By the time of the Great War, the seven Bremen light cruisers were already a decade old. However, these fast cruisers saw action across the globe from SMS Leipzig's exploits in Von Spee's East Asian Squadron to patrolling the Baltic on SMS Bremen.
Ships in this class:
The Bremen was the first off the production line, commissioned in 1904. Along with Leipzig, the she served the German Imperial Navy in the Far East until 1914 when she returned to home waters to join the High Seas Fleet. She sailed to the Baltic and participated in the Battle of the Gulf of Riga in August 1915 before striking a Russian mine in December and sinking beneath the waves with 250 of her crew.
Hamburg was also commissioned in 1904 and spent time in the Mediterranean Sea before rejoining the High Seas Fleet in 1914 as a U-Boat Flotilla commander. By May 1916, she was attached to the II Battle Squadron as a part of IV Scouting Group, and saw action at Jutland. Upon returning to Germany, Bremen became a barracks ship for the U-Boat fleet and spent the rest of the war in that role. She was brought back up to active duty in 1920 as a part of the Reichsmarine and served until 1944 when she was towed to the city of Bremen for scrapping. While she awaited her fate, British bombers sank the Bremen. The wreck was raised in 1949 and properly dismantled in 1956.
The Berlin was commissioned in 1905 and served as a scout ship in the High Seas Fleet until 1911. From that point she was assigned to overseas cruises until the outbreak of the Great War when she was fitted as a mine-layer. She served in that role until 1917 when she was assigned to coastal defense. The Berlin was one of the few light cruisers that Germany was allowed to retain after the war, and she went on serving the Reichsmarine to 1945 when she was surrendered to the Allies. After the war, Berlin was filled with chemical munitions, towed out to Skagerrak and sunk to dispose of the deadly weapons.
The Lübeck was commissioned in 1905 and was attached initially to the High Seas Fleet. When war broke out in 1914, she was sent to the Baltic as a coastal defense ship. Once there, the Lübeck preformed admirably, supporting several German army attacks along the coast, escorting minelayers, and bombarding Russian coastal positions near Libau. She continued her service in the Baltic, evading several attempts by Allied submarines to hunt and sink her until she hit a Russian mine in January 1916. Still, the Lübeck made it back to her home port where she received a new bow and upgraded armament. She was withdrawn from service in 1917 and given up as a war prize to Great Britain before finally being scrapped in 1923.
München was commissioned in 1905 and served as an experimental ship, testing torpedoes and wireless telemetry technology. She was assigned to the IV Scouting Group of the High Seas Fleet and served at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. During the battle, München and SMS Stettin engaged the British cruisers, HMS Southampton and HMS Dublin. Later that year, München was torpedoed while on a raid and heavily damaged. She had to be towed into port by her sister-ship, SMS Berlin. The damage was so extensive that she had to be decommissioned and used as a barracks ship for the remainder of the war. She was taken as a war prize by the British and sunk as a torpedo target off the Forth of Firth in 1921.
The Leipzig is perhaps the most famous cruiser of this class. Commissioned in 1906, she saw extensive service in the far seas stations as a part of von Spee's East Asian Squadron. When war broke out, Leipzig was off the coast of Mexico and sank a British freighter in the opening weeks of the conflict.
The Leipzig rejoined von Spee at the Easter Islands and proceeded east, meeting the British 4th Cruiser Squadron off the coast of Chile near Coronel on 1 November 1914. Leipzig spotted the British first and directed the crack German squadron towards the hapless British cruisers. Leipzig fell into line behind the armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and engaged the third ship in the British line, HMS Glasgow. The two ships traded ships, but neither did any significant damage to the other. Von Spee ordered the Leipzig to close with the mortally wounded British flagship, HMS Good Hope and torpedo it, but weather obscured the target and by the time Leipzig was in range, the British cruiser had already sunk.
After Coronel, Leipzig continued with the East Asia Squadron down and around the cape of South America where they were finally tracked down by the British South Atlantic Station with its two battlecruisers, HMS Invicible and Inflexible on 8 December. Von Spee's famous armored cruisers had no choice to try and fight their way out, but were utterly outclassed by the British battlecruisers and sunk. Leipzig met its old opponent from Coronel, Glasgow, however she also hunted by the armored cruisers, HMS Kent and Cornwall close behind. Leipzig came about and delivered a full broadside on the Glasgow, heavily damaging it. However, the British cruiser also returned fire before falling back behind the armored cruisers. This damaged the Leipzig's machinery and it was unable to escape once the Kent and Cornwall came into range. Still, the Leipzig defied the British and scored dozens of hits as she was slowly reduced to a wreck. Finally, her captain gave the order to scuttle and abandon the ship. Despite the silenced guns of the Leipzig, the British continued to fire as survivors were cut down trying to escape the sinking ship. In the end, only 18 of the her crew survived.
Danzig was last of its class, commissioned in 1906. Like others of its class, she served as a reconnaissance ship in the High Seas Fleet leading up to the war, but relegated to second line when hostilities began. She saw limited action in the North Sea, but extensive combat in the Baltic in support of the German fleet there alongside the München later in the war. She hit a Russian mine, but was able to return for repairs and continued to serve until 1917 when she was decommissioned and eventually scrapped in 1923.
More information on this ship class here...