The cruiser’s fighting ability must be such that she is able to successfully engage hostile scouts of comparable size, and several III. class cruisers (cruisers with 150mm guns or below and an armored deck) should be able to take on a single large
cruiser; the cruiser should also be a dangerous adversary for hostile torpedo boats. Requiring the small cruiser to be either equal in speed or even faster than a modern large cruiser, or be able to enter a fight single-handedly against a large
cruiser cannot be achieved unless the small cruiser is developed to the extreme in a single aspect, which would render her unusable for normal fleet duties. Nevertheless, it should be required that she carry effective weapons for shorter and longer
ranges so that several small cruisers acting together will be able to put up an effective resistance to a single large cruiser. The small cruiser thus requires, besides a torpedo armament, a numerous and effective medium-calibre artillery.
” This
passage is from General Lessons Learned from Manoeuvres of the Autumn Training Fleet, June 1894 by Captain Alfred Tirpitz. (
Warship 2020, The Development of the Small Cruiser in the Imperial German Navy (Part 1) by Dirk Nottelmann,
Osprey Publishing 2020, at pages 105-106)

With the creation of Imperial Germany after the Franco-Prussian War, the new Imperial Navy basically carried over the policies and construction tendencies that had been present with the navy of the Kingdom of Prussia. The Prussian Navy had built
2nd rate armored ships more suited to coastal defense than blue water operations, as the navy was definitely second fiddle to the army. Among smaller warships there was no experience with cruisers. In the small ship category Prussia built avisos.
These ships were built as fast vessels for reconnaissance, repetition of signals, and delivery of orders within the fleet. The Imperial German construction plan was developed in 1873 and planned for the construction of six avisos within ten years.
The first two of these avisos were Blitz and Pfeil, built by Norddeutsche Schiffbau AG of Kiel and the Imperial Dockyard at Wilhelmshaven. They were launched in 1882 and had a schooner sailing rig to extend the range of the two steam engines.
They were designed for operations with the home fleet and had a maximum speed of 17-knots under steam when their hulls underwater were clean. With their arrival the Imperial Navy developed the policy that with any new cruiser construction, the
ship should have at least a 2 to 3 knot speed advantage of German ironclads.
SMS Blitz became the flagship for the emerging German torpedo boat Flotillas, while SMS Pfeil was initially sent to east Africa to suppress the slave trade. This duty fell in
line with the second impetus for the construction of small cruisers. With the creation of the German Empire, Germany began acquiring colonies and protectorates. With the acquisition of far flung possessions, Germany needed warships for their
support and protection. In 1884 the German Navy began using the name cruiser in conjunction with the names of frigate or corvette and was initially used for ships for colonial duty rather than designed for home waters. Avisos for home duties were
significantly faster than their colonial colleagues but the avisos designed for colonial duty were much heavier armed.

The first Imperial German cruisers, at least in name, were in the financial year 1886/87. The request called for cruisers A and B. They became
Schwalbe and Sperber and were very small, about the size of gunboats. Two desires held back their size.
They were designed for colonial duty and had copper sheathed hulls and a schooner sailing rig. They were also intended for shallow water, even riverine operations, so they had to be small with a shallow draft. Unlike gunboats, their crews were large
enough to organize landing parties and they had a single torpedo tube. They were the last German small vessel to mount slow firing light guns. The German Parliament were penny pinchers when it came to the navy, especially with anything for the
colonies and initially funded only
Schwalbe. Sperber was not funded until fiscal year 1887/88. Schwalbe had two overseas tours of duty, one in Africa and one in China. In 1902 she returned and was laid up. Sperber served in Africa, Micronesia, China
and South America and returned to Germany in 1911. The next class of aviso designed for colonial duty was the
Bussard Class. There were six ships in the class. In size they were not up to cruiser standards at 900-tons but in armament they set the
standard for the first of the German true cruisers. The
Bussard Class carried eight 4.1-inch (105mm) guns. The last of the Bussard Class was ship F, which became SMS Geier and entered service in 1895.
Ship ‘G’ went through a number of designs before the final one was selected. Originally, it was to be a continuation of previous aviso designs, equipped with four Scotch boilers. In characteristics, it closely matched the qualities described in Tirpitz’
study of June 1894. However, the displacement was much greater than previous designs. Tirpitz thought that the 105mm guns were too light. He wrote, “
A straight reduction in gun calibre from 15cm to 10.5cm would appear unwise even for III.
class cruisers, because the latter gun does not possess sufficient penetrative power against armour, and the explosive effect of its shells is insufficient to ensure success in a fight gainst cruisers of other nations, which are generally equipped with
heavier calibres....To fulfil the requirements under section 3, a main armament of eight 12cm or 12.7cm is deemed necessary...
” (Warship 2020, The Development of the Small Cruiser in the Imperial German Navy (Part 1) by Dirk
Nottelmann, Osprey Publishing 2020, at pages 107-108) Tirpitz was soon appointed as head of RMA and it was unfortunate for the fleet that small cruisers still came out carrying 105mm guns instead of the larger sizes for which he had argued.

Alfred Dietrich was the chief designer for ship ‘G’. The OKM wanted to increase the speed of the design to 21-knots, the size and quantity of the main armament and the displacement to 4,000 tons. Dietrich replied that to work in the desired qualities
would require a ship of at least 3.400-tons, 112m in length and cost 26% greater funds than what was approved. OKM somewhat relented, when it realized that asking the Riechstag for more money would be akin to rolling the dice. With Tirpitz
having left OKM and now head of RMA, the new head of OKM, Admiral Eduard von Knorr wrote Tirpitz a protest, “
Cruiser ‘G’ has been opposed as inadequate by the OKM since its first appearance in 1894. I was anticipating a convergence of
opinion between the two most eminent naval offices after the definition of the Naval Law, particularly as the views of the OKM have not changed since the days when Your Excellency was a member of this institution.... If Your Excellency is
claiming...that these demands could only be fulfilled by raising the displacement by 800 tonnes and the cost by 1.2 million Marks, I can only state in return that in my view it would have been better to make these sacrifices instead of providing
the Navy with a cruiser type of little utility.
” (Warship 2020, The Development of the Small Cruiser in the Imperial German Navy (Part 1) by Dirk Nottelmann, Osprey Publishing 2020, pages 109-110) Reinforcement of von Knorr’s
complaint came when Rear Admiral Paul Hoffmann, former commander of the East Asia Cruiser Division, chimed in claiming that the ‘G’ design was only an improved
Bussard Class, which Tirpitz himself had called of inferior quality. To combat
these critics Tirpitz talked to his ultimate ally, his buddy Kaiser Bill, who listened to Tirpitz. The Kaiser also intervened in the design of
SMS Gazelle. He believed the initial designs for the ship did not have a sufficiently grand ram. The Kaiser admired
the gigantic rams found on the bow of French designs. Hey, if the Kaiser wants it, the Kaiser gets it.
Gazelle’s bow was redesigned to feature a huge ram, which was strengthened by the inclusion of a torpedo tube below the ram. A subsequent study
showed that the torpedo tube and torpedo room behind it would probably be crushed by ramming and it was better to design a break off point for the ram, rather than have a torpedo tube there. Hence
Gazelle was the first and only member of the
class to have this torpedo tube. Another design feature found only on
Gazelle was the location of the conning tower and bridge. In order to provide all around visibility they were positioned midship, between the two funnels. Gazelle had her two
broadside torpedo tubes were above the waterline, mounted on the main deck, while all others of the class had submerged torpedo tubes.
It was decided to build future cruisers ‘A’ and ‘B’ along the lines of Gazelle. Cruiser ‘A’ became SMS Nymphe and was built by Germaniawerft. She would become the template for future cruisers of the class with Schulz water-tube boilers and a bare
steel hull. On its own initiative, Germaniawerft had their design increase the horsepower from 6,000 horsepower to 8,000 horsepower without increasing dimensions. This increased the top speed to 21.5-knots and was adopted for future members of
the class. However, cruiser ‘B’, which became the
SMS Niobe was built by AG Weser and was closer to Gazelle. Although it did not have the torpedo tube below the ram and moved the conning tower and bridge in front of the forward funnel, the rest
of the
Niobe design was on the lines of Gazelle. The Niobe used eight Thorneycroft boilers, instead of the eight Niclausse boilers in Gazelle. The change in boilers had the funnels of Niobe closer spaced that those on Gazelle. Niobe was also the last of
the cruisers to be given copper sheathing so appreciated in the colonial avisos. A total of ten
Gazelle Class small cruisers were built over the next eight years. As the ships became available, they were initially assigned to the fleet to provide a protective
screen for the bigger ships against torpedo craft. As they were replaced by newer cruisers, the
Gazelles would normally be reassigned to colonial duties.

SMS Gazelle was laid down in 1897 at Germaniawerft as yard construction number 76, launched on March 31, 1898 and completed on October 6, 1900.  Her dimensions, as well as the Niobe, were 345-feet 1-inch (105.1m) overall, 341-feet 10-inches
(104.1m) at waterline with a beam of 40-feet 1-inch (12.2m) and draft of 17-feet 9-inches (5.53m). The others had slightly different dimensions. Displacement for the
Gazelle and Niobe was 2,963-tons, while the other members of the class were
heavier. Armament consisted of ten 4.1-inch/40 QF (105mm) guns, ten machine guns and three 450mm torpedo tubes with only the bow tube submerged. She had a 50mm protective deck and the conning tower had 80mm or armor with 20mm on the
crown. . The
Gazelle was the slowest of the class because she had two vertical 4 cylinder triple expansion engines fitted that only produced 6,000 horsepower, while all of the others in the class had machinery that produced 8,000 horsepower or
higher. When new, the maximum speed of
Gazelle was 19.5-knots. Range was 3,570nm. Complement was 14 officers and 243 crewmen. All of the class were crank in a seaway with a severe roll and was very wet with a head sea. They were tight
turners but lost up to 65% of their speed in a tight turn.
In the Naval Annual 1905 J.L. Bashford wrote a chapter on the Imperial German Navy. He specifically wrote of the importance of the Gazelle Class, which he called 3rd class cruisers. “The Admiralty considers it important for the German Navy to
be provided with a sufficient number of small cruisers as being specially qualified for pursuing and engaging destroyers and torpedo boats and for carrying despatches. Special attention is therefore being paid, and will continue to be paid, to this
type of vessel. They are being compared with ourscouts. It is pointed out in German naval circles that the main difference between our scouts and the German type is that our scouts have only a small coal capacity, whilst the German third-class
cruisers have a relatively large coal capacity. On the other hand, our scouts have a greater speed, viz., up to 25 knots, whilst this German type have only one of 23.5 knots, but this speed will be increased up to 24 knots at least. The German third-
class cruisers have two torpedo-tubes submerged, whilst our scouts have them above water; and the artillery in our scouts is of smaller calibre.
” (The Naval Annual 1905, Edited by T.A. Brassey, J. Griffin & Co. 1905, at page 208) From 1902 to
Gazelle functioned on colonial patrol and support. Between 1905 to 1907 the Gazelle was rebuilt. By 1914 the Gazelle was relegated to coastal defense duties. SMS Gazelle didn’t make through the war in service. On January 25, 1916 she was
damaged by a mine north of Cape Arkona and lost her propellers. She was placed out of service on February 22, 1916 and as she was given minelayer hulk status at Danzig and then Cuxhaven, and finally Wilhelmshaven.
SMS Gazelle was stricken at
Wilhelmshaven on August 28, 1920 and broken up.

Richard Hubatsch was a recruit in January 1901 when he reported to Wilhelmshaven for basic training. After completing his training his first assignment was aboard
SMS Gazelle. He wrote that on Gazelle there were a day shift and a night shift. In port
the day shift began at 0500 with washing, laundry and ship cleaning followed by breakfast at 0645. The morning was occupied by instruction and other duty until 1130 when ‘clear deck’ was sounded. Lunch was at noon followed by a two hour rest
period. More training and ship’s duty followed until 1800 when supper was served. Hammocks were issued at 2000 for those not on watch duty. Shore leave could be applied for daily from 0700 and 2300. On Sundays there was free time from noon to
1700. Hubatsch recalled that linoleum covered most of the internal decks in
Gazelle. Standard rations on Gazelle were hard bread, potatoes and dried salted meat. His commander on the Gazelle was Lieutenant Commander Reinhard Scheer and was
known as a strict disciplinarian. On the
Gazelle future Admiral Scheer, commander of the High Seas Fleet, was called, “the man with the iron mask”. (History From: Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860-1905, Conway Maritime Press
German Warships 1815-1945, Volume One : Major Surface Vessels by Erich Groner, Conway Maritime Press 1990; The ‘Luxury’ Fleet, The Imperial German Navy 1888-1918, by Holger H. Herwig, Humanity Books 1980; The Naval
Annual 1905
, Edited by T.A. Brassey, J. Griffin & Co. 1905; Warship 2020, The Development of the Small Cruiser in the Imperial German Navy (Part 1) by Dirk Nottelmann, Osprey Publishing 2020)
The Combrig 1:700 Scale SMS Gazelle - Combrig produces four of the ships of the Gazelle Class, which reflect their differences in appearance. They are the Gazelle, the Niobe, the Medusa and the Undine. The SMS Gazelle presents the most
unique appearance due to the placement of the conning tower and bridge midships between the funnels and the deck mounted torpedo tubes. The
Combrig kit comes with many finely cast resin parts, a complete brass photo-etch fret and the new style
instructions. There are many glorious attractions of the
Gazelle’s hull sides. It starts at the bow with the glorious ram bow so admired by the Kaiser. How can you resist that? There are plenty more details on the hull sides at the bow. On each side are
small casemates for tertiary guns, probably machine guns at first but the smaller guns in the kit look larger than machine gund and probably are small QF guns, probably installed during the Gazelle’s 1905-1907 refit. Slanted oval anchor hawse fittings
are aft of the casemates. Two rows of portholes run to just aft of the deck break. The quarterdeck is raised as well as the forecastle. At the aft end of the forecastle and forward end of the quarterdeck are casemates for four of the 4.1-inch main guns.
Both forward and aft casemates have the hull angled in to allow end fire. These casemates have excellent detail with individual drop shutters and locater holes for the gun barrels. Side deck for the lower main deck has notches for the midship 4.1-inch
guns and single deck mounted torpedo tubes, which were unique to
Gazelle. The midship 4.1-inch gun positions also have an outboard sponson. Midship there is only a single row of portholes. The second row of portholes begins again with the raised
quarterdeck. At the very stern are tertiary gun positions with inset rear sides to allow fire directly astern.

How about the deck detail? The
Combrig Gazelle is loaded with it. Both on the forecastle and quarterdeck are flattened U-shape splinter shielding, which protects the side-by-side mounted bow and stern open deck 4.1-inch guns. These splinter shields
are beautifully done with surface detail on the outer face of the forward position, Both splinter shields have detailed posts at their ends. At the bow, forward of the spinter shield, deck detail, windlass plate fittings, anchor run plates and oval deck anchor
hawse fittings. The forecastle also features a slight turtleback downturn at its edges. Rounding out the forcastle detail are a centerline twin bollard fitting and deck edge open chocks. Aft of the splinter shield to the deck break, the forecastle features a
centerline deck house at the end of the forecastle, locater holes for the forward 4,1-inch deck guns, twin bollard fittings and open chocks at deck edge, and locater holes/squares for a forward searchlight tower, tertiary gun positions above the forward
4'1-inch gun casemates and foremast. As is common in this era of coal fired ships, the raised circular coal scuttles dominate the lower main deck midships. They are all over the place. On the centerline are five deck houses of various sizes. The two
largest are the bases of the two funnels. Both have deep indentations for attaching the funnels. The aft funnel base also has a deck access shelter on its port side, a crown skylight, detailed doors with hinge detail, and locater indicator insets for other
superstructure. The third largest deck house has a integral mushroom vent, skylight and base plate for a ventilator cowling. The smallest deck house also has a locater circle for a ventilator cowling and deck access shelter. Other deck detail midships
include turntable rails for the deck torpedo tubes, an inset inclined ladder deck access fitting, and locater circles for the midship 4.1-inch guns. At the start of the quarterdeck are deck houses with door detail arc cutouts to allow traverse of the QF
tertiary guns. Running aft to the aft splinter shield fitting are twin bollard fittings, deck access shelter, open chocks, a skylight off set to port, locater circles for the two aft deck mounted 4.1-inch guns and locater holes/squares for the aft searchlight
tower, deck tertiary guns, galley funnel, and another small deck access shelter. Aft of the splinter shield to the stern there are twin bollard fittings, open chocks, a centerline skylight and a locker offset to starboard.
In spite of the rather small size of the hull, Combrig provides plenty of smaller resin parts. These come on nine resin runners. The largest of these are the two funnels which share one of the runners. The funnels have nice top aprons with a good degree in
internal indentation. They also have locater lines for separate brass hand/foot rungs. One runner has only the navigation deck for the bridge. This small part has superb detail with openings for inclined ladders coming from the main deck below, an open
back navigation shack with window indentations on the front face, navigation light fittings at the ends of the wings, a square recess for the bridge and locater holes for signal lamps. The next largest parts are on a runner that includes the conning towers
with vision slit detail, small deck houses with detailed doors, the two torpedo tubes with band detail, a ventilator top plate, and three small deck houses/ deck access shelters. The superstructure is concluded on a runner that has more ventilator top plates,
an open backed top bridge/chart house with a chart table inside and front windows, searchlight towers and circular platforms for the searchlights and support base for the chart house. All of the open guns are on a runner. These include six of the ten 4.1-
inch guns carried by Gazelle and six small QF guns, Detail on these guns is masterful, especially for the 4.1-inch guns, however a lot of the detail won’t be seen because these guns have brass gun shields. Various fittings and equipment are on two runners.
One has ventilator cowlings in various sizes, binnacles, stern outboard platforms, galley stack, stern ventilators, and bow ventilators. The other equipment runner has the searchlights, anchors, windlasses, small mushroom ventilators and other parts. Ship’s
boats occupy the last two runners. The boats come in six patterns from whale boat to dinghy, as well as a steam launch. The steam launch has a separate part for the boiler with integral funnel.
A full brass photo-etch fret is included in the Combrig Gazelle. There are a huge number of brass parts for this kit. Each mast has two brass ratlines. The six open 4.1-inch guns get bendable gun shields with barrel openings. The midship guns also have
brass splinter shields. The cutwater gets brass scroll work and relief-etched shield for the top and the stern also gets brass scroll work. Numerous platforms are in brass. Relief-etched boat davits are included. Relief-etching is also found on the
accommodation ladders, which also have safety railing and davits. A good part of the fret are for the fourteen foot/hand rungs for the funnels. You get a seven piece lattice aft navigation tower. There is a V shaped inclined ladder with safety railing
crossing the forward splinter shielding, Ship’s boats get a keel, propeller, mast and rudder for the steam launch and rudders for the open boats. The bridge gets bridge wings/navigation deck with centerline cat walk. The bridge wings have brass lattice
supports. Forward and aft double ship’s wheels with support braces are included. The masts get platforms, railing, crow’s nests, and brackets. Additional gun detail includes shoulder rests for the small QF guns and five additional parts for each 4.1-inch
guns, including turning wheels. Other parts include deck grates, inclined ladders with safety railing and adjustable treads, streaming anchors, flag and jack staffs, cable reels, torpedo davits, windlass heads, and aft navigation platform. The railing is custom
fitted for their attachment locations. However, the railing has open ended stanchions, rather than a bottom bar. I personally prefer a bottom bar to railing that serves as a scupper to open ended stanchions, as I find it easier to attach. Also included on the
fret are anchor chain and vertical ladders.

The instructions are eight pages in length on four back-printed sheets. They are in the new
Combrig format with color coded parts and each resin and brass part number matching the number on the brass fret or resin runner. I find them much easier to
use than the former format but are still not without faults. The first page has a plan and profile with rigging diagram. It also has the history of
Gazelle in Russian. Page two has the resin and brass parts laydown, as wll as a template showing various parts
to be cut from plastic rod. This template is very helpful as it shows the length and width required for each part to be cut. Page three starts the color coded assembly modules. Green parts are resin, orange parts are brass and blue shows parts cut from
modeler supplied plastic rods. The main module has the masts’ assembly. Other modules on this page include the funnel assembly, QF gun assembly, 4.1-inch gun assembly and ship’s wheel assembly. Page four shows quarterdeck assembly. Page five
continues with midship assembly. Page six has bridge assembly. Page seven has forecastle assembly. Page eight concludes with masts and funnels attachment.
Join Good Ole Al Tirpitz in celebrating the first of Imperial Germany’s small cruisers, designed to protect the battleships from hostile torpedo craft, scouting and message relay. Even Kaiser Bill had his hand in designing the SMS Gazelle by his insistence
on an extremely prominent ram bow,
à la française. You too can join the Teutonic Festivus with the Combrig 1:700 scale model of the first in the class SMS Gazelle.

Steve Backer
Huntsville, Alabama