Thursday, July 4, 2013

SMS Regensburg

In 1912, the Imperial German Navy began construction of two light cruisers to supplement their growing naval force. The Graudenz and the Regensburg were fairly typical of the day; 468 feet (143 meters) in length and carrying twelve 10.5 centimeter (4 inch) guns. Regensburg was launched a mere two months prior to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which triggered the sequence of events that would plunge Europe into the First World War. 
Wreck of SMS Regensburg.

Regensburg was commissioned on 3 January 1915 and was almost immediately sent into action. Regensburg participated in a number of engagements against the Russians throughout the Baltic Sea. She shelled Russian positions in Livonia and later participated in minelaying operations off the Dutch coast. At one point, a proposal was made to send Regensburg into the Atlantic as a commerce raider, but it was decided she was of more value as a naval unit rather than being hunted down like many of the German cruiser/raiders early in the war.
Postcard depicting a drawing of SMS Regensburg.

In early 1916 she joined Admiral Franz von Hipper's squadron and shelled the British towns of Yarmouth and Lowestoft, along the North Sea coast. In May she led a flotilla of torpedo boats, serving as a screen for German battlecruisers at the Battle of Jutland. She was in the mist of key fighting during the battle, disabling the British cruiser Shark and damaging Canterbury. Miraculously, Regensburg managed to avoid serious damage in that epic conflict. 

After the Battle of Jutland, Regensburg returned to operations in the Baltic, and then ended up with the bulk of German naval forces at Wilhelmshaven. In October 1918, the German High Command ordered the German fleet to sortie for a final, epic battle between the High Seas Fleet and the British Grand fleet. But sailors scoffed at what they felt was a suicide mission, seeing how the end of the war was in sight. The mutiny compelled the navy to cancel the operation, but the revolutionary sentiment would spread, accelerating Germany to accept an armistice. On 7 November Regensburg moved to Swinem├╝nde, where she was when the war ended. She was not with the main German fleet that went to Scapa Flow, and was the likely reason why she escaped scuttling. She served as escort for the British battleship carrying the Allied Armistice Commission.

She joined the post-war Reichmarine, the navy of Weimar Germany until 1920, when she was handed over to the French as war reparations. France renamed her Strasbourg, possibly as a dig against Germany. Strasbourg was the capital of the province of Alsace, which had been under German control from 1870 up to the end of World War One. For the next fifteen years, she had an active career with the French Navy. Strasbourg participated in the Rif War in North Africa, and later participated in a relief expedition to assist in the rescue of the crew of the Italian airship Italia, which attempted to reach the North Pole. 
Ex-German cruiser Regensburg in service as the French cruiser Strasbourg.

In 1936 Strasbourg was placed in reserve, and her name given to a new battleship. She was later converted into a barracks ship, and served in that role at the French naval base in Lorient. In 1939 the Second World War broke out, and France fell the following year. The Germans decided to use Lorient as a major base of operations for u-boats. But proximity of Lorient to British airfields meant the naval base was the target of frequent air attacks. Starting in 1941 the Germans began construction of three massive concrete submarine pens of Keroman Submarine Base, to protect the u-boats against aerial attack. 
Keroman Submarine Base.
The Allies made repeated attempts to put these pens out of action, but the massive concrete structures were practically impervious to horizontal bombing. However, the Germans identified a vulnerability. The entrance to the pens, facing to the south-west, were open and vulnerable to attack by small torpedo aircraft. As such, the Germans confiscated the ex-Strasbourg for use as a breakwater, to prevent potential torpedo attacks against the entrance of the pens. In 1944 the ex-Regensburg/ex-Strasbourg was scuttled near the entrance of the submarine pens, both of which are still visible today. She is in poor condition, but her hull is still easily distinguishable.
Wreck of SMS Regensburg at Lorient, France.

Corroded bow of Regensburg.

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