THE victor has the privilege of writing the story of the
war; for one mistrusts the vanquished, because he will try to palliate and
excuse his defeats. But we are victors and vanquished at one and the same time,
and in depicting our success the difficult problem confronts us of not
forgetting that our strength did not last out to the end.
Exceptionally tragic is the fate of our Fleet. It embodied
the sense of power resulting from the unification of the Empire, a sense which
was conscious of its responsibility to provide for the suitable security of our
immensely flourishing political and economical expansion. By creating a fleet
we strengthened our claim to seapower, without which the Empire must wither
away, we remained a thorn in the side of the British, and their ill-will was
the constant accompaniment of our growth. The freedom of the seas, which we
strove for in line with our evolution, England was never willing to grant, even
if it had to come to a world-war on the point.
In the four years' struggle which Germany waged against the
desire of its enemies to destroy it, the Fleet was able, beyond all foreign
expectations, to hold its own, and what is more, it was our conduct of the
naval war that succeeded in forcing the stubborn enemy to the brink of
destruction. But, nevertheless, we have lost the war, and with the surrender of
the German Fleet the expectations of an independent shaping of our destiny have
vanished for long enough.
To the history of the naval war, as it presented itself to
me and was for some years carried on under my guidance, this book will add a
contribution. I should like, however, along with the description of my war
experiences, to give the assurance to the German people that the German Fleet,
which ventured to boast of being a favourite creation of the nation, strove to
do its duty, and entered into the war inspired only by the thought of
justifying the confidence reposed in it and of standing on an equal footing
with the warriors on land. The remembrance of the famous deeds which were
accomplished on the sea will henceforth preserve over the grave of the German
Fleet the hope that our race will succeed in creating for itself a position
among the nations worthy of the German people.
Weimar, September, l919.
THE origin of the world-war lies in the opposition between
the Anglo-Saxon and the German conceptions of the world. On the former side is
the claim to the position of unrestricted primacy in seapower, to the dominion
of the seas, to the prerogative of oceantrade and to a levy on the treasures of
all the earth. " We are the first nation of the world" is the dogma of every
Englishman, and he cannot conceive how others can doubt it.
English history supplies the proof of the
applicationjust as energetic as inconsiderateof this conception.
Even one of the greatest eulogists of the English methods in naval
warfarewhich best reflect English history the American, Captain Mahan,
made famous through his book, " The Influence of Sea Power upon History,"
characterizes it in his observations on the North American War of Independence,
which ended in 1783-: " To quote again the [French] summary before given, their
[the AlliesAmerica, France and Spain] object was 'to avenge their
respective injuries, and to put an end to that tyrannical Empire which England
claims to maintain upon the ocean.' The revenge they had obtained was barren of
benefit to themselves. They had, so that generation thought, injured England by
liberating America; but they had not righted their wrongs in Gibraltar and
Jamaica. The English fleet had not received any such treatment as would lessen
its haughty self-reliance, the armed neutrality of the Northern Powers had been
allowed to pass fruitlessly away, and the English Empire over the seas soon
became as tyrannical and more absolute than ever."
Still, England has in process of time understood how to
create an almost universal recognition of its claim. Its whole policy, based on
the authority of its Fleet and the favourable situation of the British Isles,
has always been adapted to the principle that all that may contribute "ad
majorem gloriam Britanniae" is of advantage also to the progress of mankind.
The principal feature of the English character is markedly
materialistic and reveals itself in a striving for power and profit. The
commercial spirit, which animates the individual Englishman, colours the
political and military dealings of the whole people. Their claims, to
themselves a matter of course, went so far always that they never granted
advantages to another, even if their utilisation was not possible to themselves
at the time, but might perhaps be so later. That has manifested itself most
clearly in the Colonial sphere.
The edifice of English world-importance and might has rested
for a hundred years on the fame of Trafalgar, and they have carefully avoided
hazarding it. They have besides, with skill and success, left untried no means
of accentuating the impression of power and using it. What we should consider
boastful was to the British only the expression of their full conviction and an
obvious means to their end. In support of this we may mention such expressions
as: "We have the ships, we have the` men, we have the money, too," as well as
ships' names, such as Irresistible, Invincible, Indomitable, Formidable, and
This method, fundamentally, is really as the Poles asunder
from ours, but still it does not fail to leave an impression on many Germans
owing to its pomposity and the customary embroidery of commonplaces about
promoting the happiness of mankind.
On the opposite side PrussiaGermany! Its whole
history filled with struggle and distress, because the wars of Europe were
carried on by preference on its territory. It was the nation of the Categorical
Imperative, ever ready for privations and sacrifices, always raising itself
again, till it seemed at last to have succeeded through the unification of the
Empire in being able to reap the fruits of its hard-won position of power. The
victory over the hard times it had to pass through was due to its idealism and
to its tried loyalty to the Fatherland under the oppressions of foreign rule.
The strength of our defensive power rested above all things on our
conscientiousness and thoroughness acquired by strict discipline.
In contrast to the inaccessibility of the English
island-position was our Continental situation in the heart of Europe, in many
respects without natural defence on the frontiers. Instead of having wealth
pouring in from all quarters of the globe, we had to toil in the sweat of our
brows to support our people on the scanty native soil; and yet we succeeded, in
defiance of all difficulties, in elevating and advancing in undreamt-of fashion
the economic status of the people while at the same time effecting their
In such a situation and after such experiences, schemes of
conquest were utterly absent from the minds of the German people. They sought
to find satisfaction for their need of expansion in peaceful fashion, so as not
to hazard lightly their hard-won position of power. That we should be regarded
as an unwelcome intruder in the circle of nations who felt themselves called
upon to settle the fate of Europe and the world was due, apart from the deeply
wounded vanity of the French, to the mistrust of the British, to whose way of
thinking our harmlessness appeared incredible.
In order to retain our position and to ensure the
maintenance of our increasing wealth we had no other choice than to secure the
ability to defend ourselves according to the old-established principle of the
Wars of Liberation: by efficiency to compensate for what was lacking in
numbers. How could we establish armies superior to those of our neighbours
otherwise than by efficiency ?
With the same fundamental motive we turned to the building
up of our sea power, as, owing to the increased dependence of our
Administration on foreign countries and to the investment of vaster sums in
German property on and oversee, our development unquestionably required
The intention imputed to us of wishing to usurp British
world power never existed; our aims were much more simply explained by the
provisions of the Navy Bills of a limited number of ships, which nowhere
approached the English total. Nevertheless England considered herself
threatened and saw in-us a rival who must at any cost be destroyed. That this
sentiment prevailed over there lay indeed less in the fact of the appearance of
a sea Power of the second rank in a corner of the North Sea far removed from
the world-oceans, than in the estimate of its worth. They foresaw the exercise
in it of a spirit of progress which characterised the German nature, by which
England felt herself hampered and prejudiced.
It is not disputed that through our fleet-construction a
sharper note was introduced into our relations with England than would have
resulted from peaceful competition alone, but it is not a just judgment, nor
one going to the foundation of the GermanEnglish relations, if the disaster of
the world-war or even of the unsuccessful result of the war is attributed
simply to the building of the German Fleet. To that end it is necessary to
consider the justification of our fleet-building and the reasons why the war
was lost and what prospects existed for us of winning it. In that way we shall
recognise the decisive rôle which fell to naval power after this struggle
of nations grew into a world-war through England's accession to the side of
Russia and France.
The mere apprehension of falling out with England could not
and dare not form ground for refusing to such an important part of our national
wealth as had accumulated in the undertakings bound up with our sea interests
the necessary protection through a fleet, which the townsman, dependent on
inland activities, enjoyed in the shape of our army and accepted as quite a
matter of course.
The Empire was under an obligation to support and protect in
their projects the shippers and merchants who undertook to dispose of the
surplusage of our industrial energy in foreign lands and there establish new
enterprises bringing profit to Germany. This connection with overseas was
securing us universal benefit in so far as, by its means, the Homeland was
enabled to employ and to feed all its inhabitants, so that, in spite of the
great increase of population, emigration was no longer required as a
safety-valve for the surplus man-strength. What the maintenance of the
manstrength of a country means when converted into work, the last ten years and
the war-years have shown us quite remarkably.
It is expected of every small State that it should make
whatever efforts lie in its power to justify a claim to consideration of its
independence. On this is based the guarantee, won in the international life of
peoples with the advance of civilisation, that the weaker will not
unjustifiably be fallen upon by the stronger.
The conduct of a Great Power which left its sea-interests
without protection would have been as unworthy and contemptible as dishonorable
cowardice in an individual; but it would have been most highly impolitic also,
because it would have made it dependent on States more powerful at sea. The
best army we could create would lose in value if Germany remained with the
Achilles-heel of an unprotected foreign trade amounting to thousands of
Although the purpose of our competition on a peaceful
footing followed from the modesty of our colonial claims, our policy did not
succeed in removing England's suspicion; but, considering the , diversity of
the claims of both peoples, having its roots in their world views, all the art
of diplomacy could not have succeeded in so far bridging over the antagonisms
that the recourse to arms would have been spared us.
Was there perchance still another method of creating for
our-; selves the necessary- protection against attacks at sea, which did not
bear the provocative character that in England was attributed to the building
of our High Sea Fleet? Just as the desire for A. German Fleet had for a long
time been popular, so has the average German had little idea of the meaning of
sea power and of its, practical application. This is not to be wondered at, in
view of the complete absence of national naval war-history. It will hence be
necessary, in order to answer the question whether we chose the suitable naval
armament for the condition of affairs in which the new Germany saw itself
placed, to enter somewhat more closely into the peculiarities of naval warfare.
It has been held as an acknowledged axiom, proved from war
history, that the struggle at sea must be directed to gaining the mastery of
the sea, i.e. to removing all opposition which stands in the way of its free
and unhindered use.
The chief resisting strength lies in the enemy Fleet, and a
successful struggle against it first renders possible the utilisation of the
mastery of the seas, for thereupon one's own Fleet can go out with the object
of attacking the enemy coasts or oversee possessions, of carrying out landings
or preparing and covering the same on a larger scale (invasion)- Finally, it
can further shut off the enemy by means of a blockade from every sort of import
from overseas and capture his merchant-ships with their valuable cargoes, until
they are driven off the open sea. Contrary to the international usage in land
warfare of sparing private property, there exists the principle of prize-right
at sea, which is nothing more than a relic of the piracy which was pursued so
vigorously in the form of privateering by the freebooters in the great naval
war a hundred years ago.
The abrogation of the right of prize has hitherto always
been frustrated by the opposition of England, although she herself possesses
the most extensive merchant-shipping trade. For she looks for the chief effect
of her sea power to the damaging of the enemy's sea-trade. In the course of
time England, apparently yielding to the pressure of the majority of the other
maritime States, has conceded limitations of the blockade and naval
prize-rightswith the mental reservation, however, of disregarding them at
pleasurewhich suited the predominant Continental interest of these
States. It deserves especially to be noticed that England has held inflexibly
to this right to damage enemy (and neutral) trade because she was convinced of
her superiority at sea. When our trade-war began, unexpectedly, to be injurious
to the island-people they set all the machinery possible in motion to cause its
It is possible in certain circumstances for the less
powerful maritime States, according to position, coast-formation and ocean
traffic, to protect themselves at their sensitive and assailable points by
measures of coast-defence.
With us this course has found its zealous champions, first
on account of cheapness, partly from a desire not to provoke the more powerful
States, and finally on the ground of strategical considerations which lay in
the same direction as those of the jeune école in France. The idea was
to check an opponent by means of guerilla warfare and through direct attack on
enemy trade, but the only result of the jeune école in France has been
that the French Navy has sunk into insignificance. A system of guerilla warfare
remains a struggle with inadequate means, which does not guarantee any success.
England rightly did not at all fear the cruiser war on her shipping trade,
other vise she would have given way on the question of the naval prize-right.
As regards coast defence, we did not consider that policy, as it could not
hinder the English from harming us, while it in no way affected them, seeing
that our coasts do not impinge on the world-traffic routes, and did not come
within the range of operations.
If the damage caused to one's own sea-trade (including that
of the Colonies) becomes intolerable, as in our own case, means of
coast-defence provide no adequate protection.
If it comes to the point that one must decide antagonisms by
arms, the foremost consideration is no longer "how can I defend myself ? " -but
" how can I hit the enemy most severely ? " Attack, not defence, leads most
quickly to the goal.
The best deterrent from war is, moreover, to impress on the
enemy the certainty that he must thereby suffer considerably.
The method adopted by us of creating an efficient
battle-fleet, an engagement with which involved a risk for England, offered not
only the greatest prospect of preventing war, but also, if war could not be
avoided, the best possibility of striking the enemy effectively. Of the issue
of a fleet action it could with certainty be stated that the resultant damage
to the English supremacy at sea would be great and correspond proportionately
with our losses. Whilst we at need could get over such a sacrifice, it must
exercise an intolerable effect on England, which relied on its sea power alone.
How far these considerations, on which the construction of our Fleet was based,
were recognised as correct on the English side, can be judge from the tactics
of England's Fleet in the world-war, which through out the struggle were based
on the most anxious efforts to avoid suffering any real injury..
How our Fleet conducted itself in opposition to this, and
succeeded in making the war at sea an effective menace to England will be
evident from the following account of the war.
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