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Sister ships: DEUTSCHLAND, HANNOVER, POMMERN, SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN
Notes: The five ships of the DEUTSCHLAND class were a slight improvement over the preceding BRAUNSCHWEIG class; armor was generally an inch thicker, the tertiary armament was increased, and the funnels were of different shape. Given developments in other countries (particularly Britain), they were criticized as being outdated before they were completed. However, succeeding German battleships (the NASSAU class) would be too wide to fit existing facilities and the Kiel Canal; until these extensive and expensive projects were completed, the DEUTSCHLAND class were to serve as the first-line ships of the German Navy.
SCHLESIEN was commissioned into the German Navy on 5 May 1908. In 1915, eight of the coal-fired boilers were removed and replaced with the same number of oil-fired boilers. The five ships of the DEUTSCHLAND class were assigned to the 2nd Battle Squadron. They were the only pre-Dreadnoughts present at the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916, where they took part in a night action against British forces (with the loss of the POMMERN). SCHLESIEN fired nine rounds of 11" shells and 20 6.7" shells; no hits on British ships were noted. In addition, splinters from a near miss from NEW ZEALAND struck and killed one of her sailors. The obsolescence of remaining four ships of the DEUTSCHLAND class was now quite evident, and they saw no further active duty. In 1917, SCHLESIEN was reduced to an exercise and barracks ship at Kiel, then served as a sea cadet training ship in 1918. She continued in this service following World War I.
SCHLESIEN was rebuilt at Wilhelmshaven in 1935; her coal-fired boilers were removed (the space being converted into barracks for cadets) and the two forward funnels were trunked into a single one. Following this conversion, her compliment was 578 men plus 214 cadets. Two of her 6.7" guns were removed in 1931; two more in 1935, and the remaining ten in 1939. In 1937, six 4.1" (105mm) AA guns were added, while by 1944 her AA battery also included ten 40mm and 22 20mm guns.
SCHLESIEN took part in many shore bombardments during World War II. While returning from a mission to bombard Russian positions in East Prussia on 3 May 1945, SCHLESIEN hit a mine near Usedom Island. She was ordered to be beached at Swinemünde to prevent sinking. The next day she was bombed there by Allied aircraft. SCHLESIEN was then ordered to be scuttled, and was torpedoed by the torpedo boat T 36. Her remains were broken up on site; the process took many years to complete, with work still being noted as being done in 1970.