The Warship SMS Prinz Adalbert (1865-1878). This model of the Prinz Adalbert after the 1869 overhaul was built by Günther Seherr on a scale of 1:100. It is on display in our department on the history of modern navies on deck 5 of the museum.
This is the curious story of two sister warships. It began with a deception, led to both being late to the wars in which they were supposed to take part, and ended with them making their careers on opposite sides of the globe. These ironclads were built under the names „Sphynx“ and „Cheops“ between 1863 and 1865 at the L’Arman Frères shipyard in Bordeaux, France. The French government under Napoléon III had the ships built for the Confederates during the American Civil War. However, building warships for a belligerent state was illegal under French law at the time. For this reason, the French kept their destination secret and spread the rumor that they were built for the Egyptian Navy – which explains their names. But the United States discovered the plot and France sold one ship to Denmark and the other to Prussia. Both countries were in the Second Schleswig War at the time, so the sale was also illegal.
The „Sphynx“ was the first ship, completed as early as 1864. She went to Denmark under the name „Stærkodder“. However, Denmark complained about construction delays and defects and rejected the ship when it arrived in Copenhagen. In early 1865, on its return voyage to the French shipyard, she was sold to the Confederates after all and taken over by a new crew on the high seas as the „CSS Stonewall“. After an eventful Atlantic crossing, the ship was in Cuba when the Civil War ended. There, the crew sold it to the Spanish authorities, who in turn sold it on to the USA. After some time of inactivity, the Americans decided to sell the ship to the Tokugawa Shogunate, the last feudal military government in Japan. She became the „Kōtetsu“ (甲鉄, literally „ironclad“), the first Japanese armoured ship. Due to the political changes in Japan in the 1860s, she became the property of the Meiji government. She played an important role in the Japanese navy until her decommissioning in 1888.
The „Cheops“ was delivered to Prussia after the end of the Second Schleswig War. Even then, the ship, renamed SMS „Prinz Adalbert“, was largely unfinished and had even worse construction defects than her sister. After completion in Prussia, she was mobilized in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. However, she was not used because there simply were no enemy ships in her area of operation, the North and Baltic Seas. After another extensive refit between 1868 and 1869, she guarded the port of Hamburg during the Franco-Prussian War. At the end of the conflict, it was found that the wood under the armour had rotted. She was decommissioned and finally scrapped in 1878.