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Construction and cancellation
Unfinished battlecruiser Prinz Eitel Friedrich (left) and Bayern-class battleship Württemberg in Hamburg after the war, in about 1920
Seven ships were originally planned in the class: Mackensen, Graf Spee, Prinz Eitel Friedrich, "A"/Ersatz Friedrich Carl, and three other vessels. The last three ships were redesigned as the Ersatz Yorck class, leaving four ships to be built to the Mackensen design. The first two ships were ordered on 14 August 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World War I. Mackensen was funded through the 1914 budget, while funding for Graf Spee came from the war budget. Mackensen—ordered under the provisional name Ersatz Victoria Louise,[c] as a replacement for the old protected cruiser Victoria Louise—was named after Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) August von Mackensen. The ship was laid down on 30 January 1915 at Blohm & Voss in Hamburg, under construction number 240. She was launched on 21 April 1917; at the small launching ceremony, Generaloberst (Colonel General) Josias von Heeringen gave the speech and the ship was christened by Mackensen’s wife. Construction was halted about 15 months before she would have been completed. The British mistakenly believed the ship to have been completed, and so they included the ship on the list of vessels to be interned at Scapa Flow instead of the fleet flagship Baden. Mackensen was stricken from the German navy, according to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, on 17 November 1919. She was sold for scrap and eventually broken up in 1922 at Kiel-Nordmole.
Graf Spee was named for Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee, the commander of the German East Asia Squadron; he was killed when his squadron was annihilated at the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914. Graf Spee was laid down on 30 November 1915 in the Schichau yards in Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland), under the provisional name Ersatz Blücher, to replace the large armored cruiser Blücher that had been sunk at the Battle of Dogger Bank in January 1915. She was launched on 15 September 1917. At the launching ceremony, Großadmiral Prince Heinrich gave the speech and Spee’s widow Margarete christened the ship. Construction stopped about 12 months away from completion; Graf Spee was the furthest along of all four ships when work was halted. She too was struck on 17 November 1919; on 28 October 1921 the unfinished hull was sold for 4.4 million Marks and broken up in Kiel-Nordmole.
Prinz Eitel Friedrich, ordered as Ersatz Freya (a replacement for SMS Freya) was named for one of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s sons, Eitel Friedrich. She was laid down on 1 May 1915 at Blohm & Voss under construction number 241. She was 21 months away from completion when she was launched to clear the slip on 13 March 1920 and was broken up at Hamburg in 1921. At the launching ceremony, dockyard workers named the ship Noske, after Reichswehr Minister Gustav Noske. "A"/Ersatz Friedrich Carl, which might have been named Fürst Bismarck for the famous German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, was laid down on 3 November 1915 at the Wilhelmshaven Imperial Shipyard under construction number 25. She was about 26 months from completion when work ended. She was never launched; instead, the vessel was broken up on the slip in 1922.