Military Wiki
SMS Dresden (1907)
SMS Dresden German Cruiser LOC 16727.jpg
SMS Dresden transiting the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal
Career (German Empire)
Name: Dresden
Namesake: City of Dresden
Builder: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Laid down: 1906
Launched: 5 October 1907
Commissioned: 14 November 1908
Fate: Scuttled off Robinson Crusoe Island, 14 March 1915
General characteristics
Class & type: Dresden-class cruiser
Displacement: 4,268 metric tons (4,201 long tons; 4,705 short tons)
Length: 118.3 m (388.1 ft)
Beam: 13.5 m (44.3 ft)
Draft: 5.53 m (18.1 ft)
Installed power: 15,000 shaft horsepower (11,000 kW)
Propulsion: 2 Parsons steam turbines
12 water-tube boilers
Speed: 24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph)
Range: 3,600 nautical miles (6,700 km; 4,100 mi)
Complement: 18 officers
343 enlisted men
Armament: 10 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK L/40 guns
2 × 50 cm (19.7 in) torpedo tubes
Armor: Deck: 80 mm (3.1 in)
Conning tower: 100 mm (3.9 in)
Gun shields: 50 mm (2.0 in)

SMS Dresden ("His Majesty's Ship Dresden")[lower-alpha 1] was the lead ship of her class, built for the Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine). She was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg in 1906, was launched in October 1907, and completed in November 1908. She had one sister ship, Emden. Like the preceding Königsberg-class cruisers, Dresden was armed with ten 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns and two torpedo tubes.

Dresden spent most of her career overseas. After her commissioning, she visited the United States in 1909 during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. In late 1913, she was stationed off the Mexican coast to protect German nationals during the Mexican Revolution; at the end of the conflict the following year, she carried the former dictator Victoriano Huerta to Jamaica, where the British had granted him asylum. She was due to return to Germany in July 1914, but the outbreak of World War I prevented this from occurring. At the onset of hostilities, Dresden operated as a commerce raider in South American waters in the Atlantic, before moving to the Pacific Ocean in September and thereafter joining Maximilian von Spee's East Asia Squadron. Dresden saw action in the Battle of Coronel in November, where she engaged the British cruiser HMS Glasgow, and at the Battle of the Falkland Islands in December, where she was the only German warship to escape destruction. She eluded her British pursuers for several more months, until she put into Más a Tierra in March 1915. Her engines were worn out and she had almost no coal left for her boilers; the ship's captain contacted the local Chilean authorities to have Dresden interned. There, she was trapped by British cruisers, including her old opponent Glasgow; the British violated Chilean neutrality and opened fire on the ship. The Germans scuttled Dresden and the majority of the crew escaped to be interned in Chile for the duration of the war. The wreck remains in the harbor, but several artifacts, including her bell and compass, have been returned to Germany.


Line-drawing of the Dresden class

Dresden was 118.3 meters (388 ft) long overall and had a beam of 13.5 m (44 ft) and a draft of 5.53 m (18.1 ft) forward. She displaced 4,268 t (4,201 long tons; 4,705 short tons) at full combat load. Her propulsion system consisted of two Parsons steam turbines, designed to give 15,000 shaft horsepower (11,000 kW) for a top speed of 24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph). The engines were powered by twelve coal-fired Marine-type water-tube boilers. Dresden carried up to 860 tonnes (850 long tons) of coal, which gave her a range of 3,600 nautical miles (6,700 km; 4,100 mi) at 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph). She had a crew of 18 officers and 343 enlisted men.[1]

The ship was armed with ten 10.5 cm SK L/40 guns in single mounts. Two were placed side by side forward on the forecastle, six were located amidships, three on either side, and two were placed side by side aft. The guns could engage targets out to 12,200 m (40,000 ft). They were supplied with 1,500 rounds of ammunition, for 150 shells per gun. She was also equipped with two 50 cm (19.7 in) torpedo tubes with four torpedoes, mounted on the deck. She was also fitted to carry fifty naval mines. The ship was protected by an armored deck that was up to 80 mm (3.1 in) thick. The conning tower had 100 mm (3.9 in) thick sides, and the guns were protected by 50 mm (2.0 in) thick shields.[1]

Service history[]

Dresden visiting New York City in October 1909

Dresden was ordered under the contract name Ersatz Comet[lower-alpha 2] and was laid down at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg in 1906 and launched on 5 October 1907, after which fitting-out work commenced. She was commissioned into the High Seas Fleet on 14 November 1908.[2] Following her commissioning, Dresden was deployed to overseas stations.[3] She made her first trip overseas in September–October 1909 to participate in the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in New York. There, she represented Germany, along with the protected cruisers Hertha and Victoria Louise and the light cruiser Bremen.[4] She collided with the cruiser Königsberg in German waters on 16 February 1910. The collision caused significant damage to Dresden, though no one on either vessel was injured. She made it back to Kiel, where repairs were effected.[5] On 6 April 1913, she and the cruiser Strassburg were sent to the Adriatic Sea.[6] On 15 April 1914, Dresden steamed to Tampico on Mexico's Caribbean coast.[7]

In late 1913, during the Mexican Revolution, the United States sent a squadron to operate off the Mexican coast, ready to intervene to protect American nationals. Dresden and several other foreign warships joined the American squadron for the same purpose.[8] In April 1914, the German-flagged merchant ship SS Ypiranga arrived in Mexico, carrying a load of small arms for the regime of Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta. The United States had put an arms embargo into effect in an attempt to reduce the violence of the civil war. The US Navy intercepted Ypiranga in the so-called "Ypiranga incident" on 21 April. Shortly thereafter, Dresden arrived and confiscated the merchantman and pressed her into naval service to transport German refugees out of Mexico. Despite the American embargo, the Germans nevertheless delivered the weapons and ammunition to the Mexican government on 28 May.[9]

On 20 July, when the Huerta regime was toppled, Dresden carried Huerta and his family to Jamaica, where Britain had granted them asylum. By this time, the ship was in need of a refit in Germany, and met with her replacement, SMS Karlsruhe, on 26 July. But the outbreak of war in Europe shortly thereafter prevented Dresden from returning to Germany.[10]

World War I[]

After meeting with Karlsruhe, Dresden was preparing to return to Germany when the First World War broke out in August 1914. With the onset of hostilities, the Admiralstab (Admiralty Staff) ordered Dresden to operate as a commerce raider off South America, particularly in the area of the River Plate.[11] On 6 August, Dresden encountered the British merchant ship SS Drumcliffe, whose captain professed to know nothing of Britain's entry into the war. Kapitän zur See (Captain at Sea) Fritz Emil von Lüdecke, Dresden's commander, allowed Drumcliffe to proceed unmolested, in accordance with the rules set forth in the Hague Convention of 1907. Dresden thereafter rendezvoused with the German collier SS Corrientes. On 14 August, the cruiser caught the British steamer SS Hyades; Lüdecke took off the ship's crew and then sank the merchantman.[12] Dresden captured the British collier SS Holmwood on 24 August and sank her after evacuating her crew.[13]

Dresden, Victoria Louise, and Hertha during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in 1909

On 5 September, Dresden put into Hoste Island for engine maintenance.[13] By 8 September, the Admiralstab ordered Dresden to rendezvous with the light cruiser Leipzig, which was operating on the Pacific coast of South America.[11] On 16 September, the repairs to Dresden's engines were completed, and the ship departed Hoste Island to meet with Leipzig. While en route, Dresden encountered the French steamer SS Ortega, though Lüdecke refrained from attacking the transport ship, since she had fled into neutral waters.[13] Dresden saw no further success against British shipping, and on 12 October, she joined Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) Maximilian von Spee's East Asia Squadron, which had crossed the Pacific and was coaling at Easter Island. Thereafter, Dresden caught a pair of British merchantmen, bringing her total to four ships and a total of 12,927 long tons (13,134 t).[14]

On 18 October, Dresden and the East Asia Squadron, which was centered on the armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, departed Easter Island, bound for the South American coast. They arrived at Más a Fuera island on 26 October. The following evening, the German cruisers escorted the auxiliary cruiser SS Prinz Eitel Friedrich and the merchant ships SS Yorck and SS Göttingen to Chile. The flotilla arrived off Valparaiso on 30 October, and the following evening, von Spee received intelligence that a British cruiser was at the Chilean port of Coronel. Von Spee decided that his squadron should ambush the cruiser—HMS Glasgow—when it was forced to leave port due to Chile's neutral status, which required belligerent warships to leave after twenty-four hours.[15] What von Spee did not know was that Glasgow was in the company of Rear Admiral Christopher Craddock's 4th Cruiser Squadron, which also included the armored cruisers Monmouth and Good Hope and the auxiliary cruiser Otranto.[16]

Battle of Coronel[]

Map showing the movements of the German and British warships

Early on the morning of 1 November, von Spee took his squadron out of Valparaiso, steaming at 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph) south toward Coronel.[17] At around 16:00, Leipzig spotted the first smoke column from the leading British cruiser. By 16:25, the other two ships had been spotted. The two squadrons slowly closed the distance, until the Germans opened fire at 18:34, at a range of 10,400 m (34,100 ft).[18] The German ships engaged their opposite numbers, with Dresden firing on Otranto. After Dresden's third salvo, Otranto turned away after a hit that caused a fire was observed. Following Otranto's departure, Dresden shifted her fire to Glasgow, which was also targeted by Leipzig. The two German cruisers hit their British opponent five times.[19]

At around 19:30, von Spee ordered Dresden and Leipzig to launch a torpedo attack against the damaged British armored cruisers. Dresden increased speed to position herself off the British bows, and briefly spotted Glasgow as she was withdrawing, but the British cruiser quickly disappeared in the haze and gathering darkness. Shortly thereafter, Dresden encountered Leipzig; both ships initially thought the other was hostile. Dresden's crew was in the process of loading a torpedo when the two ships confirmed each other's identity.[20] By 22:00, Dresden and the other two light cruisers were deployed in a line to search for the British cruisers, though they found nothing.[21] Dresden had emerged from the battle completely unscathed.[22]

On 3 November, von Spee took Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Nürnberg back to Valparaiso for provisioning and to consult with the Admiralstab. Neutrality laws permitted only three belligerent warships in a port at a given time. Dresden and Leipzig meanwhile remained with the squadron's colliers in Más a Fuera. Von Spee returned to Más a Fuera on 6 November, and thereafter detached Dresden and Leipzig for a visit to Valparaiso, where they also restocked their supplies. The two cruisers arrived on 12 November, left the following day, and rendezvoused with the rest of the squadron at sea on 18 November. Three days later, the squadron anchored in St. Quentin Bay in the Gulf of Penas, where they coaled.[23]

Meanwhile, the Royal Navy had deployed a pair of battlecruisers, Invincible and Inflexible, to hunt down the German squadron. The British ships were commanded by Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee. They left Britain on 11 November, and arrived in the Falkland Islands nearly a month later, on 7 December. There, they joined the armored cruisers Cornwall, Kent, and Carnarvon, and the light cruisers Glasgow and Bristol.[24]

On 26 November, the German East Asia Squadron left St. Quentin Bay, bound for the Atlantic. On 2 December, they caught the Canadian sailing ship Drummuir, which was carrying some 2,750 metric tons (2,710 long tons; 3,030 short tons) of high-grade Cardiff coal. The following morning, the Germans anchored off Picton Island, where they unloaded the coal from Drummuir into their own auxiliaries.[25] On the morning of 6 December, von Spee held a council aboard Scharnhorst to discuss their next moves. He suggested an attack on the Falklands to destroy the British wireless station and coal stocks there. Lüdecke and the captains of Leipzig and Nürnberg all opposed the plan, and were in favor of bypassing the Falklands and instead proceeding to the La Plata area to continue to raid British shipping. Regardless, von Spee and those who favored the attack on the Falklands won the argument.[26]

Battle of the Falkland Islands[]

Dresden at anchor, probably before the war

On the afternoon of 6 December, the German ships departed Picton Island, bound for the Falklands. On 7 December, they rounded the Tierra del Fuego and turned north into the Atlantic. They arrived off the Falklands at around 02:00; three hours later, von Spee detached Gneisenau and Nürnberg to send a landing party ashore. By 08:30, the ships were approaching Port Stanley, when they noticed thick columns of smoke rising from the harbor. After closing to the harbor entrance, they quickly realized they were confronted by a much more powerful squadron, which was just getting up steam. Von Spee immediately broke off the operation and turned east to flee before the British ships could catch his squadron. By 10:45, Gneisenau and Nürnberg had rejoined the fleet, and the German auxiliaries were detached to seek shelter in the maze of islands off Cape Horn.[27]

The British ships set off in pursuit, and by 12:50, Sturdee's two battlecruisers had overhauled the Germans. A minute later, he gave the order to open fire at the trailing German ship, Leipzig. Von Spee ordered the three small cruisers to try to escape to the south, while he turned back with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in an attempt to hold off the British squadron. Nevertheless, Sturdee had foreseen this possibility, and so had ordered his armored and light cruisers to pursue the German light cruisers.[28] The battlecruisers quickly overwhelmed von Spee's armored cruisers, and destroyed them with very heavy loss of life.[29]

Meanwhile, Dresden, with her turbine engines, was able to outpace her pursuers, and was the only German warship to escape destruction that day. Lüdecke decided to take his ship into the islands off South America to keep a steady supply of coal available.[30] On 9 December, she passed back around Cape Horn to return to the Pacific.[31] That day, she anchored in Sholl Bay, with only 160 t (160 long tons; 180 short tons) of coal aboard. Oberleutnant zur See (Lieutenant at Sea) Wilhelm Canaris convinced the Chilean naval representative for the region to permit Dresden to remain in the area for an extra twenty-four hours so enough coal could be taken aboard so she could reach Punta Arenas.[32] She arrived at there on 12 December, where she received 750 t (740 long tons; 830 short tons) of coal from a German steamer.[31] She took on another 1,600 t (1,600 long tons; 1,800 short tons) of coal on 19 January.[33] On 14 February, Dresden left the islands off the South American coast for the South Pacific. On 27 February, the cruiser captured the British barque Conway Castle south of the island of Más a Tierra.[31] On 8 March, Dresden was drifting in dense fog when lookouts spotted Kent, which also had her engines off, about 15 nautical miles (28 km; 17 mi) away. Both ships immediately got steam up in their boilers, but Dresden eventually escaped after a five-hour chase. The strenuous effort depleted her coal stocks and overtaxed her engines. Lüdecke decided that his ship was no longer operational, and determined to have his ship interned to preserve it. The following morning, she put into Más a Fuera, dropping anchor in Cumberland Bay. Upon the ship's arrival, Lüdecke informed the local Chilean official of his intent to be interned.[34]

Battle of Más a Tierra[]

Dresden, flying a white flag, moments prior to her scuttling

On the morning of 14 March, Kent and Glasgow approached Cumberland Bay; their appearance was relayed back to Dresden by one of her pinnaces, which had been sent to patrol the entrance to the bay. Dresden was unable to maneuver, owing to her fuel shortage, and so Lüdecke signaled that his ship was no longer a combatant. The British disregarded this message, as well as the Chilean vessel that approached them as they entered the bay. Glasgow opened fire, in violation of Chile's neutrality; in fact, Britain had already informed Chile that British warships would disregard international law if they located Dresden in Chilean territorial waters.[35] Shortly thereafter, Kent joined in the bombardment as well. The German gunners fired off three shots in response, but the guns were quickly knocked out by British gunfire.[36]

Lüdecke sent the signal "Am sending negotiator" to the British warships, and dispatched Canaris in a pinnace; Glasgow nevertheless continued to bombard the defenseless cruiser. In another attempt to stop the attack, Lüdecke raised the white flag, which finally prompted Glasgow to cease fire. Canaris came aboard to speak with Captain John Luce; the former strongly protested the latter's violation of Chile's neutrality. Luce simply replied that he had his orders, and demanded an unconditional surrender. Canaris explained that Dresden had already been interned by Chile, and thereafter returned to his ship, which had in the meantime been prepared for scuttling.[35]

At 10:45, the scuttling charge detonated in the bow and exploded the forward ammunition magazines. The bow was badly mangled; in about half an hour, the ship had taken on enough water to sink. As it struck the sea floor, the bow was torn from the rest of the ship, which rolled over to starboard. As the rest of the hull settled below the waves, a second scuttling charge exploded in the ship's engine rooms.[37]

Coordinates: 33°36′6″S 78°49′30″W / 33.60167°S 78.825°W / -33.60167; -78.825


Dresden's bell, recovered from wreck.

Most of the ship's crew managed to escape; only eight men were killed in the attack, with another twenty-nine wounded.[38] The destruction of his ship had left Lüdecke in shock, and so Canaris took responsibility for the fate of the ship's crew. They remained on the island for five days until two Chilean warships brought a German passenger ship to take the men to Quiriquina Island, where they would be interned for the duration of the war. On 5 August 1915, Canaris escaped from the internment camp, and eventually reached Germany two months later, on 5 October.[39]

The wreck lies at a depth of 70 meters (230 ft).[40] In 2002, the first survey of the wreck was done by a team led by James P. Delgado for the Sea Hunters documentary produced by the National Underwater and Marine Agency. The team included the archaeologist Dr. Willi Kramer, the first German to visit the wreck since she sank eighty-eight years before.[41] Dresden lies on her starboard side pointed north, toward the beach. The wreck is has been heavily damaged; much of the upper works, including the bridge, the masts, the funnels, and many of the guns have been torn from the ship. The bow has been cut off; it sits upright on the sea floor. The destruction of the bow was a result of the scuttling charges detonated by the ship's crew. The stern is also badly damaged, with the main deck blasted away and many shell holes in the ship's side.[42] Some of the damage to the aft part of the ship appears to have been done by an undocumented salvage operation sometime before Delgado's survey. According to German records, Dresden was carrying gold coins from their colony at Tsingtau; Delgado speculated that this salvage work was an attempt to retrieve the gold.[43]

In 1965, the ship's compass and flags were recovered and returned to Germany, where they are held at the Naval Academy at Mürwik.[3] In 2006, Chilean and German divers found and recovered Dresden's bell, which is now in Germany.[40] CS Forester's novel Brown on Resolution, and two subsequent movies, were inspired by the Dresden's escape and subsequent destruction.[44]



  1. "SMS" stands for "Seiner Majestät Schiff" (German: His Majesty's Ship).
  2. German warships were ordered under provisional names. For new additions to the fleet, they were given a single letter; for those ships intended to replace older or lost vessels, they were ordered as "Ersatz (name of the ship to be replaced)".


  1. 1.0 1.1 Gröner, p. 105
  2. Gröner, pp. 105–106
  3. 3.0 3.1 Gröner, p. 106
  4. Levine & Panetta, p. 51
  5. "Cruisers in Collision". 17 February 1910. Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  6. "German Cruisers for the Adriatic". 7 April 1913. Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  7. "German Cruiser Ordered to Tampico". 16 April 1914. Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  8. Lenz, p. 183
  9. Lenz, pp. 195–196
  10. Delgado, pp. 169–170
  11. 11.0 11.1 Halpern, pp. 79–80
  12. Mueller, p. 11
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Mueller, p. 12
  14. Halpern, p. 80
  15. Staff, p. 30
  16. Staff, pp. 30–31
  17. Staff, p. 31
  18. Staff, pp. 32–33
  19. Staff, pp. 34–35
  20. Staff, pp. 36–37
  21. Staff, p. 38
  22. Mueller, p. 14
  23. Staff, pp. 58–59
  24. Staff, pp. 59–60
  25. Staff, p. 61
  26. Staff, p. 62
  27. Staff, pp. 62–64
  28. Staff, p. 65
  29. Staff, pp. 68–72
  30. Staff, p. 73
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Staff, p. 80
  32. Mueller, pp. 15–16
  33. Mueller, p. 16
  34. Mueller, pp. 16–17
  35. 35.0 35.1 Mueller, p. 17
  36. Delgado, p. 168
  37. Delgado, pp. 168–169
  38. Staff, p. 81
  39. Mueller, pp. 19–20
  40. 40.0 40.1 "SMS Dresden (+1915)". Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  41. Delgado, p. 175
  42. Delgado, pp. 177–178
  43. Delgado, p. 180
  44. Kanagasingam, p. 83


  • Delgado, James P. (2004). Adventures of a Sea Hunter: In Search of Famous Shipwrecks. Vancouver, BC: Douglas & McIntyre. ISBN 1-92668-560-1. 
  • Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-790-9. 
  • Halpern, Paul G. (1995). A Naval History of World War I. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-352-4. 
  • Kanagasingam, Rajkumar (2007). German Memories in Asia. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse. ISBN 1-46701-701-9. 
  • Lenz, Lawrence (2008). Power and Policy: America's First Steps to Superpower, 1889–1922. New York, NY: Algora Pub.. ISBN 978-0-87586-665-9. 
  • Levine, Edward F.; Panetta, Roger (2009). Hudson–Fulton Celebration Of 1909. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub.. ISBN 978-0-73856-281-0. 
  • Mueller, Michael (2007). Canaris: The Life and Death of Hitler's Spymaster. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-101-3. 
  • Staff, Gary (2011). Battle on the Seven Seas: German Cruiser Battles, 1914–1918. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Maritime. ISBN 978-1-84884-182-6. 

Further reading[]

  • Parker de Bassi, Maria Teresa (1993) (in German). Kreuzer Dresden: Odyssee ohne Wiederkehr. Herford: Koehler Verlagsgesellschaft. ISBN 3-7822-0591-X. 

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