Line-drawing of the Wittelsbach
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 (VAdm—Vice Admiral) Friedrich von Hollmann struggled—ultimately successfully—throughout the early and mid-1890s to secure parliamentary approval for the first three Kaiser Friedrich III-class battleships. In June 1897, Hollmann was replaced by Konteradmiral (KAdm—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, as well as the five ships of the Wittelsbach class, the first class of battleship built under Tirpitz's tenure. The Wittelsbachs were broadly similar to the Kaiser Friedrichs, carrying the same armament but with a more comprehensive armor layout.
Wittelsbach was 126.8 m (416 ft 0 in) long overall and had a beam of 22.8 m (74 ft 10 in) and a draft of 7.95 m (26 ft 1 in) forward. She displaced up to 12,798 metric tons (12,596 long tons) at full load. Unlike her sister ships, Wittelsbach was completed with provisions for a squadron commander's staff, including a larger bridge. The ship was propelled by three 3-cylinder vertical triple expansion engines that drove three screws. Steam was provided by six cylindrical and six water-tube boilers, all coal-fired. Wittelsbach's powerplant was rated at 14,000 metric horsepower (13,808 ihp; 10,297 kW), which generated a top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). She had a crew of 30 officers and 650 enlisted men.
Wittelsbach's armament consisted of a main battery of four 24 cm (9.4 in) SK L/40 guns in twin gun turrets,[a] one fore and one aft of the central superstructure. Her secondary armament consisted of eighteen 15 cm (5.9 inch) SK L/40 guns and twelve 8.8 cm (3.45 in) SK L/30 quick-firing guns. The armament suite was rounded out with six 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes, all in above-water swivel mounts. The ship was protected with Krupp armor plate. Her armored belt was 225 millimeters (8.9 in) thick in the central portion that protected her magazines and machinery spaces, and the deck was 50 mm (2.0 in) thick. The main battery turrets had 250 mm (9.8 in) of armor plating.