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SMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World War
September 1, 1939, the Baltic Sea. At 04:45 AM, Captain at Sea Gustav Kleikamp sends a short order through the intercom. Two minutes later, 11.1-inch shells started falling on the Polish garrison of Westerplatte. World War II began with a naval artillery attack from the SMS Schleswig-Holstein. However, the ship that shelled its path in history was a meager pre-WWI relic with mediocre capabilities.

The Lousy Omen of Schleswig-Holstein: The Battleship That Unfurled the Bloodiest War Ever

SMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarSMS Schelswig-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World WarThe Battle of Westerplatte, September 1-7, 1939
The most ferocious armed conflict in the history of man is intimately linked to a formidable weapon, perhaps the most fear-inspiring ever created: the battleship. The following narrative is a brief story of the German vessel that effectively opened the six-year-long war. It is part of a series of articles about some of the most formidable capital ships in military history.

The German Kriegsmarine (War Navy) had deployed the old and obsolete battleship Schleswig-Holstein to the Polish free city of Gdansk in late August 1939 under a courtesy visit pretext. It lay moored until that fatidical morning of the first fall day, with its 11-inch main guns (283 mm) pointed at the garrison.

Tensions were already running high between Germany and Poland, and the ostentatious posture of the warship only added to the irritation. At 04:45, the order to open fire rumbled through the ship’s intercom. Two minutes later, the first shells hailed on the target. However, the target’s proximity to the large guns made the bombardment useless.

The 626-lb projectiles (284 kilograms) had insufficient time to arm and did not explode on impact. Shaming the invading Wehrmacht, the battleship failed to inflict a single casualty with the broadside of its impressive 37-foot-long cannons.

SMS Schelswig\-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World War
As such, the operation – initially estimated by the invading forces to last only a few hours – continued for six more days. The Kriegsmarine battleship fired her guns many times during those six days, playing an essential part in conquering the garrison.

The warship was no stranger to the art of war, as it had seen hot action in the first global massacre under the German flag. The vessel had bad auspices laid under her keel even before it was launched to sea in 1906. It went afloat already outdated and outgunned by a new class of ships inaugurated by the HMS Dreadnought that same year.

However, the Schleswig-Holstein went into service because the German Imperial Navy could not just have their brand-new battleship stricken. Her construction had begun in 1904, and she was the last of the five Deutschland-class ships to be built.

Schleswig-Holstein was 418 ft 8 in (127.60 m) long, 72 ft 10 in (22.20 m) wide at the beam, had a draft of 26 ft 11 in (8.21 m), and a full-load displacement of 14,218 metric tons. Three triple expansion steam engines (fueled by twelve coal-fired water-tube boilers) with 16,767 indicated horsepower propelled the battleship to the top speed of 19.1 knots (22.0 mph, or 35.4 km/h).

SMS Schelswig\-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World War
Although she had four more sister-ships with identical designs, the Schleswig-Holstein was the fastest and second-best in fuel efficiency. The German combat vessel had a navigational range of 5,720 nautical miles (6,580 miles, or 10,590 km) at the cruising speed of 10 knots (12 mph, or 19 kph). Seven hundred forty-three officers and sailors served aboard the Deutschland-class battleship in her early years and during WWI.

Of course, none of those numbers inscribed above have meaning without the most crucial set of figures of any military ship: the gunnery. In 1906, the arsenal consisted of a main battery of four 11.1-inch (283 mm) SK L/40 guns comprised of twin turrets – one forward, the other aft. By comparison, the British Dreadnought had ten 12-inch (300 mm) main guns.

Fourteen 6.7-inch (170 mm) SK L/40 guns added mid-range firepower, each separately installed in casemates along the broadside. Lastly, twenty-two 3.5-in (88-mm) SK L/45 guns (also single mounted) were the primary defense against torpedo boats and other small, fast craft. Six 17.7-inch (45-mm) torpedo tubes sat below the waterline (one at the bow, one at the stern, and the remaining four placed to port and starboard side.

After taking part in the largest naval skirmish of WWI, the Battle of Jutland, the Schleswig-Holstein was one of eight warships allowed to form the German navy following the country's defeat. For nine years, between 1926 and 1935, the aging veteran became the flagship of the derelict marine force.

SMS Schelswig\-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World War
By WWII, the aging battleship had lost all armament but her main four guns. All the smaller ones had been replaced by ten 5,9-inch (150 mm) SK L/45 guns. The initial twenty-two 88-mm battery consisted, in 1939, of just four 88-mm anti-aircraft (the infamous Flaks) and another four 1.5-inch (3.7 cm) single-load, slow-firing AA guns.

The big cannons of the warship could fire 626-lbs shells at targets as far as 28,040 yards (25,640 m) at the maximum barrel elevation of 30°, at a speed of 2,700ft/second (820 m/s). Each main gun had 240 high-explosive rounds stored in the magazines, available in either 530 lbs (240 kg) or the more powerful 626 lbs (284 kg) types.

An armored belt protected the SMS Schleswig-Holstein - 9.4 inches of steel (240 mm) amidships in the citadel, with a 1.6-inch (40 mm) plating on the main deck. The two main battery turrets were clad in 11-inch-thick (280 mm) solid steel plates.

The battleship that started the war with her ineffective gunnery bombardment outlived the entirety of the conflict but came out with deep wounds. In December 1944, British bombers hit the German ship while she was undergoing outfitting in a yard nearby the city she had attacked five years earlier. Foundered by the aerial attack, the ship was scuttled by her crew in March 1945, a week before the Red Army captured the city.

SMS Schelswig\-Holstein, the ship that started the Second World War
The Soviets raised the wrecked battleship and towed it into the Gulf of Finland in 1948. Until 1966, USSR’s Navy ships practiced marksmanship on the captured German vessel. Today, the ship’s remains lay on the bottom of the sea near the Estonian island of Osmussaar.

 
 
 
 
 

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