With all the big battleships around, you need a vessel to train your crews, so SMS Drache is now operational:
Artillery Training Boat SMS Drache
) was launched on June 6th, 1908 at the Germania shipyards in Kiel. She was a replacement for the old modified supply tender Ulan
, which had been used for artillery training. It would last around four more months until October until Drache
was officially comissioned, one of the reasons being that with the decomissioning of Ulan
becoming fully operational, there would be a month-long loss of training and September of 1908 happened to be a busy months. Drache
was officially comissioned on October 26th, 1908 and assigned to the Inspection of Ship Artillery in Sonderburg.
was 53,60m long, had a desplacement of 812t and had a crew of 55. She was powered by two 3-cylinder double expansion engines on two shafts, giving her a top speed of 15kn with a range of 1750sm at 11kn. She was not a combat ship, but as an artillery training ship she carried a considerable armament consisting of four 88mm cannons and four 52mm cannons.
's armament was constantly changed, because she was a training ship. For artillery training, she often had the most up-to-date guns installed, here's how she appeared in 1912:
During the war, Drache
continued her service as artillery training ship, but fullfilled other duties as well. That included picket duty, emergency services, the elimination of errand mines and supporting capital ships when those held artillery training session themselves. But for the most part, artillery training tours were her main occupation. During one of those tours, in 1916, Drache
carried no less than eight 88mm cannons.
Between the wars:
After the end of the war, most of the German fleet was either at the bottom of Scapa Flow or in the hands of the Allied Nations. What remained in German hands was mostly war materiel from pre-WW1 days and Drache
was one of those ships. In the immediate years after the war she supported the minesweeping operations in the Baltic Sea before returning to her original duties as training ship. She returned to the Inspection of Ship Artillery, but with the opening of a new artillery school in Kiel, Drache
commuted between Kiel and Wilhelmshaven, serving as artillery training ship, tender and tug for floating targets.
In the years of the Weimar Republic Drache continued her service as a training ship under no less than thirteen different captains in one- or two-year-turns. Under the many cadets that were trained on Drache
were the later Admiral Godt, who became the chief of u-boat operations. Already during WW1, the later commandant of the fortress of Dünkirchen, Admiral Frisius, served on Drache as watch officer from 1914-1916. In 1927, the appearance of Drache
had changed. The old 88mm guns had been replaced by six 105mm Utof-guns and the bridge area had been rebuilt. This included a larger open bridge, a rangefinder and a new searchlight platform on the mast.
Although originally also classified as a tender, Drache
became more and more an atrillery training ship. She continued to commute between Wilhelmshaven and Kiel until 1936, when all artillery training was moved to Kiel and Drache
recieved another major refit. This next refit for Drache
brought some significant changes: The old coal-fired boiler were replaced with new oil-fired boilers, which also resulted in the two funnels being summarized into one larger, but lower funnel. The bridge was once again rebuilt and gear for minesweeping was installed at the bow. The main artillery remained the same, but a single 20mm FlaMG was added as well. Also, Drache
finally recieved her own crest at the bow.
Drache continued her training duties for cruise-, submarine- and torpedo boat-artillery crews, mostly for officer cadets, but also tested new firing operation with seasoned artillery officers, until the outbreak of the Second World War.
Second World War:
After the initial shots were fired and the invasion of Poland, Drache
joined the supporting naval units around 17.09.1939. Her duties included bombarding coastal MG-emplacement, providing artillery support for the army, escorting transporters and minehunting. After the invasion of Poland was complete, Drache
returned to her training duties, which included a tour to Norway.
During the follwing invasion of Norway in 1940, Drache
was part of Warship Group 5 with the target of Oslo. During this, Drache
, together with the R-boats R22
, captured the Norwegian submarine A 2
put together the prize unit that took over the submarine and later escorted her back to Horten.
In July 1940, the training vessel fleets were once again reorganized and relocated to their new home port in Sassnitz, which included Drache
. During the war, Drache
recieved several upgrades: Basic underwater detectors were installed early in the war, as were waterbombs. The old 105mm Utof cannons were replaced with the newer C/32 model, the 20mm single was replaced with a quad model. For additional protection against air, a 37mm twin was installed on the foredeck. Also, since 1944, Drache
carried a FuMO-63 radar, a relatively new and important piece for such an old ship (It still had to be turned by hand, though).
Around 1943 more and more ships were assigned to escort duty. Training duties by this point had been taken over by the actual warships, so Drache
could be used on the front lines, although she was still officially classified as a training boat. Drache
was assigned to the 3. Sicherungsflotille
(3rd escort flotilla) and stationed in Gotenhafen. At first, her primary duties were minesweeping, but also anti-air patrol. In the end of July 1944 Drache
escorted the passenger liner General von Steuben
to Riga to aid with the evacuation of the enclused soldiers and refugees. On the way there Drache
ran aground on a sand bank, but managed to get free. Once in Riga, the crew helped with the loading of the over 4000 wounded on General von Steuben
. On the way back, Drache
detected a submarine (presumably Shch-310
) and managed to drive it away (or destroy it) with her waterbombs. General von Steuben
returned to Gotenhafen without further incident.
In 1945 the situation had turned desperate. On Februray 9th, 1945, Drache
recieved a radio that a large passanger liner had been attacked and sunk. Drache
, herself transporting around 200 refugees at the time, turned around to aid. This liner had been the General von Steuben
, attacked and sunk near the same place where the famous Wilhelm Gustloff
had been sunk just ten days prior. Out of the 4000 people on board, only 660 could be rescued, but Drache
could only pick up dead bodies. After finding out the identity of the sunken liner, the crew of Drache
was hit hard, after having escorted the ship safely the year before. In January 1945 Operation 'Westwind' began near Königsberg, one of the last offensives of the Wehrmacht, aided by heavy naval artillery support, including Admiral Hipper
, Admiral Scheer
and several smaller ships, including Drache
and two so-called Schwere Artillerieträger
(SAT; heavy artillery transporter, modifed coastal freighters) could enter the coastal channals and provide support from a shorter distance. Drache
was credited with the destruction of four tanks, several trucks and one plane. For the next months Drache
continued her artillery support, not only around Königsberg, but also Danzig and Gotenhafen.
At the end of March 1945 Drache
participated in Operation 'Großendorf': Without any lights, Drache
and a high sea tug towed a freighter into the harbor entrance of Großendorf, near Hela. This fishery harbor was close to be taken over by the Soviets and could have been used as a submarine harbor. In the entrance of the harbor the crew on the freighter sunk the ship and evacuated to the tug and retreated safely. The sucess of this Operation is unknown, but the harbor would have been blocked for submarines for the next time. After that, Drache
returned to the chanal around Königsberg to provide artillery support. The characteristically high mast of Drache
made it unfortunately very easy for the Soviets to spot the ship, so it had to be cut down. This eased the situation a bit, but around the 7th to 8th April of 1945 Drache
enterd the Schichau shipyards in Königsberg for repairs. As soon as some of the crew had left the boat, they spotted Soviet soldiers and came under fire from artillery pieces. Drache
took several hits: One in the bridge, heavily wounding the Captain, one in the radio room, killing the radio operator and one on the foredeck. The 37mm twin had tried to defend the ship and had taken a direct hit, ripping the gun overboard and killing the enite gun crew, probably four to five men. Additionally, Drache
was hit several times below the waterline. The ship immediately retreated form Königsber to Pillau via a chanal. Here, again under heavy artillery fire, repairs were made, but the 37mm twin was not replaced, a fact that would haunt the ship later. Only two days later, Drache
returned to combat, this time defending the evacuation of Pillau, together with two, later five SAT.
On April 18th, 1945, while guarding the harbor of Pillau, the six ships came under attack by Soviet Il-2 fighters. It was a cloudy day and the enemy planes were barely visible. The SAT Robert Müller 6
was the first victim and sunk around 12:30. An hour later the planes returned and attacked again. The 105mm cannons only had an elevation angle of 70° and were of limited use. The 20mm quad proved useless against the armor of the Il-2. The 37mm twin would have been able to pierce that armor, although if it had made a difference remains another question for history. Drache
was hit by two 250kg bombs and her whole side open. Drache
sank quickly and the surviors were taken by another SAT. They were brought to Hela where they were greeted by a former Captain of Drache
, who showed pity with the men and had them evacuated to the west, instead of having them split up and trasferred to other ships. The wreck was discovered in 2009 by Russian divers.