East Asia Squadron

The German East Asia Squadron (Ger Kreuzergeschwader or Ostasiengeschwader) was an Imperial German Navy cruiser squadron which operated mainly in the Pacific Ocean between the mid-1890s and 1914.

Ostasiengeschwader Graf Spee in Chile
The East Asia Squadron (in the rear, under steam) leaving Valparaiso harbour in Chile, with Chilean cruisers in the foreground

Background

The Treaty of Peking of September 1861 between the Kingdom of Prussia and China allowed Prussian warships to operate in Chinese waters. As East Asia grew in economic and political importance to the recently united Germany, in 1881 a flying squadron was formed for the area under the command of a flag officer.[1] Since African colonies were then seen as of greater value, an African Cruiser Squadron was established in 1885 with permanent status, and shortly thereafter the Imperial German Navy reduced the East Asia presence to two small gunboats.

From 1888 to 1892, Leipzig was flagship of the German East Asia Squadron, initially under vice-admiral Karl August Deinhardt, appointed July 14th when the ship was in Aden and took command of the ship at Zanaibar on August 2nd, and of the squadron August 31st at Manda-Bay (Kenya). The planned voyage to the South Sea was cancelled with the first signs of troubles in East Africa. As such she took part in the suppression of the Abushiri Revolt in German East Africa. On 8 May 1889 a landing party from the ship also took part in the storming of the Buschiri lager near Bagamojo. Another landing party from the ship took part in the capture of Pangani on 8 July 1889. After the end of the uprising, the ship put into Cape Town for an overhaul (August/September). In early September Deinhardt received a telegram from Emperor Wilhelm II to report to his ship in the eastern Mediterranean.

The ship entered the Mediterranean on October 28 and joined the training squadron off the island of Mitilini on November 1st. The emperor meet Deinhardt on November 6th, who was returning from Constantinople, honored the members of the East-African cruiser squadron with a special cabinet order. All the German vessels left for Italy and docked at Venice on November 12th to continue repairs interrupted at Cape Town. After December 15th they departed for Malta waters then headed to Port Said where Christmas and New Years was spent.

Sailing solo, Leipzig set out for the Far East on January 27th (1890) with SMS Carola, SMS Schwalbe, and SMS Sperber returned to East Africa, traveling only with gunboats Iltis and Wolf. The squadron's new commander rear admiral Victor Valois assumed command on March 16th. This was a routine period, including visits to Kotchin in India (March 20th), traveled to Chinese and Japanese ports where Admiral Vallois meet-up with his flagship at Nagasaki, From there they traveled to Hong Kong, and Manila to Singapore where they meet up with SMS Sophie. They subsequently traveled in July through Indonesia, the Strait of Dampier, the Bismarck Archipelago, then to Newcastle, Sydney (September 15th) and Jervis Bay in Australia. They were joined by SMS Alexandrine in Australia and after repairs to the Leipzig from damage that occurred in the Suez Canal, they traveled on to Samoa and New Zealand (November), and at the start of 1891 some visits to Hong Kong (February 14th) and Chinese ports in March, running aground at Wusung-Road before its visit to Nanking.

In May 1891, at Jokohama, Valois was ordered to protect German interests in Chile against the Chilean Civil War. She ran out of coal on the way there and had to be towed for 97 hours. After stopping briefly in San Francisco, she traveled to Valparaiso arriving on July 9th. They traveled on to Iquique and Coquimbo during July and August. As the war came to a head, they returned to Valparaiso on August 20th and Leipzig and the British corvette HMS Champion sent a joint landing party to Valparaíso to protect the British and German quarters of the city. At the end of the Civil War, Leipzig visited various South American ports and then Cape Town. In March 1892 she anchored in Delagoa Bay, from which the Cruiser Squadron's new commander Friedrich von Pawelsz led a delegation to Paul Kruger, the new president of the Boer Republic of Transvaal. The African Cruiser Squadron itself returned to Germany for deactivation at Kiel in 1893.[2]

Formation

With the outbreak of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894, Germany revived her interest in China. With full support from Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German admiralty created an East Asia Cruiser Division (Kreuzerdivision in Ostasien)[3] with the modern light cruiser SMS Irene and three aging small ships under the command of Rear Admiral Paul Hoffmann. "His orders directed him to protect German interests and to examine possible sites for a German base in China."[4] Hoffmann found his ships lacking for the job and petitioned the admiralty for replacements for the three aging ships. His request was granted and the armored frigate SMS Kaiser, the light cruiser SMS Prinzess Wilhelm and the small cruiser SMS Cormoran were sent. But without a base, Hoffmann depended on the British at Hong Kong, the Chinese at Shanghai and the Japanese at Nagasaki for technical and logistical support of his ships. Wilhelm II, his chancellor, foreign minister and the naval secretary all saw the need for a base in East Asia; the German ambassador to China complained "... our ships cannot swim about here forever like homeless waifs."[5]

Rear Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz replaced Hoffmann in June 1896 with orders to find a site for a base and to evaluate four potential locales on the Chinese coast. Although Tirpitz favored the bay at Kiautschou, others in the government advocated for other sites, even Tirpitz wavered on his commitment in his final report. Tirpitz was recalled by Wilhelm II, and after he returned to Berlin he lost interest in East Asia: he was now developing a battle fleet.

Rear Admiral Otto von Diederichs succeeded Tirpitz as commander of the Cruiser Division. Although the navy had not yet committed to a specific site for a base due to high-level indecision, Diederichs asserted "Kiautschou alone is the goal of my efforts."[6]

Seizure of Tsingtao

Contemporary map of Tsingtau and the Shandong Peninsula
German 1912 map of the Shandong Peninsula showing the Kiautschou Bay concession

German offers to buy the site were refused, but the murder of two German missionaries on 1 November 1897 provided the casus for Rear Admiral Otto von Diederichs to land troops on 14 November 1897. The imperial navy had a rather tenuous hold on Kiautschou until the region was reinforced by the arrival of the protected cruiser SMS Kaiserin Augusta and in January 1898 the marines of the Seebataillon disembarked to form the garrison for Tsingtao.[7]

With the convention at Peking on 6 March 1898, the German ambassador and Chinese viceroy signed a 99-year lease for Kiautschou and colonization of the territory began in earnest. A naval base with a supporting, neighboring infrastructure (including the Tsingtao brewery) was then built at the impoverished fishing village of Tsingtao (now Qingdao) to create the Ostasiatische Station [East Asian Station] of the Imperial Navy.[8]

Von Diederichs was recalled to Berlin in 1899 to serve as chief of the admiralty staff; he was succeeded at Tsingtao by Rear Admiral Prince Heinrich of Prussia. A series of other commanders of the East Asia Cruiser Squadron followed: Rear Admirals Curt von Prittwitz, Felix von Bendemann, Alfred Breusing, Carl Coerper, Friedrich von Ingenohl, Erich Gühler, Günther von Krosigk, and the fleet's last commanding officer Count Maximilian von Spee. In these years a broad replacement and upgrade program provided for the assignment of modern ships to Tsingtao.

Boxer Rebellion

SMS Hertha
SMS Hertha with only two funnels as a training ship after her time in China
SMS Deutschland + SMS Gefion
SMS Gefion (right) off the China coast at German-occupied Jiaozhou Bay concession. The armoured frigate SMS Deutschland is on the left.

From February 1900 until 1902 Admiral Felix von Bendemann commanded the East Asia Squadron (Ostasiengeschwader) from his flagships SMS Irene, and then SMS Hertha. When Bendemann took command of the East Asia Squadron, he found it unprepared for the challenges presented by the brewing Boxer Rebellion. He actually had to borrow charts from the Russians and maps from the British in order to operate in the Yellow Sea.[9] Nevertheless, he forcefully advanced the idea of taking the Taku Forts and the ships under his command were able to make a noteworthy contribution in the Battle of Taku Forts (1900).[10] On 8 June 1900 he brought the large cruisers SMS Hansa, SMS Hertha and the small cruisers SMS Gefion and SMS Irene before the Taku Fort (together with warships of other nations) to land detachments of marines (Seebatallione) for the protection of their citizens in Tientsin. Lieutenant Otto Weniger, the commander of SMS Gefion then became commander of a landing corps of 500 marines, which took part in the failed Seymour Relief Expedition for the relief of the Peking delegations later in June.

World War I

In 1914, the East Asia Squadron numbered a total of five major warships under the command of Vice Admiral Maximilian, Reichsgraf von Spee:

Also assigned to the squadron in 1914 were the old Bussard class unprotected cruisers SMS Geier and SMS Cormoran, torpedo boats SMS S90 and SMS Taku, and a variety of gunboats.

At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, von Spee found himself both outnumbered and outgunned by Allied navies in the region. He was especially wary of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Royal Australian Navy — in fact he described the latter's flagship, the battlecruiser HMAS Australia as being superior to his entire force by itself.

I am quite homeless. I cannot reach Germany. We possess no other secure harbour. I must plough the seas of the world doing as much mischief as I can, until my ammunition is exhausted, or a foe far superior in power succeeds in catching me.
Vice-Admiral von Spee.[11]

The initial successes by Emden led to von Spee allowing her captain, von Muller, to take his ship on a lone commerce raiding campaign in the Indian Ocean, while the cruisers of the squadron would head towards the eastern Pacific and the South American coast, where there were neutral countries with pro-German sympathies (notably Chile) where von Spee could potentially obtain supplies.[12] The cruiser Cormoran was left behind due to the poor state of her engines which had led her to be stripped to outfit the captured Russian vessel Ryazan as a commerce raider renamed SMS Cormoran.

Raids by Emden

Emden disrupted trade throughout the Indian Ocean, intercepting 29 ships and sinking those belonging to Britain or its allies. At the Battle of Penang she sank the Russian protected cruiser Zhemchug and the French destroyer Mousquet, catching the Russian ship by surprise while in harbour. At Madras she destroyed oil storage facilities through shelling. The ship finally met its end on 9 November 1914 after a prolonged struggle with HMAS Sydney at the Battle of Cocos.

Sailing the Pacific

SMS Scharnhorst
Scharnhorst (prewar postcard)
Battle of the Falkland Islands, 1914 (retouched)
The Battle of the Falkland Islands was a crushing defeat for the East Asia Squadron.

At the outbreak of World War I, nearly all the ships of the East Asia Station were dispersed at various island colonies on routine missions; the armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were at anchor at Ponape in the Carolines. The fleet then rendezvoused at Pagan Island in the northern Marianas – the commanders planning the logistics of their long journey to Germany, with the ships coaling. The light cruiser Nürnberg was dispatched to Honolulu in the United States Territory of Hawaii to gather war news since all German undersea cables through British controlled areas were cut. Admiral von Spee headed for German Samoa with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, then east, conducting the Bombardment of Papeete in French Polynesia. The East Asia Squadron coaled at Easter Island from colliers that had been on station throughout the Pacific. The light cruiser SMS Geier, which had failed to rendezvous at Pagan, tried to join Spee's squadron until forced to intern itself at Hawaii on 17 October 1914 due to mechanical breakdowns. Realizing that Allied activity in the Pacific had increased to such a level that he was vastly outnumbered and losing the element of surprise, Admiral von Spee decided to move his fleet around Cape Horn into the Atlantic and force his way north in an effort to reach Germany. While off the coast of Chile, the squadron met up with the light cruiser Dresden, which had been operating as a commerce raider in the Atlantic and had rounded Cape Horn in an effort to increase chances of success. At this point, Dresden joined Spee's flag and set out with the rest of the East Asia Squadron.

The main body of the squadron engaged the British West Indies Squadron on 1 November 1914 at the Battle of Coronel, sinking two British cruisers, HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth. It was while attempting to return home via the Atlantic that most of the squadron was destroyed on 8 December 1914 in the Battle of the Falkland Islands by a superior British force of battlecruisers and cruisers. SMS Dresden and a few auxiliary vessels escaped destruction and fled back to the Pacific, where the auxiliaries were interned at Chilean ports and Dresden was scuttled at the Battle of Mas a Tierra.

The four small gunboats Iltis, Jaguar, Tiger, Luchs and the torpedo boats SMS Taku and S90 of the East Asia Squadron that had been left at Tsingtao were scuttled by their crews just prior to the capture of the base by Japan in November 1914, during the Siege of Tsingtao. Four small river gunboats and some two dozen merchantmen and small vessels evaded Allied capture in inland waters of China until 1917, when China seized most of them save for two river gunboats, which were destroyed by their crews.[13]

Notes

  1. ^ Gottschall, By Order of the Kaiser, p. 134. Kingdom of Prussia was not included in the party members of the Treaty of Peking, though British royal and German peer families were relative by marriage then.
  2. ^ Gottschall, p. 135
  3. ^ naval nomenclature designated eight-ship units as 'squadrons' and four-ship units as 'divisions'
  4. ^ Gottschall, p. 136
  5. ^ Gottschall, p. 137
  6. ^ Gottschall, p. 149
  7. ^ This formation was the only all-German force in the colonies
  8. ^ Massie, Castles of Steel, p.180
  9. ^ By order of the Kaiser: Otto von Diederichs and the rise of the Imperial German Navy, 1865–1902 by Terrell D. Gottschall; Institute Press, 2003, 337 pages
  10. ^ The origins of the Boxer War: a multinational study by Lanxin Xiang; Routledge, 2003, 382 pages, p. 282.
  11. ^ Bennett, p.167
  12. ^ Bennett, p.171
  13. ^ http://60-250-180-26.hinet-ip.hinet.net/ming/2201.html

References

  • Gottschall, Terrell D. (2003). By Order of the Kaiser, Otto von Diederichs and the Rise of the Imperial German Navy 1865–1902. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-309-5.
  • Marder, Arthur (1961–1970). From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow (5 Vols). London: Oxford University Press.
  • Massie, Robert (2004). Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany and the winning of the Great War. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-04092-8.
  • Bennett, Geoffrey (2006). The Pepper Trader: True Tales of the German East Asia Squadron and the Man Who Cast Them in Stone. Jakarta: PT Equinox Publishing. ISBN 979-3780-26-6.

External links

Asian and Pacific theatre of World War I

The Asian and Pacific theatre of World War I consisted of various naval battles and the Allied conquest of German colonial possessions in the Pacific Ocean and China. The most significant military action was the careful and well-executed Siege of Tsingtao in what is now China, but smaller actions were also fought at Bita Paka and Toma in German New Guinea.

All other German and Austrian possessions in Asia and the Pacific fell without bloodshed. Naval warfare was common; all of the colonial powers had naval squadrons stationed in the Indian or Pacific Oceans. These fleets operated by supporting the invasions of German-held territories and by destroying the East Asia Squadron of the Imperial German Navy.

Bombardment of Papeete

The Bombardment of Papeete occurred in French Polynesia when German warships attacked on 22 September 1914, during World War I. The German armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau entered the port of Papeete on the island of Tahiti and sank the French gunboat Zélée and freighter Walküre before bombarding the town's fortifications. French shore batteries and a gunboat resisted the German intrusion but were greatly outgunned. The main German objective was to seize the coal piles stored on the island, but these were destroyed by the French at the start of the action.

The German vessels were largely undamaged but the French lost their gunboat. Several of Papeete's buildings were destroyed and the town's economy was severely disrupted. The main strategic consequence of the engagement was the disclosure of the cruisers' positions to the British Admiralty, which led to the Battle of Coronel where the entire German East Asia Squadron defeated a Royal Navy squadron. The depletion of Scharnhorst's and Gneisenau's ammunition at Papeete also contributed to their subsequent destruction at the Battle of the Falklands.

Christopher Cradock

Sir Christopher "Kit" George Francis Maurice Cradock (2 July 1862 – 1 November 1914) was a British Rear-Admiral of the Royal Navy. He earned a reputation for great gallantry. Appointed to the royal yacht, he was close to the British royal family. Prior to the First World War, his combat service during the Mahdist War and the Boxer Rebellion was all ashore. Appointed Commander-in-Chief of the North America and West Indies Station before the war, his mission was to protect Allied merchant shipping by hunting down German commerce raiders. Late in 1914 he was tasked to search for and destroy the East Asia Squadron of the Imperial German Navy as it headed home around the tip of South America. Believing that he had no choice but to engage the squadron in accordance with his orders, despite his numerical and tactical inferiority, he was killed during the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile in November when the German ships sank his flagship.

Dresden-class cruiser

The Dresden class was a pair of light cruisers built for the Imperial German Navy in the early part of the 20th century. The class comprised SMS Dresden, the lead ship, and SMS Emden. Both ships were laid down in 1906; Dresden was launched in 1907, and Emden followed in 1908. They entered service in 1908 and 1909, respectively. The design for the ships was an incremental improvement over the preceding Königsberg class, being slightly larger and slightly faster, but with the same primary armament of ten 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns. Dresden and Emden were powered by steam turbines and triple expansion engines, respectively, as part of continued experiments with the new turbine technology.

Both ships served extensively on foreign stations; Emden was assigned to the East Asia Squadron from her commissioning, and Dresden was sent to Caribbean waters in 1913. Dresden was due to return to Germany for periodic maintenance shortly before the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, but this became impossible with the onset of hostilities. She therefore operated as a commerce raider, before linking up with Vizeadmiral Maximilian von Spee's East Asia Squadron. Dresden thereafter participated in the Battle of Coronel in November 1914 and the Battle of the Falkland Islands the following December. She was the only German vessel to escape destruction at the latter engagement, and she remained at large for several more months. Dresden finally put into the Chilean island of Más a Tierra in March 1915 owing to worn-out engines. A pair of British cruisers violated Chilean neutrality and attacked Dresden while she lay at anchor; the Germans scuttled their ship to prevent her capture.

Emden, meanwhile, had been detached from the East Asia Squadron to pursue an independent commerce raiding campaign in the Indian Ocean. She captured or sank numerous Entente vessels, including the steamer Ryazan, which was converted into the auxiliary cruiser Cormoran. In September 1914, Emden raided Penang and caught the Russian protected cruiser Zhemchug and the French destroyer Mousquet and quickly destroyed both ships. Shortly thereafter, Emden was caught by the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney off the Cocos Islands and forced to beach after a ferocious engagement.

HMS Minotaur (1906)

HMS Minotaur was the lead ship of the Minotaur-class armoured cruisers built for the Royal Navy. Launched in 1906, she served as the flagship of the China Station before the First World War. Shortly after the war began, the ship searched unsuccessfully for the German East Asia Squadron and was transferred to the Grand Fleet at the end of 1914. During the rest of the war Minotaur served as the flagship of the 7th and 2nd Cruiser Squadrons and spent most of her time assigned to the Northern Patrol. In mid-1916 she participated in the Battle of Jutland but did not fire her weapons during the battle. The ship was paid off in 1919 and sold for scrap the following year.

List of protected cruisers of Germany

The German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) built a series of protected cruisers in the 1880s and 1890s, starting with the two ships of the Irene class. The Navy only completed two additional classes of protected cruisers, comprising six more ships: the unique Kaiserin Augusta, and the five Victoria Louise-class ships. The type was then superseded by the armored cruiser at the turn of the century, beginning with Fürst Bismarck. Because of limited budgets in the pre-Tirpitz era, the German Navy attempted to build vessels that could serve as overseas cruisers and scouts for the fleet, though the ships were not satisfactory. The protected cruiser designs generally copied developments in foreign navies. The Victoria Louise design resembled contemporary German battleships, which favored smaller-caliber main guns and more secondary guns than on their foreign counterparts.Most of the German protected cruisers served on overseas stations throughout their careers, primarily in the East Asia Squadron in the 1890s and 1900s. Prinzess Wilhelm participated in the seizure of the Kiautschou Bay concession in November 1897, which was used as the primary base for the East Asia Squadron. Kaiserin Augusta, Hertha, and Hansa assisted in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, and Vineta saw action during the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903, where she bombarded several Venezuelan fortresses. Irene, Prinzess Wilhelm, and Kaiserin Augusta were relegated to secondary duties in the 1910s, while the Victoria Louise class was used to train naval cadets in the 1900s. All eight ships were broken up for scrap in the early 1920s.

Maximilian von Spee

Maximilian Johannes Maria Hubert Reichsgraf von Spee (22 June 1861 – 8 December 1914) was a naval officer of the German Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial Navy), who commanded the East Asia Squadron during World War I. Spee entered the navy in 1878 and served in a variety of roles and locations, including on a colonial gunboat in German West Africa in the 1880s, the East Africa Squadron in the late 1890s, and as commander of several warships in the main German fleet in the early 1900s. During his time in Germany in the late 1880s and early 1890s, he married his wife, Margareta, and had three children, his sons Heinrich and Otto and his daughter Huberta. By 1912, he had returned to the East Asia Squadron as its commander, and was promoted to the rank of Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) the following year.

After the outbreak of World War I in July 1914, Spee led his squadron across the Pacific to the coast of South America. Here on 1 November, he defeated the British 4th Cruiser Squadron under Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock in the Battle of Coronel, sinking two of Cradock's cruisers and forcing his other two ships to retreat. A month later, Spee decided to attack the British naval base in the Falkland Islands, but a superior British force surprised him. In the ensuing Battle of the Falkland Islands, Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee's squadron, which included two powerful battlecruisers, destroyed the East Asia Squadron. Spee and his two sons, who happened to be serving on two of his ships, were all killed, along with about 2,200 other men. Spee was hailed as a hero in Germany, and several ships were named in his honor, including the heavy cruiser Admiral Graf Spee, which was built in the 1930s and was defeated in the Battle of the River Plate during World War II.

SMS Emden

SMS Emden ("His Majesty's Ship Emden") was the second and final member of the Dresden class of light cruisers built for the Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine). Named for the town of Emden, she was laid down at the Kaiserliche Werft (Imperial Dockyard) in Danzig in 1906. Her hull was launched in May 1908, and completed in July 1909. She had one sister ship, Dresden. Like the preceding Königsberg-class cruisers, Emden was armed with ten 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns and two torpedo tubes.

Emden spent the majority of her career overseas in the German East Asia Squadron, based in Tsingtao, in the Kiautschou Bay concession in China. In 1913, she came under the command of Karl von Müller, who would captain the ship during World War I. At the outbreak of hostilities, Emden captured a Russian steamer and converted her into the commerce raider Cormoran. Emden rejoined the East Asia Squadron, after which she was detached for independent raiding in the Indian Ocean. The cruiser spent nearly two months operating in the region, and captured nearly two dozen ships. On October 28, 1914, Emden launched a surprise attack on Penang; in the resulting Battle of Penang, she sank the Russian cruiser Zhemchug and the French destroyer Mousquet.

Müller then took Emden to raid the Cocos Islands, where he landed a contingent of sailors to destroy British facilities. There, Emden was attacked by the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney on 9 November 1914. The more powerful Australian ship quickly inflicted serious damage and forced Müller to run his ship aground to prevent her from sinking. Out of a crew of 376, 133 were killed in the battle. Most of the survivors were taken prisoner; the landing party, led by Hellmuth von Mücke, commandeered an old schooner and eventually returned to Germany. Emden's wreck was quickly destroyed by wave action, and was broken up for scrap in the 1950s.

SMS Fürst Bismarck

SMS Fürst Bismarck (Prince Bismarck) was Germany's first armored cruiser, built for the Kaiserliche Marine before the turn of the 20th century. The ship was named for the German statesman Otto von Bismarck. The design for Fürst Bismarck was an improvement over the previous Victoria Louise-class protected cruiser—Fürst Bismarck was significantly larger and better armed than her predecessors.

The ship was primarily intended for colonial duties, and she served in this capacity as part of the East Asia Squadron until she was relieved in 1909, at which point she returned to Germany. The ship was rebuilt between 1910 and 1914, and after the start of World War I, she was briefly used as a coastal defense ship. She proved inadequate to this task, and so she was withdrawn from active duty and served as a training ship for engineers until the end of the war. Fürst Bismarck was decommissioned in 1919 and sold for scrap.

SMS Gefion

SMS Gefion ("His Majesty's Ship Gefion") was an unprotected cruiser of the German Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial Navy), the last ship of the type built in Germany. She was laid down in March 1892, launched in March 1893, and completed in June 1895 after lengthy trials and repairs. The cruiser was named after the earlier sail frigate Gefion, which had been named for the goddess Gefjon of Norse mythology. Intended for service in the German colonial empire and as a fleet scout, Gefion was armed with a main battery of ten 10.5-centimeter (4.1 in) guns, had a top speed in excess of 19.5 knots (36.1 km/h; 22.4 mph), and could steam for 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 km; 4,000 mi), the longest range of any German warship at the time. Nevertheless, the conflicting requirements necessary for a fleet scout and an overseas cruiser produced an unsuccessful design, and Gefion was rapidly replaced in both roles by the newer Gazelle class of light cruisers.

Gefion initially served with the main German fleet and frequently escorted Kaiser Wilhelm II's yacht Hohenzollern on trips to other European countries, including a state visit to Russia in 1897. In late 1897, Gefion was reassigned to the East Asia Squadron; she arrived there in May 1898. The ship took part in the Battle of Taku Forts in June 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion in China. She returned to Germany in 1901 and was modernized, but she did not return to service after the work was finished in 1904. She was to be mobilized after the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, but a crew could not be assembled due to shortages of personnel. Instead, she was used as a barracks ship in Danzig from 1916 to the end of the war. In 1920, she was sold, converted into a freighter, and renamed Adolf Sommerfeld. She served in this capacity for only three years, and was broken up for scrap in Danzig in 1923.

SMS Geier

SMS Geier ("His Majesty's Ship Vulture") was an unprotected cruiser of the Bussard class built for the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine). She was laid down in 1893 at the Imperial Dockyard in Wilhelmshaven, launched in October 1894, and commissioned into the fleet a year later in October 1895. Designed for service in Germany's overseas colonies, the ship required the comparatively heavy armament of eight 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK L/35 guns and a long cruising radius. She had a top speed of 15.5 kn (28.7 km/h; 17.8 mph).

Geier spent the majority of her career on foreign stations, including tours in the Americas, East Asia, and Africa. In 1897, she was deployed to the Caribbean, and during the Spanish–American War the following year, she ferried Europeans out of the war zone to Mexico by crossing the blockade lines around Cuban ports. After being transferred to the western coast of the Americas in 1899, Geier was reassigned to China to help suppress the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. She remained in East Asian waters through 1905 before being recalled to Germany for major repairs. In 1911, the ship was assigned to the colony in German East Africa, though she served little time in the area, as the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–1912 and the Balkan Wars of 1912–13 required German warships in the Mediterranean to safeguard German interests. Geier returned to East Africa in early 1914, but in June that month, the new light cruiser Königsberg arrived, and Geier headed to China for second deployment there.

Geier was still en route to the German base in Tsingtao when war broke out in Europe in August 1914. Slipping out of still-neutral British Singapore days before Britain declared war on Germany, she crossed the central Pacific in an attempt to link up with Maximilian von Spee's East Asia Squadron. While at sea, she captured one British freighter, but did not sink her. In need of engine repairs and coal, Geier put into the neutral United States port at Honolulu, Hawaii, in October 1914, where she was eventually interned. After the American entrance into the war in April 1917, the US Navy seized Geier, commissioned her as USS Schurz, and placed her on convoy duty. She was ultimately sunk following a collision with a freighter off the coast of North Carolina, with one man killed and twelve injured. She rests at a depth of 115 feet (35 m) and is a popular scuba diving site.

SMS Gneisenau

SMS Gneisenau was an armored cruiser of the German Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial Navy), part of the two-ship Scharnhorst class. Named for the earlier screw corvette of the same name, the ship was laid down in June 1904 at the AG Weser shipyard in Bremen, launched in June 1906, and commissioned in March 1908. She was armed with a main battery of eight 21-centimetre (8.3 in) guns, a significant increase in firepower over earlier German armored cruisers, and she had a top speed of 23.6 knots (43.7 km/h; 27.2 mph). Gneisenau initially served with the German fleet in I Scouting Group, though her service there was limited owing to the development of the battlecruiser, which less powerful armored cruisers could not effectively combat.

Accordingly, Gneisenau was assigned to the German East Asia Squadron, where she joined her sister ship Scharnhorst. The two cruisers formed the core of the squadron, which included several light cruisers. Over the next four years, Gneisenau patrolled Germany's colonial possessions in Asia and the Pacific Ocean. She also toured foreign ports to show the flag and monitored events in China during the Xinhai Revolution in 1911. Following the outbreak of World War I in July 1914, the East Asia Squadron crossed the Pacific to the western coast of South America, stopping for Gneisenau and Scharnhorst to attack French Polynesia in the bombardment of Papeete in September.

After arriving off the coast of Chile, the East Asia Squadron encountered and defeated a British squadron at the Battle of Coronel; during the action, Gneisenau disabled the British armored cruiser HMS Monmouth, which was then sunk by the German cruiser Nürnberg. The defeat prompted the British Admiralty to detach two battlecruisers to hunt down and destroy Spee's squadron, which they accomplished at the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914. Gneisenau was sunk with heavy loss of life, though 187 of her crew were rescued by the British.

SMS Hansa (1898)

SMS Hansa was a protected cruiser of the Victoria Louise class, built for the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) in the 1890s, along with her sister ships Victoria Louise, Hertha, Vineta, and Freya. Hansa was laid down at the AG Vulcan shipyard in Stettin in 1896, launched in March 1898, and commissioned into the Navy in April 1899. The ship was armed with a battery of two 21 cm guns and eight 15 cm guns and had a top speed of 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph).

Hansa served abroad in the German East Asia Squadron for the first six years of her career. She contributed a landing party to the force that captured the Taku Forts during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. In August 1904, she participated in the internment of the Russian battleship Tsesarevich after the Battle of the Yellow Sea during the Russo-Japanese War. After returning to Germany in 1906, she was modernized and used as a training ship in 1909, following the completion of the refit. At the outbreak of World War I, Hansa was mobilized into the 5th Scouting Group, but served in front-line duty only briefly. She was used as a barracks ship after 1915, and ultimately sold for scrapping in 1920.

SMS Hertha

SMS Hertha was a protected cruiser of the Victoria Louise class, built for the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) in the 1890s. Hertha was laid down at the AG Vulcan shipyard in 1895, launched in April 1897, and commissioned into the Navy in July 1898. The ship was armed with a battery of two 21 cm guns and eight 15 cm guns and had a top speed of 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph).

Hertha served abroad in the German East Asia Squadron for the first six years of her career; she served briefly as the Squadron flagship in 1900. She contributed a landing party to the force that captured the Taku Forts during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. After returning to Germany in 1905, she was modernized and used as a training ship in 1908, following the completion of the refit. She conducted a series of training cruises, and several notable officers served aboard the ship as cadets, including Karl Dönitz and Ernst Lindemann. At the outbreak of World War I, Hertha was mobilized into the 5th Scouting Group, but served in front-line duty only briefly. She was used as a barracks ship after 1915, and ultimately sold for scrapping in 1920.

SMS Leipzig (1905)

SMS Leipzig ("His Majesty's Ship Leipzig") was the sixth of seven Bremen-class cruisers of the Imperial German Navy, named after the city of Leipzig. She was begun by AG Weser in Bremen in 1904, launched in March 1905 and commissioned in April 1906. Armed with a main battery of ten 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns and two 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes, Leipzig was capable of a top speed of 22.5 knots (41.7 km/h; 25.9 mph).

Leipzig spent her career on overseas stations; at the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, she was cruising off the coast of Mexico. After rejoining with the East Asia Squadron, she proceeded to South American waters, where she participated in the Battle of Coronel, where the German squadron overpowered and sank a pair of British armored cruisers. A month later, she again saw action at the Battle of the Falkland Islands, which saw the destruction of the East Asia Squadron. Leipzig was chased down and sunk by the cruisers HMS Glasgow and HMS Kent; the majority of her crew was killed in the battle, with only 18 survivors.

SMS Nürnberg (1906)

SMS Nürnberg ("His Majesty's Ship Nürnberg"), named after the Bavarian city of Nuremberg, was a Königsberg-class light cruiser built for the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine). Her sisters included Königsberg, Stettin, and Stuttgart. She was built by the Imperial Dockyard in Kiel, laid down in early 1906 and launched in April of that year. She was completed in April 1908. Nürnberg was armed with ten 4.1-inch (100 mm) guns, eight 5.2 cm (2.0 in) SK L/55 guns, and two submerged torpedo tubes. Her top speed was 23.4 knots (43.3 km/h; 26.9 mph).

Nürnberg served with the fleet briefly, before being deployed overseas in 1910. She was assigned to the East Asia Squadron. At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, she was returning to the German naval base at Tsingtao from Mexican waters. She rejoined the rest of the Squadron, commanded by Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee, which steamed across the Pacific Ocean and encountered a British squadron commanded by Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock. In the ensuing Battle of Coronel on 1 November, the British squadron was defeated; Nürnberg finished off the British cruiser HMS Monmouth. A month later, the Germans attempted to raid the British base in the Falkland Islands; a powerful British squadron that included a pair of battlecruisers was in port, commanded by Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee. Sturdee's ships chased down and destroyed four of the five German cruisers; HMS Kent sank Nürnberg, with heavy loss of life.

SMS Scharnhorst

SMS Scharnhorst ("His Majesty's Ship Scharnhorst") was an armored cruiser of the Imperial German Navy, built at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany. She was the lead ship of her class, which included SMS Gneisenau. Scharnhorst and her sister were enlarged versions of the preceding Roon class; they were equipped with a greater number of main guns and were capable of a higher top speed. The ship was named after the Prussian military reformer General Gerhard von Scharnhorst and commissioned into service on 24 October 1907.

Scharnhorst served briefly with the High Seas Fleet in Germany in 1908, though most of this time was spent conducting sea trials. She was assigned to the German East Asia Squadron based in Tsingtao, China, in 1909. After arriving, she replaced the cruiser Fürst Bismarck as the squadron flagship, a position she would hold for the rest of her career. Over the next five years, she went on several tours of various Asian ports to show the flag for Germany. She frequently carried the squadron commanders to meet with Asian heads of state and was present in Japan for the coronation of the Taishō Emperor in 1912.

After the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, accompanied by three light cruisers and several colliers, sailed across the Pacific Ocean, to arriving off the southern coast of South America. On 1 November 1914, Scharnhorst and the rest of the East Asia Squadron encountered and overpowered a British squadron at the Battle of Coronel. The defeat prompted the British Admiralty to dispatch two battlecruisers to hunt down and destroy Spee's squadron, accomplished at the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914.

Samoa Expeditionary Force

The Samoa Expeditionary Force (SEF) was a small volunteer force of approximately 1,400 men raised in New Zealand shortly after the outbreak of World War I to seize and destroy the German wireless station in German Samoa in the south-west Pacific. Britain required the German wireless installations to be destroyed because they were used by Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) Maximilian von Spee's East Asia Squadron of the Imperial German Navy, which threatened merchant shipping in the region. Following the capture of German possessions in the region, the SEF provided occupation forces for the duration of the war. Australia provided a similar force for the occupation of German New Guinea.

Scharnhorst-class cruiser

The Scharnhorst class was the last traditional class of armored cruisers built by the Kaiserliche Marine. The class comprised two ships, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. They were larger than the Roon-class cruisers that preceded them; the extra size was used primarily to increase the main armament of 21 cm (8.2 inch) guns from four to eight. The ships were the first German cruiser to reach equality with their British counterparts. The ships were named after 19th century Prussian army reformers, Gerhard von Scharnhorst and August von Gneisenau.

Built for overseas service, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were assigned to the East Asia Squadron in 1909 and 1910, respectively. Scharnhorst relieved the old armored cruiser Fürst Bismarck as the squadron flagship, which had been on station since 1900. Both ships had short careers; shortly before the outbreak of World War I, the ships departed the German colony at Tsingtao. On 1 November 1914, the ships destroyed a British force at the Battle of Coronel and inflicted upon the Royal Navy its first defeat since the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. The East Asia Squadron, including both Scharnhorst-class ships, was subsequently annihilated at the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December.

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