Line-drawing of the Kaiser Friedrich III
After the German Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial Navy) ordered the four Brandenburg-class battleships in 1889, a combination of budgetary constraints, opposition in the Reichstag (Imperial Diet), and a lack of a coherent fleet plan delayed the acquisition of further battleships. The Secretary of the Reichsmarineamt (Imperial Navy Office), Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) Friedrich von Hollmann struggled throughout the early- and mid-1890s to secure parliamentary approval for the Kaiser Friedrich III-class battleships, but in June 1897, Hollmann was replaced by Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) Alfred von Tirpitz, who quickly proposed and secured approval for the first Naval Law in early 1898. The law authorized the last two ships of the class, Kaiser Barbarossa and Kaiser Karl der Grosse.
Kaiser Barbarossa was 125.3 m (411 ft 1 in) long overall and had a beam of 20.4 m (66 ft 11 in) and a draft of 7.89 m (25 ft 11 in) forward and 8.25 m (27 ft 1 in) aft. She displaced up to 11,785 metric tons (11,599 long tons) at full load. The ship was powered by three 3-cylinder vertical triple-expansion steam engines, each driving one screw propeller. Steam was provided by four Thornycroft boilers and eight cylindrical boilers, all of which burned coal. Kaiser Barbarossa's powerplant was rated at 13,000 metric horsepower (12,820 ihp; 9,560 kW), which generated a top speed of 17.5 knots (32.4 km/h; 20.1 mph). The ship had a cruising radius of 3,420 nmi (6,330 km; 3,940 mi) at a speed of 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph). She had a normal crew of 39 officers and 612 enlisted men.
The ship's armament consisted of a main battery of four 24 cm (9.4 in) SK L/40 guns[b] in twin gun turrets, one fore and one aft of the central superstructure. Her secondary armament consisted of eighteen 15 cm (5.9 inch) SK L/40 guns, twelve 8.8 cm (3.45 in) SK L/30 quick-firing guns all mounted in casemates, and twelve 37 mm (1.5 in) machine cannon in single mounts. The armament suite was rounded out with six 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes, all in above-water swivel mounts. The ship's belt armor was 300 mm (11.8 in) thick, and the deck was 65 mm (2.6 in) thick. The conning tower and main battery turrets were protected with 250 mm (9.8 in) of armor plating, and the secondary casemates received 150 mm (5.9 in) of armor protection.