German Warships of World War Two

The light cruiser Emden (1925) [above], launched in 1925, was named in honor of the Imperial German Navy cruiser Emden (1908) [right-above]. That Emden (1908) had raised havoc in the Indian Ocean in 1914 sinking or capturing fifteen Allied merchant ships before being run to ground.

Because the German Navy’s Ship Testing Institute, essential to designing new ships, had been closed at the end of World War One, the Emden (1925) was based on the plans of the Karlsruhe (1912) [right-below], a cruiser built for the Imperial German Navy during World War One. That ship blew up late in the war due to an accidental explosion. (I don’t know about you but this might not have been the ship I would have picked to model another ship on.)

This was the first ship built for the Reichsmarine, the successor navy to the Imperial German Navy. The design had to be approved by the Military Inter-Allied Commission of Control, the secretariat set up by the victorious Allied powers in World War One (Great Britain, France, and the United States) to monitor German compliance with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Although generally referred to as the peace treaty which formally ended the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles is actually the peace treaty between Germany and the Allied Powers.

In World War One, the Allied Powers (Great Britain, France, Imperial Russia, and the United States) fought against a coalition of countries known as the Central Powers because they were located in the center of Europe. Each of the various countries which had comprised the Central Powers (Imperial Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria, and Turkey) had to negotiate and sign a separate peace treaty with the Allies, each treaty named after a different suburb of Paris. In addition to the Treaty of Versailles, the following peace treaties were signed:

*Treaty of Saint Germain: Austria

*Treaty of Trianon: Hungary

(The Austro-Hungarian Empire broke up into Austria and Hungary after the war and various bits of the old Austrian Empire were parceled out to countries like Italy who had fought on the Allied side.)

*Treaty of Neuilly: Bulgaria

*Treaty of Sevres: Turkey

(It often surprises people that Turkey fought on the German side in World War One. The movie, Gallipoli, one of the best war movies made, details the futile efforts of the British Empire troops to seize the Gallipoli Peninsula of Turkey. In World War Two, despite constant German pressure, the Turks wisely stayed neutral.)

The Treaty of Versailles placed significant military and naval restrictions on Germany. The naval restrictions were:

*German naval forces were limited to 15,000 men of whom no more than 1,500 were to be officers and petty officers (the actual wording in the treaty says ‘warrant officers’) and to:

*Six ‘armoured ships’ (the actual wording in the treaty) or what the US and British press later called ‘pocket battleships’ which could be no more than 10,000 tons displacement each. The most famous of these ‘pocket battleships’ was the Admiral Graf Spee. In German the ship was referred to as a Panzerschiff which simply translates as ‘armoured ship’. The ‘pocket battleships’ had a displacement substantially larger than 10,000 tons. The Germans lied and the Allies looked the other way.

*Six light cruisers (no more than 6,000 tons displacement each)

*Twelve destroyers (no more than 800 tons displacement each)

*Twelve torpedo boats (no more than 200 tons displacement each)

*Because the U-boats of the Imperial German Navy had almost cut the supply lines from other countries to Great Britain, Germany was forbidden to have any U-Boats at all.

Once the final design of the light cruiser Emden (1925) had finally been approved, the keel was laid on December 12, 1921. Because of the ever present political and economic turmoil in post-war Germany, the ship was not actually launched until January 7th, 1925 and not commissioned until October 15th, 1925.

The following statistics comes from: German Light Cruisers of World War Two by Gerhard Koop and Klaus-Peter Schmolke. (Gerhard Koop served in the Kriegsmarine during World War Two)

Length at the waterline: 150.5 meters (approx 500 feet)
Beam: 14.3 meters (47 feet)
Main armament: 8 x 15cm (6 inch) or eight naval cannon firing six inch shells
Maximum speed: 29 knots

What made this ship different from previous ships built by Germany was the extensive use of welding in place of riveting in much of the interior of the ship. Doing this reduced the overall weight of the ship by 5% or more which allowed for other equipment. This was experimental and didn’t always work well in the ships which followed.

The Emden (1925) was designed to be a training cruiser for seekadetts and made nine worldwide training cruisers between her commissioning in 1925 and the outbreak of the Second World War. During World War Two, the Emden (1925) participated in the invasion of Norway. She conducted several other combat missions but spent most of her time in the Baltic serving as a training ship and providing occasional fire support to German troops fighting against the Soviets. The ship was disabled in Kiel in April 1945 by Allied bombs and grounded in shallow water. After the war, the ship was broken up.

Another German Navy ship bearing the distinguished name, the frigate Emden was launched in 1980.

Published by

Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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