Pen & Sword Books – The Kaiser’s Battlefleet, German Capital Ships 1871-1918




Author: Aidan Dodson

ISBN: 978-1-84832-229-5

Seaforth Publishing

MSRP – £28.00 / $39.75 US

Reviewed by Bill Plunk



Historically, much has been made about the naval arms race between Imperial Germany and Great Britain and its contributions to tensions in Europe that ultimately led up to the outbreak of World War I. The Kaiser’s Battlefleet by Aidan Dodson takes an in-depth look at the evolution of German capital ship development by focusing in on the battleship and large cruiser classes of warship and the influences that shaped their design and construction. Hardbound and consisting of 256 pages, the contents are arranged in two distinct sections along with the usual supporting Appendices and Bibliography for a historical work of this type.


The first 175 pages are devoted to the narrative surrounding the chronology, events, and design changes that impacted capital ship design, fleet size, and fleet organizational structures and is organized into 9 distinct chapters. Chapter 1 consists of 8 pages and is a brief history of the Prussian Navy before the advent of the German Empire in 1871 while Chapter 2 adds another 11 pages on the Era of Wilhelm I.

Continuing the chronological theme, Chapters 3 & 4 consist of 36 pages dealing with the pre-Dreadnought era of ship design and development under the regime of Wilhelm II and the Fleet Law. These chapters cover a class-by-class description of ship development with a focus on armament, armor protection, and general design changes including modernizations to ships in service. A brief section on overseas deployments and involvements in the Far East is also included.

Chapter 5 devotes a full 28 pages to the Dreadnought Era and the major influences that had on both the pace and type of development pursued by the Imperial Fleet. The class-by-class discussion pattern is followed here as well and also includes discussions about the amendments to the Fleet Laws and the impact they had on funding, ship design, and frequency of ships being laid down on a year-by-year basis. Sections are also included covering battleships built for export to different nations.

These first 5 chapters and their 100 pages of course are meant to lay the groundwork for the remaining 4 chapters which deal with the operational history of the ships in World War I and their subsequent fates afterwards. Chapters 6 and 7 cover the war itself and consist of 39 pages that also include operational engagements, wartime modifications and changes to various classes, and the internment at Scapa Flow at war’s end. Chapter 8 involves 30 pages and is aptly titled ‘Afterglow’ and details the various fates of the ships scuttled at Scapa Flow as well as those that were later transferred to the victorious powers, retained and incorporated into the new Reichsmarine, and even continuing to see service into World War II and beyond with the ironic note that it was one of these old war horses that fired both the first shots of World War II and was also the last surviving battleship in the German Kriegsmarine at that war’s end. A four-page recap as Chapter 9 summarizes the book nicely and provides an excellent tie-up of the books narrative section.

Period photos drawn from various sources are numerous and populate the book throughout and are of a high quality and standard, ranging in size from quarter page all the way up to full page size in a few instances. Captions include relevant details and sources for the photos and highlight key features of the ships or ship classes in question for added reference value.

The 2nd half of the book provides Technical and Career Data for all of the ship classes discussed in the books and provides sketch drawings (mostly in profile and not to any set scale) that extend to some of the proposed designs that were never constructed or were halted before completion by war’s end in 1918. Appendices are also provided that detail the main armament mountings of all the ship classes in a handy chart, charts for the ship trial results, and the organizational structures for the different capital ship and cruiser units by year.


This is a very nicely produced and balanced reference on the Imperial German Navy’s capital ships from 1871-1918 and beyond. Highly recommended for its narrative quality, balance of technical and design information, and all around usefulness as a general reference on the ships of the era.


Modelers Social Club and the MSC Review Connect would like to thank Pen and Sword Books, Ltd. for providing a copy of The Kaiser’s Battlefleet, German Capital Ships 1871-1918 and Bill Plunk for his review of this book.

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