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German High Seas Fleet, Worth The Investment?


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#1 alejandro_

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Posted 16 April 2015 - 1603 PM

This is a debate I have read in several forums. Was the Hochseeflotte a good option for Germany? I have read many arguments for and against. I will try to summarize a few.

 

German naval expansion caused an Anglo-German arms race and perhaps push the United Kingdom to France. Germany wanted to have it's own place in the sun, and for the Kaiser a fleet was indispensable. Naval investment was popular in Germany, as the Navy was a "German" institution (not Prussian nor Bavarian), which placed less importance on the officers origins and class. The ships were a showcase of Germany's latest technology.

 

The issue is that Germany was unlikely to catch up with the UK as the Army also needed investment. Also, in 1912, the UK signed a joint defense agreement with France that allowed the Royal Navy to concentrate in the North Sea while the French defended the Mediterranean.

 

When WW1 started the German fleet was not comparable to the Royal Navy in size. It could not prevent the blockade. Supporters of the Hochseeflotte claimed that it blocked the Baltic as a supply route to Russia. It also helped later in the war against the Russian fleet. The investment in the ships was unlikely to have been used in the Army because Germany did not want to raise tensions.

 

Finally, the UK would have gone to war with Germany anyway because Schlieffen Plan included the invasion of Belgium, a neutral country whose sovereignty was guaranteed by the UK.


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#2 Adam_S

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Posted 16 April 2015 - 1648 PM

No it wasn't worth it IMO. Germany was never going to be able to have a huge army and a navy big enough to challenge the RN and all it did was antagonize Britain.

 

If closing the Baltic was the goal then that did not require such a huge fleet.


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#3 Marek Tucan

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Posted 16 April 2015 - 1656 PM

Cynically, HSF would have sense as long as it did not try to challenge the RN for world dominance... Any bigger navy would make sense if Germany was allied to Britain or France (mostly UK though), otherwise it was just too easy to blockade. 


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#4 Heirophant

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Posted 16 April 2015 - 1702 PM

Germany was not dependent on overseas trade. In fact, even in food, it was largely self-sufficient, and it was basically mismanagement that caused the hunger in Germany in 1918 (it certainly wasn't the naval blockade, far as I know). So a navy was "nice to have", but not a necessity.

 

The funds spent on the navy should gave been spent on the army instead, as several extra Corps of crack army troops might have been decisive in the 1914 battles. The larger army could also have served to defeat Russia sooner. The Royal and French navies could have been safely ignored.

 

Contrast this with say Japan or Britain. A navy was an absolute matter of life and death, even at the expense of the army - basically the reverse of Germany.


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#5 Archie Pellagio

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Posted 17 April 2015 - 0413 AM

"There is nothing in the world more expensive than a second best navy"

;)

 

That said, the history of sea denial navies is pretty poor in practise.

 

As for their role, given Fisher and Churchill's fetish for an amphibious operation into the north of Germany, the HSF no doubt put a dampener on those.


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#6 glenn239

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Posted 17 April 2015 - 0717 AM

alenjandro Was the Hochseeflotte a good option for Germany?

 

 

 

The short answer is no.  The longer answer is yes, if a different naval building strategy or a different political strategy towards Russia, Italy and Japan had been adapted.


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#7 alejandro_

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Posted 17 April 2015 - 1511 PM

I am not sure if a reduction of the fleet would have led to an increase of manpower in the Army. By 1913 the Army had reached the required strength (as asked by the Chief of Staff). An increase would have led to more men from working class in the ranks. Kaiser Wilhem and many politicians feared SPD rise and were ready to use the Army for internal repression if needed.

 

Regarding a landing in northery Germany. I don't see how the German Navy could have prevented it, especially with support of the French fleet*. Another very different issue would be to supply the beachhead and advance. To me it is one of Churchill's bad ideas, 9/10 were bad, 1/10 brilliant IIRC...

 

* As Italy sided with the Entente, there was no real need to keep ships in the Mediterranean.


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#8 Markus Becker

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Posted 17 April 2015 - 1655 PM

Total waste of money and manpower. A much smaller navy would have sufficed to seal the entrance to the Baltic and overmatch the Russian Baltic Fleet.

A landing in northern Germany? That has a chance to succeed like Operation S...n!
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#9 Ken Estes

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Posted 17 April 2015 - 1858 PM

Bismarck was once asked about the possibility of a BEF landing on the N Sea coastline in the Waldersee Era of planning. His comment, "have them arrested."


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#10 GPMG

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Posted 18 April 2015 - 0100 AM

I read pre-WW1 that the British colonies only gave commitements of support for a war in Europe if there was a threat to Imperial trade. So the the German High Seas Fleet increased support for the War with the Colonies governments.


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#11 Heirophant

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Posted 18 April 2015 - 0304 AM

In real history, Germany had a powerful navy out of which, since they declined to fight, they got no use.
 
Having built that navy in the first place (and it was such a waste to do so), they should have fought the Royal Navy and gone willingly to the bottom of the North Sea, very likely taking a good portion of Britain's navy down with them. This would still leave Britain with naval supremacy (same as before), but would at least have hurt them badly such that they would have had to rebuild the fleet.
 
This would then, in the longer term, have hurt British ability to project power in both the Atlantic and ominously, the Pacific. So Germany's High Seas Fleet would have achieved nothing in the short run (Britain in control of the sea, as before), but would harm the rival empire in the long run (the UK's naval power would be compromised by the loss of ships).
 
The High Seas Fleet was always predicated on making Britain pay a naval-power price for fighting Germany. The assumption was, that although they would be defeated, they would extract such a toll on the Royal Navy that the UK would then be in a worse position vis-a-vis other rivals (like the United States and Japan - allies at the time, but who knows what the future might bring?). At the very least, Britain would have to uncomfortably accomodate those powers on the world's oceans - a substantial geopolitical cost to beating Germany.
 
The Germans should have made good on that premise, instead of the entire "fleet in being" strategy they adopted. That was the only way they could have extracted some strategic return on what was already a bad investment.
 
As a land power with little overseas trade, I still say Germany needed a miniscule fleet. They could then have been quite overwhelming on land, requiring a MUCH larger and MUCH sooner American intervention to "tip the balance" against them (not guaranteed by any means), and with Germany having such a large army, Russian defeat might have happened more quickly, and Anglo-French-American victory would still be far from assured.

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#12 glenn239

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Posted 18 April 2015 - 0802 AM

 

GPMG So the the German High Seas Fleet increased support for the War with the Colonies governments.

 

 

 

In all fairness, I think Canada and the ANZAC powers were highly motivated to come to Britain’s aid irrespective of the HSF.  

 

Heirophant Having built that navy in the first place (and it was such a waste to do so), they should have fought the Royal Navy and gone willingly to the bottom of the North Sea, very likely taking a good portion of Britain's navy down with them. This would still leave Britain with naval supremacy (same as before), but would at least have hurt them badly such that they would have had to rebuild the fleet.

 

 

 

Many of these were scrapped shortly after the war by the RN as obsolete anyways.  Most of the dreadnoughts built in the race – arguably up to the Lion and QE / Derfflinger and Konig were transitional designs, no longer of much value past about a decade.

 

The Germans should have made good on that premise, instead of the entire "fleet in being" strategy they adopted. That was the only way they could have extracted some strategic return on what was already a bad investment.

 

 

 

The curious part is that the Spanish and French in previous centuries had shown how land powers exercise sea power - Madrid didn't care whether the Royal Navy was dominant in the Atlantic so long as their annual convoys from the Americas got through with the loads of gold and silver needed to fund the army for next year. 

The Central Powers’ economies were largely self-sustaining, but lacked key strategic resources like rubber, nitrates, and oil.  As a land power, Germany’s navy could have functioned to continue the import of smaller tonnages of materials that economically hit above their “weight”.  Nitrates in particular were a great bang-per-buck target for import.


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#13 Ken Estes

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Posted 18 April 2015 - 1238 PM

The German High Seas Fleet had its start in 1848, with the German Confederation authorization to build a fleet to oppose the naval blockade by the Danes of the Baltic shores. Prince Adalbert, first cousin of Wilhelm I, was appointed titular head. Although only a scratch force was put together, a fleet of 20 ships of the line (+10 frigates) to be built in 10 years was proposed by the Frankfurt Parliament, before its dissolution in 1852. The nucleus of the Prussian contingent of the fledgling force was saved from the auction block by Prince Adalbert, the 'father of the German Navy.'

 

Because of the inevitable poor showing ot the Prussian Navy in the Fr-Pr War, the newly designated Imperial Navy was then directed by a series of Prussian generals who would chart its course for almost a generation. Under General and Admiral Stosch and successors before Tirpitz, the navy improved in size, scope, professionalism and technical quality. It was caught between three incompatible missions, however, reflecting the trends in navalism of the time: blue-water battle fleet, commerce raiding and coast defense. In addition, there was the notion of a foreign service fleet, acting as an extension of the foreign ministry in projecting light forces over the world's sea lanes but leaving command of the seas to a benevolent power, i.e. Great Britain.

 

The high seas fleet was never far from their minds, especially for the Seeoffizieren. The naval program of the German Confederation had the notions of a fixed standard of strength that was characteristic of all later naval programs. Nor was Prince Adalbert less ambitious than the later Alfred Tirpitz. The Prince clearly projected the concept of the HSF and even postulated an alliance value for German Seapower to complement the same value offered by land power, all before Tirpitz had been born!

 

Far more important to the navy was not Tirpitz but Wilhelm II, Emperor from 1889. After reorganizing the naval staff to permit his unfettered meddling in naval affairs -- something the general staff system was designed to counter -- William searched for the man who could obtain his ships from a begrudging Reichstag, Alfred Tirpitz.

 

Naval races abounded at the turn of the century, and the Tirpitz alliance and risk theories had some merit as:

 

...diplomatic blackmail was successful as long as Britain regarded France and Russia as her most dangerous maritime and colonial rivals. It inevitably failed when English opinion began to think of Germany as her greatest potential enemy. This was the basic error of Tirpitz' famous Riskogedanke

--Theodore Ropp, "Continental Doctrines of Sea Power," Edward Meade Earle, ed. Makers of Modern Strategy (Princeton, 1941), 451.


Edited by Ken Estes, 18 April 2015 - 2056 PM.

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#14 alejandro_

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Posted 19 April 2015 - 1636 PM

A much smaller navy would have sufficed to seal the entrance to the Baltic and overmatch the Russian Baltic Fleet.

 

Yes, but how small? I also think the German Navy could have relied on minefields and a smaller navy.


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#15 RETAC21

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Posted 19 April 2015 - 1711 PM

Small enough that it would be a valuable addition to the RN.
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#16 T19

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Posted 19 April 2015 - 1851 PM

u boats and e boats would have been as effective cheaper and got the same results

#17 Ken Estes

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Posted 19 April 2015 - 2000 PM

Unproven in 1898-1900.


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#18 T19

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Posted 19 April 2015 - 2005 PM

And 14 years later the U boat proved it's worth

#19 Ken Estes

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Posted 19 April 2015 - 2057 PM

Oh, it was all foreseen, Andrew, as far back as 1880, but it took a lot of time & work to make torpedoes, TB/DDs and subs anything of the battleship slayers that the Jeune Ecole had prophesized. In the meantime, the capital ship remained the only measure of sea power, just as the ship of the line had been for the preceding 300 years.

 

The little MTB was the last to show it, in 1918-19, and barely in wartime at that.


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#20 Colin

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Posted 19 April 2015 - 2059 PM

I can see why they didn't believe in U-boats till later, I would have thought focus on fast battlecrusiers and fast lightly armed colliers to support them. Basically get out and harass merchant ships and force the RN to hunt them, also then they could escort fast merchants bring the more valuable cargoes. 


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