Tuesday 13 January 2015

SMS Von der Tann – The first and the fastest

SMS Von der Tann steaming into the North Sea.
Model by GHQ Models.

Launched on the 20 March 1909, the SMS Von der Tann was the first battle cruiser constructed for the German Kaiserliche Marine. She bore evidence to the ongoing arms race between Britain and Germany leading up to WW1, and was thus intended as a counterpart to the British Invincible class ships. What set the two ship classes apart was speed. The German navy opted for thicker armor but lighter and cheaper guns, thus reaching a lighter equivalent on the total weight to speed ratio than the British ships, which were generally lighter armored but fitted with the heavier 12 inch guns.

SMS Von der Tann during construction at 
the Blohm & Voss wharf in Hamburg.

Completed at the historic Blohm & Voss wharf in Hamburg, the Von der Tann was the fastest dreadnought in the World when she was launched in 1909, capable of speeds just above 27 knots (50 km/h or 31 mph). Like all the battle cruiser of the High Seas Fleet, she were named after a famous German general, who had served the Prussian Crown. The name ”Von der Tann” was taken after a Bavarian general who fought with distinction in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, leading to the unification of Germany under the Prussian Crown.

"Schnellstes Schiff der Welt"
She was the fastest ship on the sea when launched in 1909.

Before the outbreak of the Great War, the German government cleverly used the PR-value of the World’s fastest ship by sending SMS Von der Tann on a series of long distance voyages to Rio de Janeiro, Puerto Militar and Bahía Blanca, aimed at wooing the South American governments into entering arms contracts with the Germany weapons industry. In 1911 she even attended the coronation of King George V, offering the British king and his staff a view of what they would be up against five years later at Jutland.

I added a few etched copper bits to the masts,
trying to simulate the rigging in detail.

In 1914 and 15 the SMS Von der Tann was attached to the I Scouting Group, participating in a series of bombing raids on British costal towns Yarmouth, Scarborough, Hartlepool, Whitby, Yarmouth and Lowestoft, all aimed at drawing out portions of the Royal Navy, and destroying them piece meal. She was however undergoing refitting during the Battle of Dogger Bank, but a detachment of her sailors were sent over to the SMS Blücher, and thus went down with her as this ship was sunk during that battle.

The crest of SMS Von der Tann.

At the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916, the SMS Von der Tann was part of Hipper’s I Scouting Group, as the battle cruisers spearheaded the High Seas Fleet into the North Sea. Von der Tann was the rearmost ship in the line of five, with the Moltke, Seydlitz, Derfflinger and finally Lützow in front of her. When Hipper’s battle cruisers made contact with the British vanguard under Beatty, the SMS Von der Tann entered into a gunnery duel with the HMS Indefatigable. 

A chart I constructed showing how fire was directed 
during the battle cruiser engagement at the Battle of Jutland.

The lighter armored British ship had 52 shells fired at her, of which 5 were direct hits. The last hit would become famous, as it penetrated a forward turret, causing a chain of cordite flash fires eventually reaching down into the now heavily listing Indefatigable’s magazines, blowing up the ship and all but two of her 1.019 strong crew. 

The HMS Indefatigable explodes as her main magazines catch fire.
The massive explosion threw debris 200 meters into the air,
stunning the crews of nearby ships.

After the sinking of the Indefatigable, SMS Von der Tann came into contact with the 5th British Battle Squadron, and starting receiving fire from the heavy 15in guns onboard the Barham, Valiant and the Malaya. Von der Tann took a direct hit from the HMS Barham, which struck her just below the waterline, causing her to take in 600tons of water. Shortly after this, Beatty’s flagship HMS Tiger also started targeting SMS Von der Tann, hitting her with 13.5in shells. The first of two direct hits crippled the C turret while the second took out the A turret. B and D turrets later failed due to overheating caused by the rapid sequence of fire, leaving Von der Tann for some hours during the battle without any main guns to direct at the enemy. She stayed in formation to try and draw enemy fire however, zig-zagging along to represent a hard target.

Picture from above - note the white circles on the fore and aft turret,
added for easy aerial recognition. 

Additional hits dislodged her torpedo nets, penetrated the deck causing engine room damage and a final hit struck the rear conning tower, killing or wounding all at that post. With 4 direct hits suffered, 11 dead and 35 wounded, the SMS Von der Tann limped back to the safety of the Jade, crossing through the British cruiser screen during the night between the 31st May and 1st June 1916.

The SMS Von der Tann in her prime.

The SMS Von der Tann had performed with excellence at Jutland, sinking an enemy battle cruiser and later withstanding immense punishment from the more modern and heavier armed British battle ships of the 5th Battle Squadron. The damaged suffered also bore witness to the relative vulnerability of the expensive dreadnoughts, leaving SMS Von der Tann in docks for 2 months undergoing repairs following the Battle of Jutland. 

Another shot from the side.
The crisp sculpting offers an abundance of details on the model.

SMS Von der Tann was part of the naval contingent surrendered to the Allies and interned at Scapa Flow, where it was to be kept until Germany had signed the peace treaty. However, Rear Admiral von Reuter and others in the now interned German navy were convinced that the British would simply seize their ships once the peace treaty in Paris was signed. He therefore defyingly arranged for the whole of the interned fleet to be scuttled by it’s own crew. The operation began on the 21st June 1918, as the British ships headed out to sea for a training exercise, leaving the Germans largely unattended. The remainder of the now reduced crew onboard SMS Von der Tann swiftly carried out the orders. As the big ship slowly sank, her crew paid her one last gesture of respect, as they proudly rowed away in the lifeboats, by having their band play the national anthem in her honor.

The SMS Von der Tann steaming out to sea.

The brass bell of the SMS Von der Tann now hangs at the Laboe Naval Memorial outside Kiel Germany, in commemoration of all sailors lost during the two World Wars.

Technical drawing of the SMS Von der Tann.


Laid down: March 1908

Launched: March 1909

Completed: Sept 1910

Constructed at: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg

Displacement: 21.000 tons (Full load)

Dimension: 562ft 9in x 87ft x 27ft 6 in

Main guns: 8 x 11 inch 45cal (4 turrets)

Armor: 9.5in belt, 2.5in deck and 9in turrets armor.

Machinery: 4 shaft Parsons Turbines creating 42.000 shp

Speed: Max speed reached 28 knots

Endurance: 6500 miles (10 knots)

Cost: 1.833.000 Pounds in 1909 (ca. 440 million Dollars in todays currency)

Thank you very much for reading


  1. Beautiful model and a fascinating history of the Von der Tann.

    Great post!

    1. Thanks a lot Jonathan - hopefully she will see action soon joining her fellow battle cruisers on the gaming table offering some resistance to Mark's 6th US battle squadron!

  2. Masterful artistry and history packed into such an impressive model, Soren. I really a taken aback by the way you replicate water.

    1. Thank you Dean, appreciate the kind comment! The water is the good old trick of building waves by thick layers of paint, and topping off with a glossy acrylic wash-up from Model Master.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Michael! The detailed GHQ micronauts offer easy targets for the paint brush!

  4. What a splendid thing this is. The work is exquisite, particularly the water.

    1. Some people prefer their ship models without the sea base, but like you I think the water adds the last level of finish. Thank you for the kind comment, I'm happy you liked the result!

  5. Replies
    1. Cheers Ray, hopefully her performance will be worthy of her good looks, when she hits the gaming table:0)

  6. Oh row she's a stunner. The finest painted model boat I've seen.

    Rigging - pah!

    1. Thanks for dropping by for a read and leaving such a nice comment, really appreciate it!

  7. Great post yet again: beautiful paint job combined with an intriguing story well told. /Mattias

    1. Thanks Mattias, she's one of my favorites of the period! Happy you liked the write up:0)

  8. Lovely paint job and an interesting history too!

    1. Cheers Jonas, hopefully we'll get that naval game at some point! Will be extending the Jutland collection these coming months, so we'll need more admirals at the gaming table!

  9. That's a great looking ship and I really like the water effect!


    1. Thank you very much for that kind comment Christopher. Let's see how she preforms when she heads on to the gaming table soon. Hopefully she'll be as fast and with equal precise gunnery as her historical counterpart.

  10. Fantastic work Sören! As always your water effect and attention to detail like the aerial recognition markings never fail to amaze me.

    1. Thanks Martin, appreciate it. I'm still hoping that I'll be at Tactica in Hamburg this year. Wonderful array of games they have on, specially the Spichern game and the WW1 caught my attention. Perhaps in 2016 it would be possible to set up at Jutland game there for the anniversary? That would be cool!

  11. Wonderful modelling and post. Thanks very much.

    1. You're very welcome, and thanks for coming by the blog for a read and a comment!

  12. Replies
    1. Thanks Stephen - hopefully we'll get a chance to roll some dice with these ships on the table at DffCon!