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Kaiserliche Marine Facilities

The two great naval stations of Germany were Wilhelmshaven on Jade Bay on the North Sea, and Kiel on the inlet of the same name near the Baltic entrance of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Canal (opened in 1895), which enabled German war vessels to pass rapidly from one sea to the other and concentrate at any desired point on either coast. The Kiel Canal gave it a wide and deep waterway to a hiding-place in the Baltic. The topography of Denmark, moreover, was almost as great a safeguard to Germany as the canal. Danzig, Cuxhaven and Sonderburg had also been made naval bases.

Of the twenty-four places officially classed in 1914 as fortified bases, stations, or depots of the imperial marine in home waters, nine were on the North Sea coast and thirteen in the Baltic, while the remaining two, Neumnster, in Holstein, and Dietrichsdprf, near Kiel, were situated inland, the first being an important wireless station, and the second an ammunition depot. The German North Sea coastline stretches from the Ems to the Danish frontier, and was about 220 miles in extent. In order of importance, the naval stations were as follows : Wilhelmshaven, Cuxhaven, Heligoland, Emden and Sylt.

The German North Sea coast forms roughly a right angle. Fifty miles out from the great naval base of Wilhelmshaven lay the fortified island of Heligoland, formerly a British possession. The coast of which Heligoland was the vigilant sentinel had a length from Borkum to the mouth of the Elbe of about one hundred miles. Between the Ems and the principal naval base. Wilhelmshaven, on Jade Bay, was a broad peninsula through which runs the Ems-Jade Canal, navigable for destroyers.

Between Wilhelmshaven and Cuxhaven was a bay thirty miles in width, into which the Weser flows. Almost at the Weser's mouth in Bremerhaven, and forty miles up the river lies Bremen. On the Ems at Emden was a torpedo-boat station. Forty miles due north of Cuxhaven and guarding the mouth of the Elbe was another torpedo-base in Holstein at the mouth of the Eider. On the south side of the canal, between Brunsbuttel and Kudensee. was a new naval station that had cost $8,000,000 and had just been finished when the war began. There were abundant shelters for submarines and destroyers all the way from Borkum to the Eider, besides no fewer than three interior waterways giving timely passage when necessary. At Wilhelmshaven, Cuxhaven, and Kiel, the whole German fleet could lie at anchor in safety.

It was obvious that, if the British wished to try fortunes in the Baltic, their fleet would have to be divided and that would be a perilous undertaking. To get to Kiel, British warships would have to traverse the Skagerrak. a deep body of water sixty miles wide, and the Kattegat. another body of water of about the same width, between Denmark and Sweden, and would then have to find their way through the channel of the Great Belt. which could easily be mined by the Germans, or dominated by their torpedo-boats. Even in the wide Kattegat, large warships would have to move cautiously. navigation being difficult. By using mines and submarines in these waters the Germans could obtain a tremendous, almost an insuperable. advantage. A British fleet might get as far as the eastern entrance of the Skagerrak without great risk, for the Skagerrak could not be mined, but beyond those waters every mile of the way could be made to bristle with hidden perils. There seemed, therefore, nothing for the British Navy to do but patrol the North Sea and blockade the German coast. and so be content with bottling up the German fleet.

In the extreme east, Konigsberg belonged to the group of towns that had prospered through over-sea trade, although on account of the shallowness of the Frisches Haff large vessels cannot reach the harbor, and the outport of Pillau on the sand-spit enclosing the lagoon has been built to cany on the trade. The navigable Pregel enabled Konigsberg to serve as a center for distributing goods through the interior of East Prussia, and in winter when the Russian harbors are frozen up, there was great traffic by railway to the Baltic provinces of Russia.

Danzig was not only the great commercial center of West Prussia, but was important as the seaport of Russian Poland, exporting the wood and wheat brought down the Vistula. Stettin is similarly not only the chief seaport of Pomerania but of an extensive hinterland, even to a certain extent serving as the Baltic port of Berlin, since it is the most southerly point which sea-going vessels can reach from the Baltic, and the navigable Oder is linked by canals to all parts of northern Germany, including the Elbe system. Lilbeck, on the Trave, which falls into the head of the Baltic bay, which reaches farthest to the south-west, has since the time of the Hanseatic League been a favourite centre for Baltic trade.

On the North Sea coast the ports were the small Emden at the mouth of the Ems, and the great harbors, Bremen and Hamburg, which in happy rivalry command the whole German trade with America. Bremen had only recently been made accessible to the largest sea-going vessels by the deepening of the lower Weser ; but Hamburg received the greater share of the trade on account of its situation on the of the trade on account of its situation on the most south-easterly inlet of the North Sea where the Elbe allowed of easy anchorage for ships of any draft, and because of the cheap water-transport by which goods can be forwarded to the interior of the country ; so it has become the greatest seaport on the continent of Europe, and realised the benefits of being no longer separated from the rest of the country by a Customs barrier.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:54:41 ZULU