Battlecruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim (1912)
Previously the Imperial German Battlecruiser Goeben
Few ships have influenced history more than the Goeben and her companion, the light cruiser Breslau. The Goeben and her sister Moltke were built at Hamburg by Blohm & Voss, designed by Prof. Kretschner, as part of the 1909 programme. The second class of German battlecruisers, they closely resembled the pioneer of the type, the Von der Tann (commissioned 1910), but added one turret aft firing over the single aft turret present in the earlier design. Thus these ships had ten 11"/50 calibre guns for a very powerful main armament, as opposed to eight on the Von der Tann: centerline bow turret, centerline superfiring pair aft, plus two wing turrets in échelon position, i.e. staggered on either beam.
Their design was innovative and addressed problems raised by actual battlefield conditions. For instance, there was barely a particle of wood in their construction; wardroom chairs seem to have been the only wood used on the interiors. Their ventilation system was compact and less vulnerable than the large free-standing cowls previously used; large louvers led to banks of fans concealed inside sloped armored compartments containing the boiler and engine room uptakes, grouped around the funnels and the afterbridge. It is worth noting how little superstructure these German ships presented compared with their French and British contemporaries (see plans and model shot). These were very cleanly designed and relatively trouble-free ships. Both proved highly survivable despite serious battle damage, although with only 4" protection for the foremost and aftermost magazines, and an armored deck that did not extend beyond these barbettes into the ends of the ships, they would have been prime candidates for a rebuild post-Jutland. It is worth noting that when Yavuz received a rebuild in the Twenties, this deficiency was not addressed. The ships were of moderate freeboard, 26' forward (7.9 m) and 18' aft (5.5 m), and were equipped with Frahm anti-rolling tanks.
The Moltke and Goeben had turbine-driven quadruple-screw propulsion giving them a speed of 27+ knots, the equal of contemporary British battlecruisers. Although Goeben was experiencing boiler problems at the time of her famous escape in 1914 and could only make 24 knots, this was not known by the British ships chasing her, which credited her with a fine turn of speed. Adm. Souchon commanding the Mediterranean Squadron drove the ship mercilessly, and four of his stokers were were killed by scalding as faulty boiler tubes burst under the pressure. Many more stokers were prostrated with heat stroke, fueling their glowing furnaces for 2-hour shifts in the August Mediterranean heat; they had to be brought topside to recover. The heroic efforts of the ship's engineering staff, and boiler trouble on the two British battlecruisers pursuing her, brought the Goeben safely to her new theater of operations on the Black Sea. At left, the heraldic shield of the von Goeben family, carried on both bows of the Goeben. Photos attest that these were not removed until she had been in Turkish service for some 10 years. The Germans were very insistent that German interests and Turkish interests were identical -- an assertion fans of Lawrence of Arabia will find amusing, but one that was controversial within the Ottoman Empire at the time. But the Turkish Republic under Atatürk was equally insistent on uprooting feudalism and foreign control in Turkey.
Plans & Specifications
Specifications for the Moltke class:
Dimensions: 610'6" x 96'9" x 28' Displacement: 23,000 tons. Armament: (10) 11"/50 (5x2), (12) 6"/50, (12) 24-pdr MG; (4) 20" TT. Armor: Krupp type. Belt: 11"/4", turrets 8", barbettes 10½", conning tower 10½", funnel uptakes 6", secondary casemate battery 4", deck 3"/1". Fuel capacity: 1,100 tons of coal normal, 3,300 tons maximum; 200 tons oil. Propulsion: 24 coal-fired Schulz Thornycroft boilers; (4) Parsons steam turbines developing 70,000 hp, shafted to quad screw. Maximum speed: 28 kts on trials. In 1928 rebuilt with new Babcock boilers. Crew: 1,107. Cost: $2.2M at 1912 valuation.
Ships in class: Moltke · Goeben (the latter transferred to the Ottoman Empire, 1914)
Dimensions: 186.1m x 29.5m x 8.53m Displacement: 23,000 tons. Armament: (10) 280 mm/50 (5x2), (12) 152 mm/50, (12) 24-pdr MG; (4) 508 mm TT. Armor: Krupp type. Belt: 280/102 mm, turrets 203 mm, barbettes & conning tower 267 mm, funnel uptakes 152 mm, secondary casemate battery 102 mm, deck 76/25 mm. Fuel capacity: 1,100 tons of coal normal, 3,300 tons maximum; 200 tons oil. Propulsion: 24 coal-fired Schulz Thornycroft boilers; (4) Parsons steam turbines developing 52,200 kW, shafted to quad screw. Maximum speed: 52 km/hr on trials. In 1928 rebuilt with new Babcock boilers. Crew: 1,107. Cost: $2.2M at 1912 valuation.
*NOTE: In her 1927-30 refit, the ship was re-boilered and two of her 6" guns were removed. She was also enhanced with a fire-control system of French make. Her amor protection was not upgraded, however.
Note indentation under bow -- as in Braunschweig class battleships, this was the mouth of the forward torpedo tube.
Few ships have influenced history more than the Goeben and her companion, the Breslau. These were both almost new vessels in 1914. Named for August Karl von Goeben, a general in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Goeben commissioned in the Kaiserliche Marine July 2, 1912. After working up with the High Seas Fleet, she was assigned to the Mediterranean in 1913.
As World War I opened, the German Mediterranean Squadron consisted of two new ships: the Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau, under the command of R. Adm. Wilhelm Souchon. Unlike the sycophants and staff officers at Wilhelmshaven, Souchon was accustomed to taking the initiative. While at the Austrian Adriatic base at Pola in the last days before war exploded, he took note of the Turkish battleship seizures by Britain and put to sea, first shelling troop embarkation ports in French Algeria, then turning east for the Dardanelles. In the two days after London declared war, the two Germans managed to fuel at Messina and shake off British pursuit. Although Souchon's orders were to proceed back to Pola, the prospect of being blockaded in port for the duration did not appeal and he chose to obey earlier orders for Turkey. Coaling surreptitiously in hidden nooks of the Aegean, making emergency repairs to the boilers at every stop, they made their way eastward while the superior British forces searched to the west for him, toward Gibraltar. At 9 p.m. on Aug. 10 the German ships arrived at the Dardanelles and signaled for a pilot. Having transited the Straits and Bosporus, they arrived at Istanbul the 16th, the Goeben carrying, in the words of Winston Churchill, "more slaughter, more misery and more ruin than [had] ever before been borne within the compass of a ship." Once arrived, Souchon offered both ships for Ottoman service if only the Turks would join the War on Germany's side. In effect this was "an offer they couldn't refuse," since Goeben's 11-in guns could easily train on the Sublime Porte or any other site in Istanbul. A mutual defensive alliance with Germany was signed without delay. But the Ottoman Empire was unprepared for war. The Young Turks' counsel was divided, with War Minister Enver Pasha a strongly pro-German voice. The Osmanli inner clique wavered for nearly three months in an agony of indecision over the question of war or peace. After an initial wave of consternation, the British Admiralty mistakenly congratulated themselves on neutralizing this threat to their maritime supremacy.
Meanwhile, the two German warships were accepted into the Osmanli navy. There they changed history in a way few other ships could or did. In Turkish service, Breslau was known as Midilli, the Turkish name for the isle of Lesbos, while Goeben was renamed Yavuz Sultan Selim after a 15th-century Ottoman ruler, Selim the Strict. The ex-Germans found themselves virtually the only modern units in the Turkish fleet. Adm. Souchon was appointed C-in-C of the Turkish navy by imperial firman, and both ex-German ships were operated by their original German crews wearing fezzes; the shipboard day of worship was changed to Friday, but the Lutheran and Catholic liturgy remained unchanged.
Weary of Oriental delaying tactics, Souchon determined to give events a forceful nudge. On October 29, 1914 the two ex-Germans, together with units of the Turkish navy under Souchon's command, bombarded Russian cities on the Black Sea to embroil Turkey in the War: the admiral wrote his wife, "I have thrown the Turks into the powder keg and kindled war betwen Russia and Turkey." Later that year, the two ex-German ships encountered stiff resistance from five Russian pre-dreadnoughts at once off Cape Sarych in the Crimea. Unexpectedly they had to run from their deadly fire when a hit on one of Yavuz' secondary mounts led to a stubborn casemate fire. Later in the War, she engaged in two long-range artillery duels with the Russian dreadnought Imperatritsa Yekaterina in 1917 -- the Goeben's only bouts with another dreadnought in a long career. The Russian gunners nicknamed Breslau the Plaemyannik (the nephew) for her habit of hiding behind her more formidable companion when the lead started to fly. Bombardments, escort duties, intercepting enemy troop convoys -- the work of warships in wartime was their lot until Yavuz ran into a mine and had to take several months under repair. During 1916 the fleet operated on the Black Sea in support of the hard-pressed troops on the Caucasus front, where the Russians were winning. The ships were laid up by a coal shortage for most of 1917. In October of that year, Kaiser Wilhelm paid a visit to his Turkish allies. The All-Highest's visit included inspections of the ex-German ships that had done so much to bring the Turks in as allies. This helped to gloss over the unrest in the Turkish military at being so entirely taken over by the Germans (much as Souchon had been made C-in-C of the navy, the Ottoman armies were overseen by German officers and technical advisors under the watchful eye of Marshal Liman von Sanders). The Young Turks had taken power promising democracy and deliverance from foreign domination, but patently had failed on both counts. At year's end Souchon returned to Germany (below right - Souchon and staff on the deck of his flagship). Yavuz came under the command of Kapitän zur See Richard Ackermann; overall fleet command devolved on Vice Adm. Rebeur-Paschwitz.
Late in January 1918, the two vessels stood down the Straits to attack the British base on the island of Imbros, just off Gallipoli. They did not find the Lord Nelson class battleships at Imbros, but they did find and sink two monitors used for offshore bombardment. Allied destroyers and aircraft launched a blistering counterattack. The ex-Germans next shaped course for Mudros where the pre-dreadnought Agamemnon was raising steam to meet them, but en route they stumbled into a minefield. Breslau eventually sank on Jan. 20, 1918 after hitting no fewer than five mines and losing 93% of her crew. Also damaged by three mines while assisting her consort, Yavuz beached herself inside the Dardanelles. Despite repeated bombing runs by Imbros-based aircraft, the British failed to damage the ship seriously as she lay bows-up on a sandbar, undergoing emergency repairs. After a several days' ordeal, Yavuz limped back to Istanbul towed by two salvage tugs and escorted by the ex-German pre-dreadnought Torgud Reis. Yavuz was brought across the Black Sea to be docked at German-held Sevastopol in May 1918. This was her first actual visit to the graving dock in four years of continuous activity and cumulative combat damage. She had her hull cleaned and received emergency repairs; permanent restoration would wait until 1927. The new Turkish Republic made a commitment to its single dreadnought by purchasing a 29,000-ton floating dock to keep her in repair, and a thorough rebuild was done betwen 1927 and 1930. When inquiry was made into why the work was taking so long, it was discovered that the official involved had embezzled most of the funds, and the work had barely begun: apparently bad habits had carried over from the Ottoman Empire into the Republic. Atatürk himself determined to make an example of this malfeasance. One can assume that potential chiselers on the state budgets came away chastised; but the investigation and trials contributed to significant delays in the modernization of Yavuz. As noted above, she ship's armor was not upgraded at this time, but her gunnery was, with the addition of a modern French-designed fire control system. She also received all-new boilers at this time. Outwardly, she retained much the same appearance she had when first emerging from the Blohm & Voss yard in 1912. A glassed-in wheelhouse, with room for components of the fire-control system, and an enlarged bridge were the main changes. Even the original masts and the prominent funnel cap on the forward funnel were retained, in marked contrast to other postwar rebuilds of WWI vintage dreadnoughts. Warship watchers have been grateful that Turkey did not emulate the Soviet designers responsible for the Gangut class' 1930s "new look" but maintained the lean, classic profile of Goeben, surely one that was hard to improve.
The Yavuz in drydock refitting at Gölçük, c. 1929. Enlarge
The ship commissioned as the Turkish Republic's flagship in 1930, and continued as such for 20 years, based at Istinye on the Bosporus, later at Izmit and Gölçük. One signal honor she performed was to bear the body of Atatürk to his state funeral in 1938. During this period she helped uphold Turkey's naval credibility against the rival Russian and Greek fleets; Stalin felt compelled to transfer one of his "Baltic dreadnoughts," the 1914-era Paris Commune, to Sevastopol to counter a possible Turkish threat. Extant photographs show Yavuz receiving the USS Missouri at Istanbul in 1946, less than a year after the Japanese surrender had been signed on her decks. The occasion was the transport of the body of the Turkish ambassador to the U.S., who had died at Washington. Yavuz was finally decommissioned in the last month of 1950 after 36 years serving Turkey. In 1954 she was struck off. At the end of her long career, she was offered to Germany as a naval museum in 1963; but tragically, the offer was rejected. The old warship was finally cut up between 1973 and 1976, placing her among the longest-lived of WWI dreadnoughts -- indeed, second only to the USS Texas (BB-35). One of Yavuz' four giant screws stands as a memorial in Gölçük today -- the only relic of a ship that mightily influenced history.
Moltke dashing through the foam on her trials, 1911.
The Goeben's sister ship Moltke was named for Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, known as Moltke the Elder, the victorous Prussian C-in-C in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and one of the three leading Prussians of the 1860s. Not coincidentally, his son Helmuth von Moltke (Moltke the Younger) was the German Chief of Staff at the beginning of the Great War three years after the ship was commissioned. The younger Moltke had the magic name and all the training, but not the magic touch. Many historians attribute the huge mess that was WWI in the West to the younger Moltke's indecisiveness and lack of adherence to the Schlieffen Plan. By the time he was replaced in 1915, it was already too late for Germany to salvage the situation by military means alone. At left, the elder Moltke's arms, used as the badge of the ship and blazoned on her bow shields. The dates of his military victories are written on the arms of the Iron Cross: 1864 (Denmark), 1866 (Königgratz), and 1870 (Sedan). A crown and the Kaiser's initial, W, decorate the top of the cross.
The ship that was his namesake was part of the 1908 armaments programme and commissioned in 1911, a year earlier than the Goeben. Moltke remained at Wilhelshaven with the fleet when Goeben departed to represent German interests in the Mittelmeer (the German name for the Mediterranean). Moltke's history was that of the High Seas Fleet, to a large degree. She took part in Hipper's raids on Hartlepool and Yarmouth in 1914-15, and was at the Battle of Dogger Bank, escaping serious damage. In the Baltic in 1915, she was torpedoed by the British submarine E1 while covering a strike against Russian defenses in the Gulf of Riga. She was hit in the forward torpedo room and endured 8 killed, but luckily her own 'fish' did not detonate. Damage was limited to a 50-foot hole in the bow and local flooding. A month in the yard at Blohm & Voss set her right. The following year she fought ferociously at the Battle of Jutland, first in the battlecruiser exchange (the "Run to the South") and then in the suicide charge of the battlecruiser squadron that provided cover for Scheer's second turn-away and retreat. In this episode, faced with the devastating fire of the entire Grand Fleet ranged across his course, the German commander beat a retreat after ordering his battered and beleaguered battlecruisers to charge straight at the British as a diversion. This the battlecruisers did, heroically drawing the fire of the entire British battle fleet until a squadron of destroyers covered their own turnabout with a smoke screen. Many of the ships had one or more of their turrets already disabled at the beginning of the charge; the Von der Tann participated even through none of her turrets was working. None of the battlecruisers was sunk outright, but all were undergoing emergency damage control after withdrawing. After the maneuver, Moltke was the only battlecruiser left in suitable condition to be the flagship and Adm. Hipper transferred his flag to her from the newer Lützow, which was badly scorched and in a sinking condition. Indeed, Lützow made the journey back to base overnight with the fleet, arriving the outer defenses of Heligoland Bight, but was drawing too much water forward to enter and had to be scuttled -- the one German battlecruiser lost in the action. By contrast, Moltke regained the base with ease. After Jutland her damage was put right, but no further sorties resulting in contact were made by the battlecruisers during the War.
Quarter view of the Moltke.
In the critical last days of autumn 1918, Reinhard Scheer (the High Seas Fleet C-in-C at Jutland) had become Grand Admiral at Berlin while Franz von Hipper, ex-battlecruiser commandant, had stepped into Scheer's shoes as C-in-C of the High Seas Fleet. At the eleventh hour, Scheer ordered a suicidal sortie to take place Oct. 21 -- a desperate ploy to improve Germany's bargaining position at the impending peace negotiations. But Hipper's seamen had no intention of cooperating. As the battlecruisers Derfflinger and Seydlitz headed through the twin locks to the Jade Bay on their way to the deployment, hundreds of sailors dropped from their decks to the concrete walkways on the locks and quickly made themselves scarce. As Hipper tried to sort out his ships in the Jade, some engaged in open rebellion and his flagship had to train its 12-in guns on the Thüringen and Heligoland, where rebellious stokers had extinguished their fires and sailors had smashed navigation equipment. Hipper took immediate repressive action, boarding the former with 200 marines and arresting over 500 men from the two ships. He then made the mistake of dispersing the ships with revolutionary sympathies; this had the undesired effect of spreading the mutiny to Hamburg and Kiel. Within a few weeks rebellious sailors joined with disgruntled soldiers and civilians to make a revolution. With lightning speed they toppled the Kaiser and proclaimed a new socialist workers' state in Germany. Their first demand -- to end the war -- was met by the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918.
Moltke was surrendered to the Allies off Scapa Flow Nov. 22, 1918 along with most of the newer units in the High Seas Fleet. She was interned at Scape Flow for seven months and scuttled with the rest of the High Seas Fleet on June 21, 1919. Moltke's carcase was raised in 1927, to be scrapped at Rosyth, Scotland in 1929.
A TCG Yavuz Scrapbook
Goeben at speed while in German service.
A rare stern view of the sister ship Moltke at Wilhelmshaven, showing the superfiring aft turrets. This also shows the louvers for the ventilation equipment in the armored funnel uptakes, a feature common to all German dreadnoughts.
The Goeben and Breslau at the Straits, Aug. 10, 1914 -- about to change the course of history.
Yavuz backs out for another sortie, Istinye, 1915. She and Midilli were in constant use at this time, running dozens of missions vital to the Ottoman war effort.
A view on the foredeck, showing the minimal bridgeworks and befezzed German crew.
Detail of Goeben's superposed aft turrets during her period of German service.
Detail of the ship's Bullivant torpedo nets.
The Yavuz at Istanbul in December 1918, after the defeat of the Central Powers.
On board in the 1930s. The rebuild of the bridgeworks and conn is apparent.
Yavuz at Malta, 1936. Her crew's pride in their magnificent dreadnought is apparent.
A fine model of Yavuz in the Turkish Naval Museum at Beshiktash.