The Kaiserliche Marine or Imperial Navy was the
German Navycreated by the formation of the German Empire. It existed between 1871 and 1919, growing out of the Prussian Navyand Norddeutsche Bundesmarine. Kaiser Wilhelm II greatly expanded the Navy, causing a naval arms race between the German Empireand the British Empire. The navy was largely destroyed at Scapa Flowin 1919 by its own officers after the loss of the land war on the Western Front of World War I.
Ships of the Kaiserliche Marine were designated "SMS", for "Seiner Majestät Schiff" (His Majesty's Ship).
The Kaiserliche Marine achieved some important operational feats. It inflicted the first major naval defeat on the
Royal Navyin over 100 years at the Battle of Coronel. [The German squadron of ships was subsequently defeated at the Battle of the Falkland Islands, only one ship escaping destruction] It also emerged from the fleet action of the Battle of Jutlandhaving destroyed more ships than it lost.
It was the first navy to successfully operate submarines on a large scale at war (375 submarines had been commissioned by the end), and also operated
zeppelins. It was never able to match the numbers of the Royal Navy, but it did have better shells and propellant for much of World War I, meaning that it never lost a ship to a catastrophic magazine explosion from an above-water attack (the old pre-dreadnought"Pommern" sank rapidly at Jutland after a magazine explosion caused by underwater attack).
1871 to 1888, Kaiser Wilhelm I
The Unification of Germany into an empire was the defining point for the creation of the Kaiserliche Marine in 1871. The newly created emperor, Wilhelm I, was previously king of Prussia, the strongest state forming part of the new empire. The Navy was the same as that operated by the empire's predecessor organisation in the unification of Germany, the North German Federation, which itself in 1867 inherited the navy of the Kingdom of Prussia. Article 53 of the new constitution recognised the existence of the navy as an independent organisation, but until 1888 it was commanded by army officersand initially adopted the same regulations as the Prussian army. Supreme command was vested in the emperor, but its first appointed chief was General der Infanterie
Albrecht von Stosch. Kielat the Baltic Seaand Wilhelmshavenat the North Seaserved as primary naval bases. The Ministry of Marine became the imperial admiralty on 1 February 1872, while Stosch became formally an admiral in 1875. Initially the main task of the new Imperial Navy was coastal protection, having in mind France and Russia as the most likely enemies. The navy's task was preventing any invading army from landing, and protecting coastal towns from possible bombardment. [Herwig p.13]
In March 1872 a Naval academy was created at Kiel for training officers, followed in May by the creation of the 'Machine Engineer Corps', and in February 1873 a 'Medical Corps'. In July 1879 a separate 'Torpedo engineer Corps' was created dealing with torpedoes and mines. [Herwig p.13]
In May 1872 a ten year building program was instituted to considerably modernise the fleet. This called for 8 armoured frigates, 6 armoured corvettes, 20 light corvettes, 7 monitors, 2 floating batteries, 6 avisos, 18 gunboats and 28 torpedo boats, at an estimated cost of 220 million Goldmarks (GM). The building plan had to be agreed by the Reichstag which controlled allocation of funds, although 1/4 of the money came from French war reparations. [Herwig p.14]
In 1883 Stosch was replaced by another general, Leo Graf v. Caprivi. At this point the navy had 7 armoured frigates and four armoured corvettes, 400 officers and 5,000 ratings. The objectives of coastal defence remained largely unchanged, but there was a new emphasis on development of the torpedo, which offered the possibility of relatively small ships successfully attacking much larger ones. In October 1887 the first torpedo division was created at Wilhelmshaven and the second torpedo division based at Kiel. In 1887 Caprivi requested the construction of ten armoured frigates. Greater importance was placed at this time on development of the army, which was expected to be more important in any war. However, the
Kiel canalwas commenced in June 1887, which connected the North Sea with the Baltic through the Jutland peninsular, allowing German ships to travel between the two avoiding waters controlled by other countries. This shortened the journey for commercial ships, but specifically united the two areas principally of concern to the German navy, at a cost of 150 million GM. [Herwig p.14]
Later, the protection of German maritime trade routes became important. This soon involved the setting up of some overseas supply stations, and in the 1880s the Imperial Navy played a part in helping to secure the establishment of German colonies and protectorates in Africa, Asia and Oceania.
1888 to 1897, Kaiser Wilhelm II
In June 1888
Wilhem IIbecame Kaiser of the German empire, after the death from cancer of his father [Frederick III, German Emperor|Frederick III] , who ruled for only 99 days. He started his reign with the intention of doing for the navy what his grandfather Wilhelm I had done expanding the army. He believed that a number of world empires were in decline, and that to seize parts of them Germany must have a world class navy. He became Grand Admiral of the German navy, but also collected titles from all over Europe, becoming admiral in the British, Russian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Greek navies. On one occasion he wore the uniform of a British admiral to receive the visiting British ambassador. [Herwig p.17-19] At this time the navy had 534 officers and a total of 15,480 men. [ Herwig p.15]
The concept of expanding naval power, inevitably at the cost of not expanding other forces, was opposed by the three successive heads of the German armed forces, Waldersee, Schliefen and Moltke between 1888 and 1914. It would also have been more widely opposed, had the Kaiser's intentions been widely known. Instead, he proceeded with a plan to expand the navy slowly, justifying enlargement step by step. [Herwig p.20]
In July 1888 William appointed Vice-Admiral
Alexander von Montsas head of the admiralty. Monts oversaw the design of the "Brandenburg" class battleship, four of which were constructed by 1894 at a cost of 16 million GM each and displacement of 10,000 tons. [Herwig p.24-26]
In 1889 Wilhelm reorganised top level control of the navy by creating a Navy Cabinet (Marine-Kabbinett) equivalent to the Military cabinet which had previously functioned in the same capacity for both the army and navy. The Head of the Navy cabinet was responsible for promotions, appointments, administration and issuing orders to naval forces. Captain Gustav Freiherr v. Senden-Bibran was appointed as its first head and remained so until 1906. The existing Imperial admiralty was abolished and its responsibilities divided between two organisations. A new position, chief of the high command of the admiralty was created (
Oberkommando der Marine), equivalent to the supreme commander of the army, responsible for ship deployments, strategy and tactics. Vice admiral Max von der Goltz was appointed in 1889 and remained in post until 1895. Construction and maintenance of ships and obtaining supplies was the responsibility of the State Secretary of the Imperial Navy Office ( Reichsmarineamt), responsible to the chancellor and advising the Reichstag on naval matters. The first appointee was Rear admiral Eduard Heusner, followed shortly by Rear Admiral Friedrich von Hollmann from 1890 to 1897. Each of these three heads of department reported separately to Wilhelm. [Herwig p.21-23]
In 1895 funding was agreed for five battleships of the "Kaiser Friedrich III" class, completed by 1902. The ships were innovative for their time, introducing a complex system of watertight compartments and storing coal along the sides of the ship to help absorb explosions. However, the ships went against the trend for increasingly larger main guns, having smaller diameter guns than the "Brandenburg" design, but with a quick-loading design and more powerful secondary armaments. Costs rose to 21 million GM each, as had size to 11,500 tons. [Herwig p.26]
In 1892 Germany had launched the protected cruiser "Kaiserin Augusta", the first navy ship to have triple propellers. She was succeeded by five "Victoria Louise" class
protected cruisers, the last 'protected', as distinct from 'armoured' cruiser class constructed by Germany. The ships, completed between 1898 and 1900, had deck armour but not side armour and were intended for overseas duties. Shortages of funding meant it was not possible to create several designs of cruisers specialised for long range work, or more heavily armoured for fleet work. Work commenced on an armoured cruiser design, "Furst Bismark" started in 1896 and commissioned in 1900.
1897-1906 Tirpitz and the Navy Bills
On 18 June 1897 Rear-Admiral
Alfred von Tirpitzwas appointed State Secretary of the Navy office, where he remained for nineteen years. Tirpitz espoused the cause of an expanded navy necessary for Germany to win territory abroad. He had great success in persuading parliament to pass successive Navy bills authorising expansions of the fleet. [Herwig p.35] German foreign policy as espoused by Otto von Bismarckhad been to deflect the interest of great powers abroad while Germany consolidated her integration and military strength. Now Germany was to compete with the rest. Tirpitz started with a publicity campaign aimed at popularising the navy. He created popular magazines about the navy, arranged for Alfred Thayer Mahan's The Influence of Sea Power upon History, which argued the importance of naval forces, to be translated into German and serialised in newspapers, arranged rallies in support, invited politicians and industrialists to naval reviews. Various pressure groups were formed to lobby politicians and spread publicity. One organisation, the navy league (Flottenveiren), founded by Alfred Kruppand prince Wiedgained more than one million members. Political parties were offered concessions, such as taxes on imported grain, in exchange for their support for Naval bills. [Herwig p.41-42]
On 10 April 1898 the first Navy Bill was passed by the Reichstag. It authorised the maintenance of a fleet of 19 battleships, 8 armoured cruisers, 12 large cruisers and 30 light cruisers to be constructed by 1 April 1904. Existing ships were counted in the total, but the bill provided for ships to be replaced every 25 years on an indefinite basis. 5 million GM annually was allocated to run the navy, with a total budget of 408 million GM for shipbuilding. This would bring the German fleet to a strength where it could contemplate challenging France or Russia, but would remain clearly inferior to the world's largest fleet, the
Boxer rebellionin China and the Boer War, a second navy bill was passed on 14 June 1900. This approximately doubled the allocated number of ships to 38 battleships, 20 armoured cruisers, 38 light cruisers. Significantly, the bill set no overall cost limit for the building program. Expenditure for the navy was too great to be met from taxation: the Reichstag had limited powers to extend taxation without entering into negotiations with the constituent German states, and this was considered politically unviable. Instead, the bill was financed by massive loans. Turpitz, in 1899 was already exploring the possibilities for extending the battleship total to 45, a target which rose to 48 by 1990. [herwig p.42]
Tirpitz ultimate goal was a fleet superior to that of Britain. A perceived risk was that Britain might elect to follow the 'Copenhagen strategy', of destroying an enemy fleet before it could grow large enough to be a challenge. Tirpitz argued that if the fleet could achieve 2/3 the number of capital ships possessed by Britain then it stood a chance of winning in a conflict. Britain had to maintain a fleet throughout the world and consider other naval powers, whereas the German fleet could be concentrated in German waters. Attempts were made to play down the perceived threat to Britain, but once the German fleet reached the position of equalling the other second-rank navies, it became impossible to avoid mention of the one great fleet it was intended to challenge. Tirpitz hoped that other second-rank powers might ally with Germany, attracted by its navy. The policy of commencing what amounted to a naval arms race did not properly consider how Britain might respond. Her policy stated in the Naval Defence Act of 1889 was to maintain a navy superior to her two largest rivals combined. The British Admiralty estimated that the German navy would be the worlds second largest by 1906. [ Herwig p.36-37]
Major reforms of the British fleet were undertaken, particularly by admiral
Jackie Fisheras First Sea Lordfrom 1904 to 1909. 154 older ships, including 17 battleships, were scrapped to make way for newer vessels. Reforms in training and gunnery were introduced to make good perceived deficiencies, which in part Tirpitz had counted upon to provide his ships with a margin of superiority. More capital ships were stationed in home waters. A treaty with Japan in 1902 meant that ships could be withdrawn from East Asia, while the entente with France in 1904 meant that Britain could concentrate on guarding Channel waters, including the French coast, while France would protect British interests in the Mediterranean. In 1906 it was considered that Britain's only likely naval enemy was Germany. [Herwig p.48-50]
Five battleships of the "Wittelsbach" class, were constructed from 1899 to 1904 at a cost of 22 million GM per ship. Five ships of the "Braunschweig" class were built between 1901 and 1906 for the slightly greater 24 million GM each. Technological improvements meant that rapid fire guns could be made larger, so the Braunschweig's had a main armament of 28cm guns. Torpedo's had been improving in range and accuracy and in response more emphasis was placed upon a secondary armament of smaller guns which might be used against them. The five "Deutschland" class, battleships constructed between 1903 and 1908 had similar armament to the Braunschweig class, but heavier armour, for the slightly greater sum of 24.5 million GM each. [Herwig p.43-44]
Development of armoured cruisers also continued. "Fürst Bismarck"'s design was improved upon in the subsequent "Prinz Heinrich", completed in 1902. Two ships of the
Prinz Adalbert class armored cruiserwere commissioned in 1904, followed by two similar Roon class armored cruisercommissioned in 1905 and 1906, at costs around 17 million GM each. [Herwig p.27-28] "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" followed, between 1904 and 1908, and cost an estimated for 20.3 million GM. Principle armament was eight 21cm guns, but with six 15cm and eighteen 9cm guns for smaller targets. Eight Bremen class light cruisers were constructed between 1902 and 1907, developed from the earlier Gazelle class. The ships had ten 10.5 cm guns and were named after German towns. SMS Lubeckwas the first German cruiser to be fitted with turbine engines, which were also trialled in a torpedo boat S-125. Turbines were faster, quieter, lighter and both more reliable and more fuel efficient at high speeds. The first British experimental design (the destroyer HMS Velox) had been constructed in 1901 and as a result Tirpitz had set up a special commission to develop turbines. No reliable German design was available by 1903, so British Parsons turbines were purchased. [Herwig p.44-45]
In 1899, the High command of the Navy was replaced by an admiralty staff (Admiralstab) responsible for military planning, training officers and naval intelligence. In time of war it was to assume overall command, but in peace acted only advisorily. Direct control of various elements of the fleet was subordinated to the officers commanding those elements, who were made directly accountable to the Kaiser. [Herwig p.22]
The reorganisations suited the kaiser, who wanted to maintain direct control of his ships. Its disadvantage was that it split apart the integrated military command structure which before had balanced the importance of the navy within overall defence considerations. It suited
Alfred von Tirpitz, because it removed the influence of the admiralty staff from naval planning, but left him the possibility, in wartime, to reorganise command around himself. William, however, never agreed to relinquish direct control of his fleet. [Herwig p.22-23]
1906-1908, The Dreadnought and innovation: First "Novelle"
On 3 December 1906 the Royal Navy received a new battleship, HMS "Dreadnought". She became famous as the first of a new concept in battleship design, using all big gun, single calibre armament. She used turbine propulsion for greater speed and less space required by the machinery, and guns arranged so that three times as many could be brought to bear when firing ahead, and twice as many when firing broadside. The design was not a uniquely British concept as similar ships where being built around the world, nor was it uniquely intended as a counter to German naval expansion, but the effect was to immediatley require Germany to reconsider its naval building program. The battleship design was complemented by the introduction of a variant with lighter armour and greater speed, which became the battlecruiser. [Herwig p.54-56]
The revolution in design, together with improvements in personnel and training severely brought into question the German assumption that a fleet of 2/3 the size of the Royal Navy would at least stand a chance in an engagement. By 1906 Germany was already spending 60% of revenue upon the army. Either an enormous sum now had to be found to develop the navy further, or naval expansion had to be abandoned. The decision to continue was taken by Tirpitz in September 1905 and agreed by Chancellor Bülow and the Kaiser, while "Dreadnought" was still at the planning stage. The larger ships would naturally be more expensive, but also would require enlargement of harbours, locks and the Kaiser Wilhelm canal, all of which would be enormously expensive. Estimated cost for new dreadnoughts was placed at 36.5 million GM for 19,000 ton displacement ships (larger than "Dreadnought" at 17,900 tons), and 27.5 million GM for battlecruisers. 60 million GM was allocated for Dredging the canal. The Reichstag was persuaded to agree to the program and passed a "Novelle" amending the navy bills and allocating 940 million GM for a dreadnought program and the necessary infrastructure. Two dreadnoughts and one battlecruiser were to be built each year. [Herwig p.58-59]
Construction of four "Nassau" class battleships began in 1907 with the greatest possible secrecy. Chief german naval designer was Hans Bürkner. A principle was introduced that the thickness of side armour on a ship would equal the calibre of the large guns, while ships were increasingly divided internally into watertight compartments to make them more resistant to flooding when damaged. The design was hampered by the neccesity to use reciprocating engines instead of the physically smaller turbines, since no sufficiently powerfull design was available which was acceptable to the German navy. Turrets could not be placed above the centre of the ship and instead had to be placed at the side, meaning two of the six turrets would always be on the wrong side of the ship when firing broadside. Main armament was twelve 28cm guns. The ships were all completed by 1910, over budget, averaging 37.4 million GM each. [Herwig p. 59]
The first German battlecruiser—"Von der Tann"—was commenced March 1908. Two Parsons turbines were used, improving speed to 27 knots and reducing weight. Four twin turrets mounted 28cm guns; although the two centre turrets were still placed one either side of the ship, they were offset so could now fire either side. The design was considered a success, but the cost at 35.5 million GM was significantly above the 1906 allocation. Light cruiser development continued with the "Dresden" class light cruisers, which were to become famous for their actions in the start of WWI in the pacific. The ships were 3,300 tons, and armed with ten 10.5cm rapid fire guns and a speed around 24 knots. "Dresden" cost 7.5 million GM, and "Emden" 6 million GM. Four "Kolberg" class cruiser were produced between 1907 and 1911 at 4,400 tons and around 8 million GM each. These had turbines, twelve 10.5 cm guns as main armament, but were also equipped to carry and lay 100 mines. [Herwig p.60-61] From 1907 onwards, all torpedo boats were constructed using turbine engines.
1908-1914, Second "Novelle"
German expenditure on ships was steadily rising. In 1907, 290 million GM was spent on the fleet, rising to 347 million GM or 24% of the national budget in 1908, with a predicted budget deficit of 500 million GM. By the outbreak of WWI, 1 billion GM had been added to Germany's national debt because of naval expenditure. While each German ship was more expensive than the last, the British managed to reduce the cost of the succeeding generations of "Bellerophon" and "St.Vincent" class battleships. Succesive British battlecruisers were more expensive, but less so than the German equivalents. Overall, German ships were some 30% more expensive than British ones. This all contributed to growing opposition in the Reichstag to any further expansion, particularly when it was clear that Britain intended to match and exceed any German expansion program. In the fleet itself, complaints were beginning to be made in 1908 about underfunding and shortages of crews for the new ships. The State Sceretary of the Treasury,
Hermann von Stengel, resigned because he could see no way to resolve the budget defecit. [Herwig p.61-62]
The elections of 1907 had returned a Reichstag more favourable to military exploits, following the refusal of the previous parliament to grant funds to suppress uprisings in colonies in South West Africa. Despite the difficulties, Tirpitz persuaded the Reichstag to pass a further "Novelle" in March 1908. This reduced the service life for ships from 25 years to 20 years, allowing for faster modernisation, and increased the building rate to four capital ships per year. Tirpitz' target was a fleet of 16 battleships and 5 battlecruisers by 1914, and 38 battleships and 20 battlecruisers by 1920. There were also to be 38 light cruisers, and 144 torpedo boats. The bill contained a restriction, that building would fall to two ships per year in 1912, but Tirpitz was confident of changing this at a later date. He anticipated that German industry, now heavily involved in shipbuilding, would back a campaign to maintain a higher construction rate. [Herwig p.62-64]
Four battleships of the "Helgoland" class were laid down in 1909-1910, with displacements of 22,800 tons, twelve 30.5cm guns in 6 turrets, reciprocating engines generating a maximum speed of 21 Knots, and a price tag of 46 million GM. Again, the turret configuration was dictated by the need to use the centre of the ship for machinery, despite the disadvantage of the turret layout. The ships were now equipped with 50cm torpedos. [Herwig p.64]
The "Kaiser" class battleships built between 1909 and 1913 introduced a change in design as turbine engines were finally approved. The ships had ten 30.5 cm guns, losing two of the center side turrets but gaining an additional turret astern on the centre line. As with the "Von der Tann" design, which was drawn up at a similar time, all guns could be fired either side in broadside, meaning more guns could come to bear than with the "Helgoland" design, despite having fewer in total. Five ships were constructed rather than the usual four, one to act as a fleet flagship. One ship, the "Prinzregent Luitpold", was equipped with only two turbines rather than three, with the intention of having an additional diesel engine for cruising, but the Howaldt engine could not be developed in time. "Luitpold" had a top speed of 20 knots as a result, compared to 22 knots for the other ships. The ships were larger than the preceding class at 24,700 tons, but cheaper at 45 million GM. They formed the third squadron of the High Seas fleet as it was constituted for WWI. [Herwig p.65]
Between 1908 and 1912 two "Moltke" class battlecruisers were constructed, adding an extra turret on the centre line astern, raised above the aft turret, but still using 28 cm guns. "Moltke" became part of the High Seas Fleet, but "Goeben" became part of the Mediterranean squadron and spent WWI as part of the Turkish navy. The ships cost 42.6 and 41.6 million GM, with maximum speed of 28 knots. "Seydlitz" was constructed as a slightly enlarged version of the "Moltke" design, reaching a maximum speed of 29 knots. All cruisers were equipped with turbine engines from 1908 onwards. Between 1910 and 1912 four "Magdeburg" classs light cruisers were constructed of 4,600 tons, at around 7.4 million GM each. The ships were fitted with oil burners to improve the effectiveness of their main coal fueling. These were followed by the similar but slightly enlarged and marginally faster "Karlsruhe" and "Graudenz" classes. [Herwig p.66]
In 1907 a Naval artillery school was established at Sonderberg. This aimed to address the difficulties with the new generation of guns, which with potentially greater range required aiming devices capable of directing them at targets at those extreme ranges. By 1914, experiments were being conducted with guns in increasing sizes up to 51cm. Capital ships were fitted with spotting tops high up on masts with range finding equipment, while ship design was altered to place turrets on the centre line of the ship for improved accuracy. [Herwig p.64]
World war I
By the start of World War I, the Kaiserliche Marine possessed 22 pre-Dreadnoughts ("Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm" and "Weißenburg", of the "Brandenburg" class, had been sold to the
Ottoman Empirein 1910), 19 dreadnought battleships, and 7 battlecruisers.
Admiral von Tirpitz later became the commander of the Navy. The main fighting forces of the navy were to become the
High Seas Fleet, and the U-boatfleet. Smaller fleets were deployed to the German overseas protectorates, the most prominent being assigned to the East Asia Station at Tsingtao.
World War I engagements
Notable battles fought by the Navy were:
Battle of Heligoland Bight(Rear Admiral Leberecht Maass)
Battle of Coronel(Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee)
Battle of the Falkland Islands(Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee)
* Battle of Dogger Bank (Vice Admiral Franz Hipper)
Battle of the Gulf of Riga(Vice Admiral Ehrhard Schmidt)
Battle of Jutland(Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer; Vice Admiral Franz Hipper)
* First Battle of the Atlantic - U-boat warfare
Notable minor battles:
*Battle of Gotland
Battle of Moon Sound
Battle of Dover Strait
Battle of Cocos
Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby
Pursuit of Goeben and Breslau
Bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft
The Imperial Navy carried out land operations, eg operating the long-range
Paris Gunwhich was based on a naval gun. The Siege of Tsingtaoused naval troops as Tsingtao was a naval base, and also as the Imperial Navy was directly under the Imperial Government (the German Army was made up of regiments from the various states).
After the end of World War I, the bulk of the Navy's modern ships (74 in all) were interned at
Scapa Flowwhere the entire fleet (with a few exceptions) was scuttled by its crews on 21 June 1919 on orders from its commander, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter.
Notes and references
*cite book |author=Holger H. Herwig |title='Luxury Fleet', The Imperial German Navy 1888-1918 |publisher= The Ashfield Press |location=London |year=1980 |isbn= 0948660031
List of naval ships of Germany
List of German Imperial Navy ships
Naval warfare of World War I
* [http://german-navy.tripod.com/ Imperial German Navy in World War I]
* [http://www.german-navy.de/hochseeflotte/ships/index.html German Naval History WW1]
* [http://users.hunterlink.net.au/~maampo/militaer/glenn/marine/kaiserliche_marine_1914.htm Kaiserliche Marine 1914]
* [http://www.gwpda.org/naval/fdgn0001.htm Kaiserliche Marine Deployment 1914]
* [http://uboat.net/wwi/ U-boat War in World War One]
* [http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000R181LC Hoch Deutschlands Flotte! On Amazon]
* [http://brandenburghistorica.com/hoch_deutschlands_flotte.html Hoch Deutschlands Flotte! Music of the Imperial German Navy in Archival Recordings, 1907-1917]
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