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Coast Defense / Küstenverteidigung

Those that did not see the use of coast forts, because they do not cover the whole coast and therefore do not prevent a landing, should consider that they shut the enemy's fleet out of the desirable harbors; prevent his navy from capturing the large cities, harbors and railroad terminals necessary for anything more than a landing; compel him to make a land attack and thus furnish the mobile forces an opportunity to defend these bases, an opportunity they would not have without the forts.

The coast of Imperial Germany was ridiculously short compared with the huge country behind it. From Borkum to the Elbe as the crow flies was only seventy miles. Add to that the west coast of Schleswig, say 120 miles ; total, say, 200. Compare that with the seaboard of France and England. What sort of coast is it? There were shoals and sand everywhere, blocking nine-tenths of the land altogether, and doing their best to block the other tenth where the great rivers run in.

The North Sea coast of the German Empire was the most heavily fortified stretch of coast in the world. Nature had done much to render it inaccessible to the enemy, and at those few points where no natural obstacles exist, military science had surpassed itself in erecting fortifications. Between 1860 and 1885 it is safe to say that considerably more funds were spent on forts than on ships, and although the complicated budget methods favored in Berlin render it impossible to arrive at exact figures, it is certain the expenditure on fixed defenses continued to represent a very substantial percentage of the total outlay on national armaments.

The Germans had always ascribed the safety of their coast towns during the war of 1870-71 to the strong fortifications which even at that date were much in evidence. It is quite true that the French squadron, which cruised in the Baltic made no attack on German territory, and the immunity of such places as Kiel and Danzig was, no doubt, due to the formidable batteries which guarded the approach to those places.

One of the main reasons for the reluctance of the Reichstag to deal generously with the navy estimates prior to the Tirpitz era was the heavy expense involved by the modernization and extension of coast fortifications. The deputies, however, were ready enough to vote money for vessels of the coast service type, i. e., small unseaworthy ironclads, armored gunboats, and torpedo craft, because they thought such vessels might serve as substitutes for the more expensive fortifications which the military authorities would surely demand later on.

North Germany had not neglected to do much to improve its works to meet the changes introduced into firearms ; still, in the new erections, its main efforts had been made in fortifying the coasts. In this class Alsen-Sonderburg, Wilhelmshafen (in the Jahde bay), the fortifications of the estuaries of the Ems and of the Weser, Kiel and Friedrichsort were worthy of note.

Before the 1867 Peace of Prague, Prussia had 1 Guard Corps and 8 provincial Army Corps. All these 9 Corps were, disregarding a few unimportant differences, organised alike, and included one brigade of artillery, which was divided into a field and a garrison artillery regiment. The garrison artillery did not serve merely to garrison strong places and coast defences, but it also supplied men for the equipment and service of the siege-trains, which were formed in case of a war of invasion being undertaken.

France and Germany in the War of 1870-71 closed their ports for their own traffic as well as that of other countries, and carried on their war entirely on land, neither being in a position to attack the other by sea. In 1870 four divisions were kept away from the main army to guard the coast of Germany ; had Germany possessed a good fleet and gained the mastery in the North Sea, these troops landed on the north coast of France in the last stages of the war would have brought about its speedy close, and even in the earlier stages sudden irruptions on the coast would have produced difficulties of supply of war material and provisions, forcing France to detach troops from her field army.

When Germany first began the development of her naval resources, after her successful wars against Denmark, Austria, and France, it was difficult to procure the crews necessary for the fleet, and the coast forts continued to be garrisoned by the Marine Artillery, which formed part of the Army. This special corps in 1875 numbered 1 staff officer, 13 subalterns, 46 officers, and 412 men. When the Navy became stronger mid torpedo boats were introduced into coast defense, it was seen that the Marine Artillery was no longer capable of performing its task; it was therefore dissolved in 1877 and the Naval Artillery was formed.

The harbors of Kiel and Wilhelmhaven were each placed under the control of a Vice- Admiral, wbose title was Chief of the Station. These posts were practically analogous to those of the, Naval Prefects in Frauce. The Baltic littoral and the waters belonging to it, which are separated from the North Sea by the peninsula of Jutland, belong to the Kiel district. The coast of the North Sea was intrusted to the Chief of Station of Wilhelmshaven. The whole defense of the German coast was therefore directed by these two Chiefs of Station. Their duties included the supervision and the instruction of the personnel; they had to provide for rapid mobilization and look after all stores.

The Naval Artillery served the coast artillery, the torpedo batteries, and the mines. It consisted by 1897 of three divisions, the first stationed at Freidrichsort, the second at Wilhelmshafen, and the third at Lehe. Each division was composed of three companies. The chiefs of divisions are lieutenant-commanders, who were assisted by a lieutenant as adjutant and by a paymaster. The company officers consisted of a lieutenant as chief, of a sublieutenant and ensign. The chiefs of divisions served for 5 years, the captains of companies for 3, and the junior officers for 1 and 2 years. The Chief of the Station at Wilhelmshafen was the commander of the fortress, while the forts of Friedrichsort were under commanders subordinate to the Chief of the Station. In the forts at the mouth of the Weser, at Geestemunde, and at Cuxhaven, the Senior Naval Officer was commander.

The Naval Artillery was an especially fine body of men. The men were drafted under the same rules as the Army and much depended on physical condition for assignment to this corps. The standard for admission was as high as that for the Prussian Guard, large, strong men being especially required and selected. As a rule they do not serve on. board ship, being primarily intended for service in the coast fortifications. In case of necessity they may, however, be assigned to armored vessels as gunners. The noncommissioned officers were selected from sailors of long experience. The uniforms and drills are naval, seamanship alone being excepted from the latter.

When, in 1877, the German Navy undertook the defense of the coast it was a step in the right direction, for such defense is naturally organized best by a sailor. The service in the coast forts is easy to the commanders of the Navy, for they are accustomed to complicated exercises on board a moving ship. Now that the forts on the coast and the torpedo defenses were commanded by naval officers and manned by sailors, Germany had reached a unity in the defense of the coast that can scarcely be found in any other country.

The scope of naval superintendence in the coast defense of Germany was defined by the Emperor's Decree of March, 1884 : "It is the expressed will of His Majesty, the Emperor, with regard to the coast defense, that hereafter the Navy is to be intrusted not only with the defense of the two great dockyards, but also with the maritime defense of Prussian fortresses oil the coast and seaports. It is considered that for a thorough defense the Army and the Navy should work together according to clearly laid down rules, and to the Navy should be given supreme control of all maritime operations. From this time forward all harbor entrances must be in a condition to be immediately protected by mines and troops. Heretofore all this work having been intrusted to the Army, the engineers during the operation of mobilization were overburdened. In the future, however, the Navy, through its interest and technical skill, can readily keep harbors and channels open for the passage of friendly vessels up to the last moment and close them quickly and certainly when necessary. Again, the introduction of torpedoes proper into the cadre of army weapons reduces the general efficiency of the service, as has been shown in operations with mines. The army commandant of a coast place would find it difficult to properly control the naval personnel which in any case isnecessary for the service, and he could but illy superintend the movements of torpedo flotillas. Finally, in order to establish communications with the naval outposts, extra steamers under army control would be necessary, which would complicate the service. Requisitions for merchant vessels and materials could not be wisely lilled under army superintendence, and a harbor once blocked by mines, all movements, no matter how urgent, of naval vessels could only be undertaken after arriving at a special understanding between the Army and the Navy."

Naturally the Navy had a great iuterest in keeping open as long as possible ports which, in case of need, would serve as places of shelter, and therefore must desire that the obstacles to the ports shall be disposed in such a manner as to delay the entry and exit of its own ships as little as possible. Moreover, no commandant of a maritime strong- bold can do without a seafaring personnel, who are well qualified to recognize an enemy's ships, and to keep watch on their movements. In order to afford proper aid to torpedo boats, to take advantage of their successes and to keep the enemy away - in short to carry out efficiently the duties of advance guards at sea - the defense must be furnished with vessels ; and these vessels can not do without a crew who have received proper training. Consequently it was held in Germany that the equipment of coast strongholds must consist of naval forces, both in personnel and material.

The seacoast defenses, fortifications, torpedo boats, torpedoes, submarine mines, etc., are therefore in charge of the Navy ; and the Naval Budgets provide for the expense of maintaining torpedoes, torpedo boats, and submarine mines, and of the necessary personnel to manipulate them.

The transfer of the fortifications from the Army to the Navy was made on the recommendation of the I\l inister of War, approved by the Chief of the General Staff and the Military Cabinet of the Emperor, the reasons urged being as follows :

1) The guns and carriages are similar to those used in the Navy.

2) As this defense is chiefly against attack by ships and naval landing parties, seamen will appreciate more readily the points of weakness and the objects of manoauvres by ships, and will recognize the probable designs of the enemy from his preparations.

3) As the defenses consist largely of turrets moved by steam or hydraulic power, a class of men which does not exist in the Army is necessary for the manipulation of the machinery.

4) Seamen are better fitted to take care of works situated at the mouths of rivers and will cooperate more advantageously with the submarine defense.

Similar reasons were advanced for the transfer of all submarine defenses from the Engineer Corps of the Army to the hands of the Navy.

An Imperial Order of March 16, 1886, prescribes the duties of the board of inspection for torpedo affairs of the Navy; and all defenses of ports and harbors are arranged with the approval of the Ministry of Marine. The submarine defense, as then organized, distributed the available torpedo boats to the several districts of the coast, each of which has a torpedo depot; the amount of torpedo armament depends on the extent, importance, and vulnerability of the district.

The garrisons of ports at the principal stations included a torpedo company, recruited from the fleet and the maritime population in the proportions provided for the Naval Artillery ; such a company is also provided for forts at less important points of the coast if a necessity exists for extensive submarine defense.

The plans, designs, and manufacture of all torpedoes was consequently now under the control of the Navy. Planting and removing mines was principally boat work and that seamen perform this duty better than soldiers was shown by the improvement in the exercises and was admitted by both services.

Forty miles due north of strongly fortified Cuxhaven, guarding the mouth of the Elbe and Hamburg, was another torpedo base at the mouth of the Eider in Holstein, a river that is connected with the Kiel canal. Cuxhaven is not the only protection of Hamburg and the Kiel canal. On the south side of that dreadnaught waterway, and between Brunsbuettel and Kudensee, a new naval station costing $8,000,000 had just been finished at the start of the Great War.

Another well-defended point was Swinemunde, at the mouth of the Oder, and the Seagate of Stettin. Here, too, the military looked after the batteries, though the minefields were under naval supervision. Sonderburg, Flensburg, and Eckernförde were naval stations of secondary importance, but all were fortified.

It may be observed that the Baltic coast was not nearly so well defended as the shorter and more intricate North Sea front. There were long stretches of shore without permanent defenses of any sort, but the railway communications were so excellent that within a few hours troops could be rushed to a threatened point in overwhelming strength. Germany, in a word had brought her system of coast defenses to a pitch of perfection which had never been attempted, much less equalled, elsewhere.

In close connection with the navy on the one side and the army on the other are the coast forts. These freed the navy in war for the offensive and protected its bases. They served the army by forcing an enemy to land at unfavorable points and to fight, under the conditions of the defender, for bases necessary to a successful invasion. Germany had no doubts about the use of coast forts and was adding to those already in existence.

By 1910 the scheme of German coast defense naturally divides itself into two parts: 1. That for the Baltic, and 2, that for the North Sea. Since the destruction of the Russian fleet and the talk of war with England, the North Sea defenses had become the more important. Consequently, forts to cover the entrances of all the navigable rivers, - the Ems, Weser, Elbe; and to protect the great fleet base at Wilhelmshaven were found. To prevent the enemy securing a base on the Friesian Islands, which line this coast, forts had been erected on some of these, - Borkum, Wangeroog, Heligoland. Both ends of the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal were protected. This was to the German fleet what the Panama Canal would be to the American fleet. There was no hesitation about fortifying it. Kiel, the principal naval base, was very extensively fortified.

For the purpose of making the approach by sea impregnable, the Germans, if not actually bringing pressure to bear on Holland to fortify her coast, as was suspected, looked at least with great favor on this plan, which would be to their advantage and to the disadvantage of England. With Holland fortified and Belgium neutral, Germany was well protected against an invasion from the sea. By 1914 the artillery brigades were: (1) Friedrichsort, (2) Wilhelmshaven, (3) Lehe, (4) Cuxhaven, (5) Heligoland for the coast defenses. Only the coast fortifications of the harbor of Kiel, at the Elbe, on Heligoland, at the Weser and on the bay of Jade were assigned to the navy, and manned by the navy naval artillery that also laid the mines and manned the torpedo boat batteries, while the fortifications along the coast of Prussia (Memel, Pillau, Neufahrwasser), and the coast of Pomerania (Swinemunde, Stralsund, Rugen), were not subordinate to the navy, but to the foot artillery of the army.

The German coast defenses, especially those at Heligoland, gave a striking example of how an inferior fleet could be protected against a superior force.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:54:39 ZULU