The second and last to be completed of a class of 4 “super dreadnoughts”, SMS Baden represented the culmination of German battleship development during the First World War.
Completed too late to take part in the Battle of Jutland, the ship was commissioned as Fleet Flagship on 14th March 1917 and took part in the majority of fleet actions, but was destined to never fire her guns in anger. As a condition of the Amistice the main body of the German fleet was interred in Scapa Flow – originally Baden was not included in the list, but as the battlecruiser Mackensen was as yet incomplete, Baden was sent in her place on 7th January 1919. Under the orders of Vice Admiral Reuter, Baden was scuttled with the rest of the fleet on 21st June 1919, however due to the quick action of the of the Royal Navy officers, the ship was beached and salvaged. Following thorough examination, the last German dreadnought was finally expended as a gunnery target off Portsmouth in August 1921.
Design and ConstructionWhen Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz became state secretary for the Imperial Navy Office, more emphasis was put on German naval expansion, with the intention of building a battle fleet two-thirds the size of the Royal Navy, Great Britain considered to be the most likely future enemy. The ensuing naval arms race was further complicated by the construction of HMS Dreadnought in 1906, the first ‘all big gun’ battleship, which instantly rendered obsolete every other capital ship in the world, either completed or under construction.
Germany’s answer to the new battleship, SMS Nassau, was laid down in July 1907 and commissioned on 1st October 1909. She was armed with twelve 28 cm (11”) guns in six twin turrets arranged in a hexagonal configuration, twelve 15 cm secondary guns mounted in casemates, mounted five torpedo tubes below the waterline and featured a main armoured belt of 300 mm thickness. The subsequent Helgoland class was to all intents a repeat of Nassau, albeit with an increase in main armament calibre to 30.5 cm (12”). The Kaiser class ships of 1911 retained the main armament calibre of 30.5 cm, but reduced the number of barrels to 10, introducing a superfiring turret aft of the funnels. The fourth class of battleships, the König’s, brought all five main turrets on to the centreline for the first time, however the main armament was still limited to 30.5 cm, despite new ships in the Royal Navy being designed with 34.3 cm (13.5”) guns by this time. Furthermore, it was known that the American and Japanese were beginning to install 35.6 cm (14”) artillery on the dreadnought USS Texas and the battlecruiser Kongo respectively; while these two powers were not considered likely adversaries during a future conflict, it was further evidence that the German 30.5 cm gun, despite having a rate of fire twice that of the British 34.3 cm, was no longer sufficient.
The question of increased striking power was raised during consideration of the proposed battleships included in the budget for 1913 and suggested two options. The first option was to retain the 30.5 cm gun, but to increase the number of barrels through the use of triple, or even quadruple gun turrets. There were clear benefits to maintaining this tried and tested weapon, but there were concerns regarding the reliability of the triple turret, particularly with relation to the centre gun ammunition feed. Further limitations were placed on the size and displacement of the 1913 dreadnoughts – major engineering work to deepen and expand channels had just been completed on the Kiel canal, shipyards & naval bases, which was intended to be sufficient for the next 10 years – so the new ships needed to be as close as possible in size to the König’s, thus precluding a significant increase in number & size of main gun turrets.
By August 1911, Krupp had developed new guns of 35.6, 38 and 40.6 cm calibres (14”, 15”& 16” respectively) and had reported back to Tirpitz (the question of an increase in calibre had already arisen during the design of Kronprinz, the last König class vessel). In his report addressed to Kaiser Willhelm II in September 1911, Tirpitz recommended the use of the 40.6 cm gun for new battleship main armament, which was subsequently approved. However, the imposed 28,000 ton limit complicated the installation of the larger gun, restricting the calibre length to 35 – the adverse effect on ballistics was deemed unacceptable by the Office of Arms. So, on 6th January 1912 the decision was made to arm the new dreadnoughts with eight 38.0 cm guns of 45 calibre length in twin turrets; all other details were to remain as per König in principle.
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