Deutschland-class Battleship, KMS Schleswig-Holstein - Firing the First Shots

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KMS Schleswig-Holstein
As outfitted during WW2
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KMS Schleswig-Holstein overhead shot, during the 1930s.

Background
KMS Schleswig-Holstein was the fifth ship of the Deutschland-class of pre-dreadnought battleships. She was laid down on the 18th of August, 1905, launched on the 17th of December, 1906, and commissioned into the Kaiserliche Marine on the 6th of July, 1908. After being decommissioned on the 2nd of May, 1917, she would be recommissioned into the Reichsmarine on the 31st of January, 1926. The ship has the distinction of firing some of the opening shots of WW2.

The Deutschland-class of pre-dreadnought battleships were based on, and closely resembled, the preceding Braunschweig-class, with the ships having rearranged secondary battery, and, after Deutschland herself, improved armor due to weight savings. Rendered obsolete before they hit the water by the design and construction of HMS Dreadnought, the ships would nonetheless see much service in the High Seas Fleet. After the war, with the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was permitted to retain some old battleships for coastal defense, and these included the Deutschlands.
Following the Treaty of Versailles, Deutschland would be scrapped, but the remaining three ships of her class, Hannover, Schlesien, and Schleswig-Holstein would be modernized throughout the 1920s. Two of the three funnels were merged, and some of the boilers were converted to fuel oil. They would remain in service through the the transition to the Kreigsmarine, and even further still through WW2, being continually fitted with new weapons - in particular, anti-aircraft weapons, throughout their service.

Upon being reactivated for the last time, in February of 1944, Schleswig-Holstein would serve first as a training vessel and then go under refit for a conversion to a convoy escort. She was then hit by RAF bombs in December, and foundered in shallow water; her crew was sent to assist in the defense of Marienburg. Following the Soviet capture of that city, further scuttling charges were detonated aboard Schleswig-Holstein, and post-war she was towed into the Gulf of Finland for use as a shallow-water target ship. Last used for target practice in 1966, the remains are now submerged.

Service History

Schleswig-Holstein would be launched on the 17th of December, 1906, christened by Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, the last German Empress; the Emperor, Wilhelm II, was also in attendance. The Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, Ernst Gunther, was also present, and gave a commissioning speech. Schleswig-Holstein would be the last pre-dreadnought battleship of the German Navy.

Upon her commissioning, she was assigned to II Battle Squadron of the High Seas Fleet, along with her sister ships. Yearly spring fleet maneuvers in the Baltic would be followed by a summer cruise to Norway, and then additional training in the fall. In 1913, she won the Kaiser’s Schiesspreis (Gunnery Award), and in July, 1914, with the threat of looming war, the summer trip to Norway was cut short and she would return to Wilhelmshaven, along with the rest of II Battle Squadron.


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Sister ship SMS Schlesien, before WW1.

At the outbreak of World War 1 in July, 1914, Schleswig-Holstein was assigned with guarding the mouth of the Elbe River while the rest of the fleet mobilized. In October, she and her sisters went to refit in Kiel for improvements to anti-torpedo/mine capability. II Battle Squadron covered the I Scouting Group, bombarding Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby, in December, 1914. During this operation, the fleet, consisting of 12 dreadnoughts and 8 pre-dreadnoughts, came within 19km (10nmi) of an isolated squadron of 6 British battleships. However, skirmishes with the screen of the enemy fleet convinced Admiral Friedrich von Ingenhol that he was facing the entire Grand Fleet, and so the bombardment force turned for home.

Between 1914 and 1916, II Battle Fleet, in conjunction with other elements of the Navy, would conduct several sweeps of the North Sea, to no result. In April, 1916, two 8.8cm anti-surface guns were removed and replaced with 8.8cm flak guns. Following the bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft, during which the battlecruiser SMS Seydlitz was damaged by a mine, the ships returned to port, fearing an intervention by the British Fleet.
The Commander of the High Seas Fleet, Admiral Reinhard Scheer, immediately planned another advance into the North Sea, but the damage to Seydlitz delayed any such operation until the end of May. Part of a larger effort to break the British blockade of Germany, the Germans intended to use the battlecruisers of I Scouting Group to lure Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty’s Battlecruiser Fleet into a confrontation where the Germans would have the numerical advantage. However, thanks to codebreaking efforts, the British learned that a major fleet action was likely at the end of May, and so on the 30th of May, the Grand Fleet, under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, set sail to rendezvous with the battlecruiser fleet, ironically before the High Seas Fleet had set sail to conduct the operation the British were trying to counter.
This would all culminate in the Battle of Jutland, the last major fleet action fought primarily by battleships. SMS Schleswig-Holstein was assigned to IV Division of II Battle Squadron, and thus was the last battleship in the line. During the initial “Run to the North,” Scheer had ordered the fleet to pursue the retreating ships of British 5th Battle Squadron at top speed, resulting in the Deutschlands of II Battle Squadron falling behind due to their slower top speed. However, at 1930, the Grand Fleet had arrived, leaving Admiral Scheer and the High Seas Fleet without their numbers advantage. The fleet was gimped by the presence of the Deutschlands, as, due to their slow speed, if Scheer had ordered a return to Germany at this time, he would’ve had to essentially sacrifice the slower ships to make it happen.
Admiral Scheer thus decided to order a full 180 degree turn, but the slow ships of II Battle Squadron, having fallen behind, could not conform to the new course, and ended up out of line. Rear Admiral Franz Mauve, Commander of II Battle Squadron, decided against moving his battleships to the rear of the line, as the path would interfere with the maneuvers of Hipper’s battlecruisers, and instead attempted to place II Battle Squadron at the head of the line; but by the time II Battle Squadron reached this new position, Scheer had ordered another 180 degree turn, placing them at the rear of the fleet. Later, another 180 degree turn was ordered, and once again the slow ships fell out of line.
Later, on the first day of the battle, while Hipper’s badly damaged battlecruisers were being engaged by their British counterparts, Schleswig-Holstein and the other so called “five-minute ships” came to the battlecruiser’s aid by steaming in between the opposing sides. There was little engagement, owing mostly to poor visibility, so bad that Schleswig-Holstein’s main guns did not fire once, as the gunners could not make out a target. At 2135 a heavy-caliber shell struck Schleswig-Holstein on the port side, punching a hole through the outside of the ship before exploding against the inner casemate armor. Three men were killed, and nine were wounded, and a hole approximately 4.5m (14.8ft) was blown off of the superstructure deck, and one portside casemate was disabled. Admiral Mauve thus halted the fight, and the ships of II Battle Squadron turned around.
Late on the 31st, the fleet reformed for the return to Germany, with Schleswig-Holstein near the end of the line, ahead of SMS Hessen, sister ship SMS Hannover, and the battlecruisers SMS Von der Tann and SMS Derfflinger. At around 0300 on the 1st of May, British destroyers conducted torpedo attacks against the fleet, forcing evasive maneuvers. Sister ship SMS Pommern was hit by at least one torpedo from the destroyer HMS Onslaught, detonating the ammunition magazines in a tremendous explosion.
Despite the ferocity of the battle, and the British forces attempting to trap them, the High Seas Fleet would break through the British forces and successfully return to Wilhelmshaven. Over the course of the battle, Schleswig-Holstein fired only twenty 17cm rounds, and no 28cm (main gun) rounds.



View from a High Seas Fleet ship of the fleet, just before the Battle of Jutland.

Schleswig-Holstein was put into dock in mid-June, and thereafter, along with her sisters, withdrawn from service. She was decommissioned on the 2nd of May, 1917, disarmed, and moved to Bremerhaven for use as a barracks ship, where she would remain for the rest of the war.
Following the end of World War 1, Germany was, under Article 181 of the Treaty of Versailles, permitted to retain eight pre-dreadnought battleships for coastal defense. Among those retained were Schleswig-Holstein, sisters Hannover and Schlesien, along with several Braunschweig-class battleships. Schleswig-Holstein would undergo an extensive refit, being rearmed, the 17cm secondaries replaced by 15cm secondaries, four 50cm torpedo tubes in casemate mountings fore and aft, removal of the original underwater torpedo tubes, new fire controls, and enlarged superstructure for handling admiral’s staff. She was recommissioned into the new Reichsmarine on the 31st of January, 1926, becoming the flagship.
In 1926 and 1927, she would visit a number of ports, such as Barcelona and Viga, Spain, and Libson, Portugal. In late 1927 she would go back into dock, returning to service with her forefunnel trunnked back into the second funnel, and the two remaining funnels were heightened, as had been done to her sister Schlesien.
With the delivery of the new Deutschland-class Panzerschiffe in 1933, the older battleships were gradually withdrawn from service. Schleswig-Holstein ceased to be the flagship on the 22nd of November, 1935, and was refitted to a cadet training ship. These modifications entailed removing the upper deck 15cm guns, as well as the torpedo tubes, and converting the two aft boilers to oil burning - but the two forward boilers remained coal fired.


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Schleswig-Holstein in the mid-1930s.

In the late 1930s, following increasingly aggressive foreign policy decisions by the new leader, Adolf Hitler, Schleswig-Holstein was sent to the Free City of Danzig, in August of 1939, under the guise of a ceremonial visit. Here, the ship would shape the course of history.
Early on September 1st, 1939, the German Invasion of Poland begun, kicking off World War 2. Schleswig-Holstein had been positioned close to a Polish ammunition depot at the Westerplatte, and at 4:47 AM, on the 1st of September, KMS Schleswig-Holstein opened fire with her main guns on the ammunition depot, firing the first shots of World War 2.


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KMS Schleswig-Holstein firing on the Westerplatte, September 1st, 1939.

These shots were the signal to ground troops to begin the Invasion of Poland, and they soon advanced on the installation, supported by Schleswig-Holstein, but it and another subsequent assault were repelled. By September 4th, the installation had still not been captured, and two torpedo boats, KMS T196 and KMS Von der Groeben. A force of infantry and combat engineers then went ashore, with heavy fire support, but the Polish garrison held them off until forced to surrender on the 7th of September. Schleswig-Holstein thereafter began shelling Polish positions at Hel and Redłowo, being damaged on the 25th of September by shore batteries at Hel.
In April, 1940, the Germans turned their attention westward, and began the Invasion of Denmark. Schleswig-Holstein was assigned to Gruppe 7, part of the naval contingent for the invasion.


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KMS Schleswig-Holstein off Norway, April, 1940.

Following the operation, she was transferred back to training duties, where she remained. In 1943, some consideration was given to reactivating her, as the oil situation had become dire, and the old ship’s coal fire boilers could still be used. Thus, on the 1st of February, 1944, KMS Schleswig-Holstein was once again recommissioned. She would be sent to Gotenhafen (Gdinya, Poland) for a refit into an escort ship, with greatly enhanced anti-air capabilities, but was hit by RAF bombers on the 18th of September, 1944, and would founder in shallow water due to damage. The ship became permanently disabled, and the crew was ordered to assist in the defense of Marienburg (Malbork, Poland).
After the Soviets took the city, scuttling charges aboard Schleswig-Holstein were detonated, further destroying the ship. Post-war, she was raised and towed into the Gulf of Finland for use as a beached target ship by the Soviets, eventually ceasing use as a target ship in 1966, her remains being submerged.

Specifications
1945

General Information
Displacement 14,218 tons (full load)
Length 127.6m (418ft 8in)
Beam 22.2m (72ft 10in)
Draft 8.21m (26ft 11in)
Speed 19.1 knots (35.4 km/h)
Complement ~743 officers and enlisted
Gun Turret/Mount Notes
4 × 28cm SK L/40 2 × Twin
14 x 15cm SK L/45 14 x Single Casemate May have been removed by WW2, unsure
6 x 10.5cm SK L/45 6 x Single
10 x 4cm/60 Flak 28 10 x Single
4 x 3.7cm/83 SK C/30 4 x Single
26 x 2cm/65 Flak C/38 Unknown
28cm Ammunition
Designation Mass Bursting Charge Muzzle Velocity Notes
AP L/2.6 240.7kg (530.7lbs) 8.95kg (19.74lbs) 820m/s (2,690fps)
HE L/4.4 284kg (626lbs) 23.28kg (51.1lbs) 740m/s (2,428fps) Fitted with nose fuse and/or base fuse
HE L/4.3 240kg (529lbs) Unknown 820m/s (2,690fps) Base Fuse
HE L/4.1 240kg (529lbs) Unknown 820m/s (2,690fps) Nose Fuse
Armor
Belt 100-240mm (3.9-9.4")
Deck 40mm (1.6")
Turrets 50-280mm 2-11")
Barbettes 250mm (9.8")
Conning Tower 80-300mm (3.15-11.8"

Conclusion
KMS Schleswig-Holstein is a very important ship in naval history, not for her design, but for her role in starting the largest war in history, the war this game was originally based on. And for that reason, I think she deserves a place in War Thunder.
However, when it comes to proper balancing of pre-dreadnought battleships such as Schleswig-Holstein, I am a bit unsure. On one hand, these ships can basically get bodied by any treaty-era cruiser, but on the other hand, they can, in return, deal heavy damage to anyone that fights them. But their slow speed and non-effectual armor does not do them any favors, and they may be helpless when leveraged against a modern cruiser. But nonetheless, I think it is still a worthy consideration for one of these, given that they helped shape big-gun naval conflict as we know it.

Sources

Wikipedia - Deutschland-class Battleship
Wikipedia - Battleship Schleswig-Holstein
LastStandonZombieIsland - German Ship Schleswig-Holstein
Naval-Encyclopedia - Deutschland-class Battleships
Navweaps - 28cm SK L/40
Navweaps - 28cm SK L/45
Navweaps - 28cm SK L/50

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