|Left: SMS Falke, SMS Hansa, SMS Kaiser, SMS Kronprinz and SMS König Wilhelm.
Right: The World War One era navy
|The Panserfregatte SMS König Wilhelm, above, was built in 1868 by the Thames Iron Works in
Leamouth, London. She was an armored frigate of the Prussian and later the German Imperial Navy.
The frigate was rigged as a three-master and initially ordered by the Turkish Navy but was purchased
during construction by Prussia and launched on April 25, 1868 under her new name, König Wilhelm.
During the Franco Prussian War, König Wilhelm remained in port. Germany's ironclads had been
forbidden to fight France's blockading forces.
SMS König Wilhelm was regarded as an excellent ship which maneuvered very well, but it lurched
violently and the sails had only limited influence. In May of 1878, a German tank squadron
consisting of the flagship SMS König Wilhelm, the battleship SMS Großer Kurfürst , SMS Prussia
and the Aviso SMS Falke under the command of Rear-Admiral Carl Ferdinand Batsch was steaming
through the English Channel to the Mediterranean for a maneuver. At the height of Folkestone, two
sailing ships crossed their course. SMS König Wilhelm and SMS Großer Kurfürst had to dodge them
and wanted to go back to their course. The watch officer on SMS König Wilhelm misunderstood his
command and turned and rammed the SMS Großer Kurfürst with his battering ram so violently that
it turned to port. The ship's officers on SMS Großer Kurfürst also failed to maneuver correctly, and
after the collision, water penetrated into SMS Großer Kurfürst so rapidly that it soon afterwards sank
with its 269 men on board. 218 of men were rescued by German and English ships.
After the serious accident, SMS König Wilhelm was fundamentally rebuilt from 1878 to 1882 at the
Imperial Shipyard Wilhelmshaven, where the prow was removed as well as the rig down to the lower
masts. Following the removal of her entire rigging in Hamburg in 1897, she was reclassified as an
armored cruiser, First Class, carrying a crew of 732. She was decommissioned in 1904, serving
thereafter as a barracks hulk in Kiel and Naval Academy Mürwik. She was scrapped in 1921.
|After the war of 1866 and the establishment of the North German Confederation, the North German
Federal Navy was created and Prussian War ships began flying the new federal war flag. The Navy
was no longer merely defensive, but could also be employed if an offensive against enemy forces
was needed: 10 Panzerschiffe (battleships), 22 Küstenverteidigungsfahrzeuge (coastal defense
ships),20 Korvetten (corvettes), 8 Avisos, 3 Transportschiffe (transport ships) and 7 Schulschiffe
(School vessels) were planned. The Diet approved the plan and the German shipbuilding industry and
In March 1872, a Naval academy was created at Kiel for training officers, followed by the creation
of the Machine Engineer Corps in May and a Medical Corps in February 1873. A Torpedo Engineer
Corps was created dealing with torpedoes and mines in July, 1879. In May, 1872, a ten year building
program instituted to modernize the fleet called for 8 armoured frigates, 6 armoured corvettes, 20
light corvettes, 7 monitors, 2 floating batteries, 6 avisos, 18 gunboats and 28 torpedo boats.
|The Panzerfregatte SMS Kaiser, above, was built at Samuda Brothers, London and launched in
1874. She was the lead ship of the Kaiser class armored frigates. The ship was commissioned into
the Imperial German Navy on February 13, 1875. Later, SMS KAISER was converted to a large
cruiser at the Imperial Shipyard, Wilhelmshaven. In 1889, Kaiser Wilhelm II embarked on a tour of
Genoa, Athens, Istanbul and Venice on the ship. The photo on the right is during that tour. After
1894, she served in Asian waters with the Far East Cruiser Division of the Imperial Navy. SMS
Kaiser was Rear Admiral Otto von Diederichs’ flagship of the Cruiser Division in East Asia and
participated in the amphibious landing during the German acquisition of Kiautschou Bay in
northeastern China in November 1897.
|SMS Mars was an artillery training ship. She arrived in 1877 for the training of crews and testing of
modern guns and techniques. From the beginning of 1881, her use was in the North Sea. On April
26, 1881, she experienced a terrible explosion on board during a firing exercise which claimed nine
lives and injured several others. In 1895, SMS Mars took part at the inauguration of the Kaiser-
Wilhelm Canal. From 1908, SMS Mars was used as the Hulk for the Baltic Sea stations. In 1914,
she was removed from the list of warships and in Lübeck in 1921 the hull of the ship was aborted.