Naval Warfare

By 1905, both Britain and Germany understood the opportunity for an arms race. Britain, an empire that controlled the seas by its powerful Royal Navy, one that no other country could match, was to be challanged by Germany, a newly born country with intentions like no other.

Britian’s trade and survival was dependant on its great naval force. They were controlling the sea routes around the globe, trading and winning new colonial territories. After the First Morroccan Crisis of 1905-1906, Germany saw naval expansion as a way to threaten Britain. German navy commanders were determined to build a vast navy that could match the one Britain had built.

In 1906, Britain launched the biggest warship at the time – the HMS Dreadnought. She had steam turbine engines, making her the fastest capital ship then afloat, capable of doing 21 knots – certainly faster than any threatening submarine. She carried ten 12–inch guns, whereas her biggest and closest competitors carried only four.”

Germany’s response was quite staggering, but certainly a bit faithless. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz had also often visited Portsmouth as a naval cadet and admired and envied the Royal Navy. Like the Kaiser, Tirpitz believed Germany’s future dominant role in the world depended on a navy powerful enough to challenge it. He demanded large numbers of battleships. Even when Dreadnought was launched making his previously constructed 15 battleships obsolete, he believed that eventually Germany’s technological and industrial might would allow Germany to out build Britain ship for ship. Using the threat of his own resignation he forced the Reichstag to build three dreadnoughts and a battle cruiser. He also put aside money for a future submarine branch. At the rate that Tirpitz insisted upon, Germany would have thirteen in 1912, to Britain’s 16.

When this was leaked out to the British public in spring 1909, there was public outcry. The public demanded eight new battleships instead of the four the government had planned for that year. As Winston Churchill put it, “The Admiralty had demanded six ships; the economists offered four; and we finally compromised on eight”. So the pro-navy party had won – but at what cost? Tirpitz had no option but to consider Britain’s new dreadnought building program as a direct threat to Germany. He had to respond, raising the stakes further. However the commitment of funds to out-build the Germans meant Britain was abandoning any notion of a two-power standard for naval superiority. No amount of money would allow Britain to compete with Germany and Russia or the USA, or even Italy. Thus a new policy, of dominance over the world’s second leading sea power by a 60% margin went into effect. Fisher’s staff had been getting increasingly annoyed by the way he refused to tolerate any difference in opinion, and the eight dreadnought demand had been the last straw. Thus on January 25, 1910 Fisher left the admiralty. Shortly after Fisher’s resignation, Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty. Under him, the race would be continued; indeed Lloyd George nearly resigned when Churchill presented him with the naval budget of 1914 of 50 million pounds .”



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