Osprey's two new volumes in British and German battlecruisers in the First World War present fresh insight into this important class of warships and their contributions to naval operations. German Battlecruisers 1914-18, New Vanguard 124, covers the seven German battlecruisers that operated during the First World. Unlike the volume on British battlecruisers, this volume focuses more on technical details than on operational narrative, which makes both volumes very complimentary. A number of these New Vanguard volumes of late have been rather skimpy with little or no fresh insight or detail, but happily that trend does not apply to this volume or the one on British battlecruisers. Overall, German Battlecruisers 1914-18 is an excellent volume and provides detailed coverage on this aspect of naval warfare.
After a brief introduction outlining the development of the battlecruiser concept in the Imperial German Navy, the author jumps right into to discussing each of the four class of German battlecruiser. For each class, the author's narrative consists of sub-sections on armament, armor, sea-keeping, machinery, general characteristics and changes, namesake and service record. This is an excellent approach and the author packs a considerable amount of detail into the discussion of each warship class. Detail includes cross sections of ship's armor, internal turret profiles, the amount of ammunition carried for each weapons system on the ship, cost, and a list of all ship commanders. The author provides not merely a brief overview of general ship characteristics, but makes a genuine effort to outline and assess a wide variety of factors that affected the mobility, firepower and protection of each German battlecruiser.
The author spends considerable time discussing the original German battlecruiser, the Von der Tann, which was commissioned in 1910. Von der Tann was revolutionary for the Imperial German Navy in having turbine propulsion and armored torpedo bulwarks. The Imperial Fleet followed von der Tann with improved versions, resulting finally in the "Derfflinger" class which represented the best blend of firepower, protection and mobility. Although the author does discuss each ship's operational history, this comes in second to the technical detail, particularly in regard to activities beyond the Jutland or Dogger Bank actions. The volume also has excellent color plates: Von der Tann profile, Moltke profile, Seydlitz at Dogger Bank, a cut-away of Lutzow, Seydlitz profile, Lutzow at Jutland and Derfflinger profile. The only area that disappointed me was that the author made no mention of the last class of battlecruisers that were launched during the war and mounted bigger guns - this might have meant that the Germans were migrating to the 'fast battleship' concept developed by the British.
In the concluding sections, the author makes some very good points about the `lessons learned' from the action at Dogger Bank in 1915, which resulted in vastly different performances by British and German battlecruisers at Jutland in 1916. At Dogger Bank, the Germans nearly lost the Seydlitz when its turret ammunition caught fire after a hit and the ship was only saved by self-sacrificing action by the crew. The Germans learned from this incident and made changes to their ammunition handling procedures, while the British, whose battlecruisers were hit but did not burn, took the opposite approach. This is a point well argued by the author, although his conclusion that "the German kreuzer-battleships had defeated the British battlecruisers and had fought and resisted the most modern and heavily armed battleships" is a bit too biased in favor of the Germans. While the loss of three British battlecruisers at Jutland was painful, the German battlecruisers were beaten to a pulp (with one sunk and one nearly sunk) and in no condition to claim `victory.' Furthermore, the German battlecruisers certainly came off the worse for wear against the British super-dreadnoughts at Jutland. This volume does not really address weaknesses of the German battlecruisers, but I think they had both their technical and operational problems. In technical terms, they were not always mechanically reliable, as in the incident the author mentions when Moltke lost a propeller in April 1918 and suffered a complete engine breakdown at sea. In operational terms, these beautifully-built warships really did not have a role that justified their high cost ad upkeep (same could be said for most of the German battle fleet), which accounts for the fact that they saw action on only a few occasions. Impressive as they were, the German battlecruisers of the First World War neither controlled the sea nor were capable of conduct commerce raiding, leaving them sitting on most of the war on the sidelines. On the other hand, the much-maligned British battlecruisers did control the sea and swept those seas clean of enemy merchant shipping. Who did you say won?