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Germany's High Sea Fleet in the World War
Preface and Introduction


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 application—just as energetic as inconsiderate—of this conception. Even one of the greatest eulogists of the English methods in naval warfare—which 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 Allies—America, 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 many others.

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 Prussia—Germany! 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 political unification.

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 protection.

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 millions.

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-rights—with the mental reservation, however, of disregarding them at pleasure—which 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 condemnation.

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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