden in 1917 fit shows the topside arrangements. Enlarge

Ship Histories

SMS BADEN at sea - bow viewAt right, the Baden on trials. Accepted into the High Seas Fleet in Oct. 1916, she was the only one of her class to see significant combat. After Jutland, there were only a few sorties of the High Seas Fleet against Britain. However, in late 1917, Germany put pressure on Russia through significant offensives by land and sea. These lightning attacks forced the hapless revolutionaries in Petersburg to sue for peace. Part of the eastern offensive was a campaign capturing the Gulf of Riga in present-day Latvia. Baden was part of this Baltic offensive in Oct. 1917, but suffered significant mine damage. Badly flooded, the ship had to be towed from the scene to Kiel dockyard for repairs, in a touch-and-go operation that took 19 days.

These ships represented the acme of German battleship design in WWI. They compared well to the British "R class," their closest contemporaries. Compared to the British ships, they had both pluses and minuses. Their engineeering plants contained a pioneering first, geared turbines, allowing greater efficiency: it allowed the turbines to spin at their most efficient speed and the screws to spin at theirs, propellers requiring a much lower speed since the 1600 rpm and up produced by a turbine would lash the water into foam, denying the propeller blades a "grip" to push the ship forward -- a phenomenon known as cavitation, which had bedeviled turbine-driven ships since the first experiments of Charles Parsons in the 1890s. Early, direct-shafted turbines were thus forced to turn at a much lower speed than their maximum efficiency; and by being run at these speeds, their true economy in fuel consumption was never realized. By solving these problems, turbine gearing became the wave of the future; by 1939, 23 yeas after the Bayerns debuted, virtually all new naval construction incorporated this feature.

However, the British Queen Elizabeths and "R" class ships had made the switch to oil fuel. The Bayern class ships relied on coal -- abundantly available in German home and occupied territories. Most navies abandoned coal within ten years of the end of WWI, swapping the back-breaking and filthy labor of coaling ship and stoking boilers for the comparative ease of oozing oil into the tanks and adjusting the valves on an oil jet to feed the furnaces. The Bayerns were slightly shorter than their British counterparts and a full 2 knots slower (though the British ships never reached their design speed of 25 kts, being instead reliable 23-knotters with occasional surges to 24½). The German ships fired a smaller 15" shell than the British equivalent (the 38.1 cm/42 Mark I), achieving a greater muzzle velocity, but with measurably less accuracy at extreme range. These were still enormously powerful weapons, their projectiles nearly twice the size of the 11" ordnance with which Germany began the Great War. As with all German dreadnoughts, the intricate watertight subdivision of the Bayern class vessels made them extremely hard to sink -- witness the Baden's Baltic odyssey described above. Aside from these fine points of difference, the German and British super-dreadnoughts were quite evenly matched. Of course, with the blockade and the Kaiser's command to remain in port, neither German ship could boast a fully trained, seasoned crew to equal the British. It is uncertain what the outcome of a clash between British and German 15-inch ships would have been. The British never would have exposed their ships to such a potent threat without stacking the odds, using their superiority in numbers.

When the U.S. declared war on Germany in April 1917 -- an act the Kaiser invited by proclaiming unrestricted submarine warfare earlier that year -- it tilted the suface-ship balance even further in favor of the Allies; the Americans added an immense modern battle fleet and swarms of destroyers. The U.S. also added enormous industrial capacity without which Germany's 1917-18 U-boat offensive could have succeeded. America's contributions in money and manpower, too, critically reinforced the Allies' sagging war effort on land and sea. As the most recently completed and highest-value units in the German navy, Baden and Bayern were surrendered to the British at war's end and interned at Scapa Flow. Like the rest of the German captives there, they ended up scuttled by their own crews: two of the 15 German dreadnoughts sunk in the frigid waters of the Flow on June 21, 1919. Baden was one of the few German warships sunk in shallow waters, and presented an uncomplicated salvage effort. But most of the rest were resting in the cold, silent deeps of Scapa Flow, well out of the Allies' hands. A handful of these vessels were salvaged more than ten years later as part of a Depression-era make-work project. Bayern was one of these, patched up by divers on the sea floor and then refloated bottom side up (below) in 1933. Her triple screws and twin rudders -- the standard arrangement in the German fleet, carried over into the Kriegsmarine's WWII capital ships -- lay obscenely exposed while her hull was being cut away from the keel plates down.

Although they garnered little glory and had scant effect on the outcome of the First World War, these ships' influence resonated into the Second. When the time came for Germany to build full-scale battleships again, the Kriegsmarine's architects borrowed heavily from the Bayern class in developing the Bismarck and Tirpitz, while adding important technologies that had developed since 1918, such as radar and oil fuel. The triple-screw/twin rudder configuration, inherited from the Kaiserliche Marine era, proved to be Bismarck's Achilles' heel.

A Bayern Class Gallery

German battleship BAYERN at target practice, view from mast of neighboring ship

Wreathed in her own coal smoke, Bayern moves out onto the Kiel Canal for trials, her decks black with spectators. It must have seemed to some that here was the advanced weapon that would win the war for Germany. Enlarge

German battleship BAYERN, 1916

Aerial view of Bayern soon after commissioning in 1916. She must have seemed an invincible warship, her huge bulk and gigantic guns dwarfing all else at Wilhelmshaven.

German battleship BADEN at target practice, aerial view

Aerial view of Baden at target practice reveals details of the ship's unique superstructure. Details such as the small rangefinder on C turret, louvered ventilation modules under the stacks, casemate secondary gun mountings, and the arrangement of bridge and conn, all are evident for modeler and aficionado alike. Most impressive of all is the thickly belted hull without a single scuttle breaking its tremendous integrity. Enlarge

German battleship BAYERN at target practice, view from mast of neighboring ship
Profile view of Bayern on maneuvers.

The Bayern interned at Scapa Flow after the Armistice.

Bayern Sinking, 6/21/1919

Undergoing Salvage, 1933

Sister ship Baden, late in the War.

Hole in battleship's hull caused by a mine, 1917

Damage to the Baden after her Oct. 1917 encounter with a Russian mine. This photo documents the devastating nature of mine damage, which took the super-dreadnought out of service for several months of costly repairs.

The Baden scuttled at Scapa, surounded by salvage vessels. She settled where anchored, in shallow water with decks barely awash at high tide. Consequently she was refloated with ease compared to the deeply submerged wrecks at Scapa; for example, one of the Königs was salvaged with herculean effort in 1937; the other three König class ships remain where they settled in 1919. After refloating and careful examination by Allied technical experts, Baden was expended as a target in August 1921.

Screws and rudders of the Bayern after she was refloated in 1933.

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