|Kaiser Wilhelm II, always envious of Uncle Eddie’s Navy (King Edward VI was his uncle), had asked his Admiralty for a fast battleship design early on. Back in
April 1905 on a trip to Italy, he was told of the newest Italian battleship, the Regina Elena, which was said to have a top speed of 22-knots, the speed of an armored
cruiser. Since that point he had wanted fast battleships for his navy. Secretary Tirpitz was opposed to the concept, as it would greatly impact conventional battleship
construction. However, on May 17, 1906 the Kaiser invited the German shipyards on a design for a fast battleship design that would be at least 3-knots faster than
contemporary foreign battleships and mount at least four 11-inch (280mm) guns with the new battleship design for Nassau as a basis for a start. Tirpitz still thought
that this was a mistake. On May 22 the final design of Blucher was approved and on May 26 the Reichstag approved the naval budget that authorized a large cruiser
of 15,500-tons, which would cover the cost of the Blucher. It was on May 31, 1906 that the German Admiralty was told by the German naval attaché in London
that the new Invincible class would mount 12-inch, not 9.2-inch guns. With the budget maxed-out and with he materials for the Blucher design already ordered, it
was too late to do anything to improve Blucher, so a reply would have to wait for the next design. In a memorandum from the German Navy Department to Tirpitz
on June 29, the Navy staff said that the German large cruisers must be built as fast battleships.
With the first true battlecruiser design, typed as Grosen Kreuzer, German designers turned the table on the British. One could see the size of a ship and count her
guns but could not see or measure armor protection. British writers did not know that the Blucher had a stronger armor scheme than the British battlecruisers and
assumed a six-inch belt as in previous armored cruiser designs. “Of the successors of the Blucher, being German Indomitables or Dreadnought-cruisers, little is
known. The von der Tann, launched in March, 1909, is to be completed in the spring of 1910.” (The Naval Annual 1910, page 32) This first mention of von der
Tann attributed her with twelve 11-inch gun, presumably arranged as the 11-inch guns of Nassau or the 8.2-inch guns of Blucher. Nothing was mentioned about
armour, except in a table at the back of the volume, which mentioned an eight-inch belt for von der Tann, but put in the caveat “particulars doubtful”. With the von
der Tann German designers set the pattern for the entire line of battlecruiser construction for the High Seas Fleet. The ship had minimalist superstructure, presenting
a low target, inferior main armament to British contemporary construction (11-inch vs 12-inch) but most importantly, far superior protection. Although always
classified as battlecruisers, the German designs were in reality fast battleships. Gone was the mistake of the wing turrets of Blucher, instead the von der Tann
improved upon the British practice of spacing amidship turrets far enough apart to allow cross deck fire. The von der Tann was a direct reply to the Invincible class
but was far superior in every category but main armament.
On March 25, 1908 von der Tann was laid down at the Blohm and Voss yard, five days after the completion of HMS Invincible. She was launched a year later on
March 20, 1909 and completed in September 1910. Not only did she greatly improve on the characteristics of Invincible but also incorporated unique design features
for German capital ship construction. She was the first German capital ship to use turbines instead of triple reciprocating machinery and four propeller shafts.
During construction, in an effort to counter rolling characteristics encountered in the Nassau class battleships, Frahm anti-rolling tanks were worked into the design.
However, certain design sacrifices were made to achieve the end result. Since German ships were designed to operate in the North Sea instead of the world wide
arena, they could be given a lower freeboard and decreased crew habitability than the corresponding British equivalent. Von der Tann did have a raised forecastle
deck but she was still wet, compared to British battlecruisers with their higher freeboard. Another sacrifice was in the hull frames. In order to save weight, lighter
hull framing was worked into the ship, compared to British designs. The consequence was that upon firing her main guns, the ship shook considerably.