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SMS Meteor (1865)

SMS Meteor was a Camäleon-class gunboat of the North German Federal Navy later the Imperial German Navy that was launched in 1865 A small vessel, armed with only three light guns, Meteor took part in the Battle of Havana in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War There, she battled the French aviso Bouvet; both vessels were lightly damaged, though Bouvet was compelled to disengage after a shot from Meteor disabled her engine After the war, Meteor returned to Germany, where her career was limited; she served briefly as a survey vessel From 1873 to 1877, she was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea as a station ship in Constantinople during a period of tensions in the Ottoman Empire After returning to Germany in 1877, she was decommissioned, converted into a coal hulk and expended as a target ship some time later


  • 1 Design
  • 2 Service history
    • 21 Battle of Havana
    • 22 Later career
  • 3 Notes
  • 4 References


Main article: Camäleon-class gunboat

Meteor was 4328 meters 142 ft long, with a beam of 696 m 22 ft 10 in and a draft of 267 m 8 ft 9 in She displaced 422 metric tons 415 long tons at full load The ship's crew consisted of 4 officers and 67 enlisted men She was powered by a single marine steam engine that drove one 3-bladed screw propeller, with steam provided by two coal-fired trunk boilers, which gave her a top speed of 93 knots 172 km/h; 107 mph at 320 metric horsepower 320 ihp As built, she was equipped with a three-masted schooner rig The ship was armed with a battery of one rifled 15 cm 59 in 24-pounder gun and two rifled 12 cm 47 in 12-pounder guns[1][2][3]

Service history

Illustration of Meteor

Meteor was laid down at the Königliche Werft Danzig Royal Dockyard Danzig on 27 June 1861 Construction work on the ship was delayed significantly due to a lack of funding, the result of budgetary conflicts between Minister President Otto von Bismarck and the Prussian House of Representatives The ship was launched on 17 May 1865, though fitting-out work was delayed the following year when the ship was allocated to an expedition to the North Pole The ship was finally commissioned into service with the North German Federal Navy on 6 September 1869 The Admiralstab Admiralty Staff ordered the gunboat to the Caribbean, along with the corvette Arcona The sailors were concerned with Meteor's seaworthiness for an Atlantic crossing, and so planned to transfer the 15 cm gun to Arcona for the voyage Arcona was instead reassigned to represent Germany at the opening of the Suez Canal, and so Meteor was forced to make the journal on her own She departed Kiel on 4 October, under the command of then-Kapitänleutnant Captain Lieutenant Eduard von Knorr En route, she had to put into Falmouth from 12 October to 6 November to repair damage sustained during a storm in the North Sea[2][4]

Meteor arrived in Bridgetown, Barbados, on 19 December 1869, and met the training ship Niobe The gunboat was unable to stay in Barbados, as unrest in Venezuela threatened German nationals in the country, and she was ordered there to protect them She remained in the area until mid-March 1870; at the beginning of the month, she anchored off La Guaira with Niobe in an attempt to enforce German financial claims in the city During the period she operated off Venezuela, Meteor left once for periodic repairs at Willemstad, Curacao On 16 March, she departed Venezuelan waters, bound for Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she was to meet Arcona On the way, Meteor struck a coral reef off Gonâve Island, though she was able to get off on her own power After arriving in Port-au-Prince, Knorr learned that Arcona had gone to La Guaira, and he was to take his vessel there as well[5] On 19 July, France declared war on Prussia, initiating the Franco-Prussian War[6]

Battle of Havana

Painting of the Battle of Havana by Willy Stöwer

On 7 November 1870, Meteor arrived in Havana, Cuba, where the French aviso Bouvet was docked The French ship was more heavily armed than the Prussian vessel, with one 16 cm 63 in gun and four 12 cm guns compared to a single 15 cm gun and two 12 cm guns aboard Meteor The French captain issued a challenge to Knorr, who accepted[7] Bouvet departed the harbor on 8 November, followed by Meteor the following day; international law mandated that belligerent ships wait twenty-four hours after an enemy vessel left port[8] The Battle of Havana lasted for two hours, Meteor opening fire first with her 15 cm gun[9]

Meteor fired eight salvos at about 2,000 meters 6,600 ft, all without effect, before Bouvet returned fire, once the range had fallen to 800 meters 2,600 ft Neither ship scored hits as they circled each other[10] The engagement ended after Bouvet rammed Meteor in an attempt to either sink her or permit a boarding party to capture her The collision knocked Meteor's main mast and mizzen-mast over, and the ship's rigging got caught in the propeller, disabling it While the two ships were close, their crews fired on each other with small arms[10] Bouvet attempted to ram a second time, but Meteor's gunners scored a hit on the French ship's boiler and disabled her engine[11] By this time, Meteor's crew had freed the propeller, and Knorr attempted to capture Bouvet, but the French sailors were able to get their ship under sail and escape to neutral Cuban waters[12] The Spanish corvette Hernan Cortez, which had been observing the battle, intervened and fired a warning shot to prevent Meteor from continuing the battle[10] After she escaped, Bouvet sailed to Havana[13]

Casualty figures vary, ranging from two dead and one injury aboard Meteor and three wounded aboard Bouvet to only two Prussian sailors killed with ten killed and wounded on Bouvet[10] Meteor joined Bouvet in Havana, where the wounded men were taken to a hospital The two dead aboard Meteor were buried in Havana, and a monument was later erected there On 1 January 1871, Knorr was promoted to the rank of Korvettenkapitän Corvette Captain, and two men were awarded the Iron Cross[14]

Later career

Under pressure from France, the Spanish shipyard in Havana delayed completing the repairs to Meteor until the war ended on 10 May 1871 Three days later, the ship departed for Germany; she sailed up the eastern coast of the United States and Canada before crossing the Atlantic She reached Plymouth on 13 June and arrived in Kiel on the 25th There, she was decommissioned on 20 July From 18 September to 14 October, she was used as a stationary training ship for engine room personnel On 6 May 1872, Meteor was recommissioned for survey work and was assigned to the Hydrographics Office of the Imperial Admiralty Meteor and her sister ship Drache surveyed the German coast, ending in Mecklenburg on 20 October On 14 November, Meteor and the gunboat Salamander were forced to take shelter in Friedrichsort due to a heavy storm She was able to get back underway two days later after the storm had passed Meteor, Drache, and the transport ship Rhein searched the eastern Baltic for any merchant ships that might have been damaged in the storm On 7 December, Meteor was again decommissioned, this time in Wilhelmshaven[14]

In 1873, the ship was recommissioned for another stint with the Hydrographics Office, which lasted from 16 April to mid-September On 22 September, Meteor left Germany for a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea After reaching the Mediterranean coast of Spain, she replaced the gunboat Delphin in the Cruiser Squadron under the flagship Friedrich Carl Following the outbreak of unrest in the Ottoman Empire in March 1874, Meteor was sent to Constantinople to serve as the station ship As tensions rose in the Balkans—which produced several uprisings against Ottoman rule, culminating in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877—Meteor was reinforced with the gunboats Nautilus and Comet and the aviso Pommerania The Admiralty also sent the Armored Squadron, led by the flagship Kaiser, to the eastern Mediterranean Meteor remained in Smyrna until February 1877, at which point she returned to Constantinople From there, she was recalled to Germany on 3 June; she arrived in Kiel on 4 August and continued to Danzig, where she was decommissioned on the 16th She was stricken from the naval register on 27 November 1877, her engines were removed, and she was used as a hulk for coal storage at Kiel Some components from her machinery were reused in the gunboat Iltis then being built in Danzig Meteor was eventually expended as a target[14][15]


  1. ^ Hildebrand, Röhr, & Steinmetz, p 76
  2. ^ a b Gröner, pp 133–134
  3. ^ Gardiner, p 259
  4. ^ Hildebrand, Röhr, & Steinmetz, pp 76–77
  5. ^ Hildebrand, Röhr, & Steinmetz, p 77
  6. ^ Wawro, p 65
  7. ^ Higginson, p 337
  8. ^ Greene & Massignani, pp 244–245
  9. ^ Higginson, pp 377–380
  10. ^ a b c d Greene & Massignani, p 245
  11. ^ Higginson, p 378
  12. ^ Higginson, pp 379–380
  13. ^ Gottschall, p 39
  14. ^ a b c Hildebrand, Röhr, & Steinmetz, p 78
  15. ^ Gröner, p 134


  • Gardiner, Robert, ed 1979 Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1860–1905 London: Conway Maritime Press ISBN 978-0-85177-133-5mw-parser-output citecitationmw-parser-output citation qmw-parser-output id-lock-free a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-free amw-parser-output id-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output id-lock-registration a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-registration amw-parser-output id-lock-subscription a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-subscription amw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registrationmw-parser-output cs1-subscription span,mw-parser-output cs1-registration spanmw-parser-output cs1-ws-icon amw-parser-output codecs1-codemw-parser-output cs1-hidden-errormw-parser-output cs1-visible-errormw-parser-output cs1-maintmw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registration,mw-parser-output cs1-formatmw-parser-output cs1-kern-left,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-leftmw-parser-output cs1-kern-right,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-rightmw-parser-output citation mw-selflink
  • Gottschall, Terrell D 2003 By Order of the Kaiser Annapolis: Naval Institute Press ISBN 978-1-55750-309-1
  • Greene, Jack & Massignani, Alessandro 1998 Ironclads at War: The Origin and Development of the Armored Warship, 1854–1891 Pennsylvania: Combined Publishing ISBN 978-0-938289-58-6
  • Gröner, Erich 1990 German Warships: 1815–1945 Vol I: Major Surface Vessels Annapolis: Naval Institute Press ISBN 978-0-87021-790-6
  • Hildebrand, Hans H; Röhr, Albert & Steinmetz, Hans-Otto 1993 Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe: Biographien: ein Spiegel der Marinegeschichte von 1815 bis zur Gegenwart Band 6 [The German Warships: Biographies: A Reflection of Naval History from 1815 to the Present Vol 6] in German Ratingen: Mundus Verlag ISBN 978-3-7822-0237-4
  • Higginson, Francis John 1906 Naval Battles in the Century Philadelphia: Linscott Pub Co OCLC 6282111
  • Wawro, Geoffrey 2003 The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870–1871 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-58436-1

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