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Kaiser Wilhelm Canal / Kiel Canal

The idea of connecting the Baltic with the North Sea by a water-route which would avoid the dangerous voyage round the peninsula of Jutland first crops out in the 14th century, and various modest attempts were made to solve the problem. Two canals connect the Baltic and North seas through Germany. While the official name of one of the the waterways is the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal the world knows it by the shorter, more familiar name of Kiel Canal, sometimes called North Sea and Baltic Canal.

The Kiel Canal was not the first to give communication between the North and Baltic seas. A small canal was constructed at the end of the 4th century, uniting Hamburg with Lbeck ; and since that time, two other canals had been cut through the peninsula. Denmark's King Christian VII (Schleswig and Holstein were then Danish) built the so-called 'Eiderkanal' - which used large stretches of the river Eider for the link between the two seas. The 43 km long Eiderkanal was completed in 1784 and was part of a 175 km long waterway from Kiel to the Eider mouth at Tnning at the west coast. It was rather narrow and only 29m wide at the surface, the water depth was 3m, but it served its purpose as vessels up to 300 tons could transit and therefore proved to be an important shipping route. The Eider Canal that was intended to provide a shortcut to the Elbe in the event of the corresponding demand. But a canal of this type was simply not big enough to meet the technical demands of the completely different political circumstances of the late 19th century.

A smaller canal known as the Elbe and Trave Canal, with a length of about 41 miles and a depth of about 10 feet, was opened by the Emperor of Germany, June 16, 1900. It was under construction for five years, and cost about 5,831,000, of which Prussia contributed $1,785,000 and the old Hanse town of Lubeck $4,046,000. This canal is the second to join the North Sea and the Baltic, following the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal (or Kiel Canal), built at a cost of $37,128,000. The breadth of the Elbe and Trave Canal is 72 feet; breadth of the locks, 46 feet; length of locks, 261 feet; depth of locks, 8 feet 2 inches. It is crossed by 29 bridges, erected at a cost of $1,000,000. There are seven locks, five being between Lubeck and the Mollner See (the summit point of the canal) and two between Mollner See and Lauenburg-on-the-Elbe. The canal is able to accommodate vessels up to 800 tons burden; and the passage from Lubeck to Lauenburg occupies 18 to 21 hours.

Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was interested in a canal that would lead from the new imperial naval harbour of Kiel to the mouth of the Elbe. Basic differences of political opinion with field marshal Helmut Karl Bernhard von Moltke made it impossible to come to an agreement and the North Sea-Baltic Canal project was shelved. Plans were made for a wider canal, but after decades of fruitless discussions, it took a commercial analysis by the Hamburg shipowner Hermann Dahlstroem to give the project the necessary momentum. Naval interests - the German navy wanted to link its bases in the Baltic and the North Sea without sailing around Denmark - played a key role, but it needed the commercial argument to start the ball rolling.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Canal, built on territory torn from Denmark in 1864, was constructed largely for military and naval purposes, but proved also of value to general mercantile traffic. Rightly or wrongly, the canal was judged by the Germans to be the dominant factor in their naval strategy, and if anything occurred to deprive them of its use the result would be disastrous. The Kiel Canal, unlike the Panama and Suez Canals, does not connect regions of vast traffic.

Work upon the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal, almost at the foot of what is known as the Jutland Peninsula, was begun on 03 June 1887, and opened to traffic on 19 June 1895. The designer was Herr Otto Baensch from the city Zeitz, in Saxony-Anhalt. Up to 8.900 workers were employed in the project, with comparatively well-developed technology such as dredgers and railways they had to struggle with terrain, rivers and ground water as the canal's route brings it to areas 25m above sea level, but also others 3m below. The total excavation amounted to about 100,000,000 cubic yards, and the cost to about $40,000,000. By comparison, the Suez Canal was estimated to have cost $100,000,000 and the Panama Canal had an estimated cost of $400,000,000.

On the Kaiser-Wilhelm Canal, the general method adopted for protecting banks from high wave-wash after much experimenting was to use below water a concrete composed of one part of cement to ten parts of sand (this was found to possess insufficient strength where exposed to the weather above water) and of a thickness of about 1/2 of a foot, while above water a protection of roughly squared riprap or of brick was used. The brick gave quite satisfactory results. It was laid on edge on the graded slopes, with the courses parallel to the canal and in a single thickness ; in many cases a half brick thickness was used and proved equally satisfactory. Wherever this protection was laid on a sandy-bank it was found necessary to first place a bed of gravel or of spalls in order to prevent the wave action from attacking the slope through the crevices between the brick. This bed varied in thickness from 6 inches for a bank of pure sand, to 2 inches for a bank of sandy clay. Where many springs were found the concrete revetment was placed on a bed of gravel for the purposes of drainage, or riprap was used instead of concrete. The concrete, however, was cheaper than the stone, and cost from 72 to 91 cents per square yard.

The length of the canal is 61 miles, the depth was 29.5 feet, the width at the bottom 72 feet, and the minimum width at the surface 190 feet. The canal traverses Schleswig-Holstein through marshes and shallow lakes and along river valleys. The canal takes a generally northeast course about a third of the way, then it turns east, and then southeast, following most of the way the route of an older canal built in 1784, by King Christian VII of Denmark. A total of 7 basins, at various stations, allowed the largest men-of-war to pass one another. At the eastern end, on the Baltic Sea, the terminus is Schonberg, about 4 miles northward of Kiel; the latter is the naval headquarters of the German Empire. At the western end, which opens into the mouth of the Elbe River, is Brunsbuttel, 15 miles above Cuxhaven, near the newer naval base of Wilhelmshaven.

The bottom of the canal is level from the Baltic to Rendsburg, and has a slight downward slope from there to the Elbe, thus producing a gentle current in that direction. The Eider River, entering west of Rensburg, gives a flow toward the North Sea of about 1-10 fresh water, while from Kiel to the mouth of the Eider the water, coming from the Baltic, is salt. This retards freezing until the temperature has lowered below the freezing point of fresh water. The discharge into the Elbe is about 370,000 cubic meters during each low tide.

At both ends of the canal there are two locks - one for entry and the other for exit -- 492 by 82 feet, with 31 to 32 feet of water over sills. The canal crosses the peninsula at sea level although the locks neutralize the tide changes. The locks were arranged to take care of the large tide variations at the western entrance, and the differences and variation of water level in the Baltic, due to gales. The locks at Kiel remained open most of the time, while those at the Elbe were operated only at certain times. On the Elbe end the locks were operated about half the year, while on the Baltic end they remained open about three hundred and forry days each year, due to the small tides.

The canal was lighted with electricity for night- traffic; but the visitor travelling, say, from Hamburg to Kiel, or vice versa, would go by the day boats, as the trip afforded lovely views of hill and dale, lake and woodland. During the passage, which lasted about 13 hours, the traveller would not fail to observe the Kaiser Wilhelm Monument, at the entrance, and the magnificent bridges at Grunthal, Rendsburg and Levensau, which divide the canal into three equal portions. The first and last were remarkable for their dimensions, that at Grunthal having a height of 157 feet, and that at Levensau a span of 540 feet, once the third largest on the continent. The bridge at Rendsburg is a double draw-bridge for railway-traffic.

The saving is 200 miles in the Kattegat passage, and the time of transit occupies from eight to ten hours. By it the passage from various parts of the North Sea is shortened in a more or less degree, according to their positions, while the necessity of passing the intricacies of the Belts in unfavorable weather is avoided. By using it, the notoriously dangerous Skagerrack, between Denmark and Norway, was avoided. The commercial value of the canal chiefly exists in saving mariners from the dangerous voyage around Denmark, the rocky channels and reefs of which, in conjunction with the severe winter storms and ice floes, have been a constant menace to navigation. Within the forty years prior to its opening, three thousand ships had been lost and four thousand ships more seriously injured along this coast. The new canal enabled all vessels of not over ten thousand tons to avoid the dangerous passage.

By means of the canal, the Kaiser's Baltic Fleet, could go to the assistance of the German High Sea Fleet in the North Sea, making the passage in less than sixteen hours. If, on the other hand, it should be necessary, all the Kaiser's ships of war in every waterway of the globe can pass through the canal into the Baltic; where with the North Sea entrance closed, the enemy would be powerless to reach them.

The construction of the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal compelled the British Admiralty, in the event of war with Germany, to divide its North Sea force, one part cruising off the Skagerrack, to the north of Denmark, and the other between the Dogger Bank and Heligoland. Thus the entire battle fleet of Germany, lying securely behind the land defences of the canal, could choose its time and fall in overwhelming strength upon either of the English divisions. That this was the strategic purpose of the Kiel Canal was declared again and again in German publications.

Foreign vessels of war and royal yachts could only enter the canal after permission had been obtained through a diplomatic channel. Steamers may use their own engines in navigating the canal, but at the discretion of the authorities in exceptional cases. Towage was compulsory for sailing vessels if intending to pass right through the canal, whatever their size. Pilotage was compulsory for all vessels, except those which are exempt from compulsory towage. Compulsory pilotage began, for vessels coming from the Elbe, outside the roadstead of Brunsbuttel ; for vessels coming from the Baltic between the lighthouse near Friedrichsort and the canal entrance; and for vessels coming from Kiel, in the road off Holtenau. Pilots generally board vessels when in these positions. Tugs were available at both ends of the canal, but pilots prefered to use the ship's engines.

At the original opening of the Kiel Canal in 1895, a few ships in the American White Squadron took part in the celebration. In the years ensuing the canal became a part of Germany's naval establishment, and German battleships that could take safe refuge in the Baltic were floated in increasing numbers in conscious rivalry to those of England.

A three-screw ship can pass through the Kaiser Wilhelm canal with great ease. It is true that our other ships have passed through it, but the demands upon their management were entirely different. Whoever, for instance, has passed through the canal, first in the Baden and shortly afterward in the Kaiser Friedrich III, must have been impressed with the immense advantage that the three-screw ship has over the two-screw one.

On the Baden the best helmsmen were steering, and in spite of this the officer of the watch had repeatedly to help out with the engines in order to keep the ship on her course. He could not for a single moment withdraw his attention from the steering of the ship, which fact made it necessary for the officers to be relieved every two hours during the passage. The conditions on the Brandenburg class were similar, though somewhat better. It must be added that these ships, and it is probably the case with all twin-screw ships, cannot exceed a certain number of revolutions, determined by experience, otherwise they have a tendency to run away from their rudders and thus cause damage to the banks of the canal by the increased stern wave.

The passages through the canal with the Kaiser Friedrich III were entirely different. She was brought through the locks without any thought of damage to the wing screws. After leaving them, the wing engines were stopped and the center engine proceeded with just as many turns as were necessary for the prescribed speed through the canal. In this way this ship of 11,000 tons went through the canal as easily as a small boat. There was no intense attention by the officers of the watch, no anxious walking hither and thither of the navigator. The engine telegraphs were not touched; quiet and peace prevailed on the bridge. The speed was low for a vessel of such large displacement, and might have been increased with safety without lessening the good steering qualities of the ship, and without injury to the banks of the canal, for there was hardly any stern wave.

The waterway was used by a large number of small vessels and by barges; the traffic for the year ending March 31, 1905, consisted of 32,631 merchant craft, with. The tolls and dues amounted to $616,035. The receipts equalled the operating expenses. The traffic and receipts showed a steady but not rapid gain, the tonnage increase during six years having been from 3,117,840 tons in 1899 to a tonnage of 5,270,477 for 1905, a gain of 69 percent. In 1897-98, 9,396 steamers used the canal; while in 1911-12 the number was 23,778, with an increase in tonnage of nearly 400% ; and the increase in smaller vessels was in the same proportion.

The first battleship of the Dreadnaught class placed in commission by England in 1906 made the Kiel Canal obsolete as an adjunct to warfare because no ship of Dreadnaught dimensions could be passed through its locks. In the Naval Budget of 1908 it was decided by Germany to spend 11,150,000 for the widening of this canal, so that it shall be navigable for 18,000 and 19,000 ton battleships and cruisers. Its rebuilding on a larger scale was immediately undertaken, while the keels of German dreadnaughts were laid down in the years after 1906; but until the enlarged canal was ready for use the power of the German navy was maimed.

Plans for a new naval base at Brunsbuttel, at the western end of the Kaiser Wilhelm canal, were reportedly completed in February 1910 and work was said to have at once begun. It was reported that the canal would be considerably enlarged and the new base would rank with Kiel in importance, but nothing came of these reports.

Battleships of the United States had increased in beam from 76 feet in 1900 (the date of authorization for the Panama Canal) to 80 feet in 1905, 88 feet in 1908, and about 98 feet in 1912; and if this ratio of increase was maintained, the 110 foot limiting beam of the Panama Canal would have been reached in ships authorized in about 1915. In fact, the uncompleted BB-49 South Dakota class of 1920 had a beam of 106 feet, while the fast battleships of the BB-55 North Carolina, BB-57 South Dakota and BB-61 Iowa classes had beams of 108-109 feet.

In his memoirs, Kaiser Wilhelm II wrote " On account of the growth of the fleet it became necessary to widen the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal. After a hard struggle we caused the new locks to be built of the largest possible size, capable of meeting the development of dreadnaughts for a long time to come. There the far-sighted policy of the Admiral was brilliantly vindicated. This found unexpected corroboration by a foreigner. Colonel Goethals, the builder of the Panama Canal, requested through the United States Government permission to inspect the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal and its new locks. Permission was most willingly granted. After a meal with me, at which Admiral von Tirpitz was present, the Admiral questioned the American engineer (who was enthusiastic over our construction work) concerning the measurements of the Panama locks, whereupon it transpired that the measurements of the locks of the Panama Canal were much smaller than those of the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal. To my astonished question as to how that could be possible, Goethals replied that the Navy Department, upon inquiry by him, had given those measurements for ships of the line. Admiral von Tirpitz then remarked that this size would be far from adequate for the future, and that the newer type of dreadnaughts and superdreadnaughts would not be able to go through the locks, consequently the canal would soon be useless for American and other big battleships. The Colonel agreed, and remarked that this was already true of the newest ships under construction, and he congratulated His Excellency upon having had the courage to demand and put through the big locks of the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal, which he had looked upon with admiration and envy."

When finished in 1895 it was 190 feet wide at the surface and 29.5 feet deep. When it was enlarged, it was made 140 feet wide at the bottom, 330 feet wide at the surface and thirty-six feet deep, so the largest warships could pass through. At 10 places it was widened so as to permit ships to pass. In order to interfere as little as possible with navigation, most of the excavation was dry, with excavators and suction machines ; and, in general on one side only of the canal. The earth was removed by rail or on scows, and was dumped in swamps or at sea. The amount of earth remo\rd in the enlargement reached one hundred million cubic meters. In the excavation through swampy ground heavy foundations were laid and dikes built to prevent caving and wash into the canal.

The line of the new canal followed that of the old, except in two places. The radii of all the larger curves are more than 2500 meters - only three having less, these being between 1800 and 2500 meters. Some of the passing places are 300 meters wide, and these permit turning. The lengths of these places vary from 600 to 1100 meters. The old canal was crossed by seven bridges. The new canal has a fixed bridge at Grnental and one at Levensau, a railroad drawbridge and four high fixed wagon bridges at Rensburg, and a wagon bridge at Holtenau.

New locks were built at both ends of the canal, enlarged to be 1,082 feet in length, 148 feet in width, with a depth of water of 39 feet at low water, and 45 feet when the water is at its average height (equivalent to the mean height of the waters of the Baltic). The old locks are retained and can be operated when desired. The new twin locks were 82 feet longer and 37 feet wider than the Panama locks, but the lift was very much less than at Panama. The gates are of heavy framework, filled by horizontal beams, like a Venetian blind, with the faces covered by heavy iron plates on the convex side. Each lock has an interior set of gates, so that a part only need be used. The outside gates are uuilt for pressure from one direction only, while the interior gates resist pressure from both directions. The weight of the gates varies from 700 to 1300 tons, and they are operated by electric motors of 175 H.P. The locks were constructed in concrete, and each had three pairs of sliding caissons, 26 feet wide, dividing the chambers into lengths of 725 and 330 feet. They were estimated to cost 1,050,000. The total cost of reconstructing the canal was approximately $55,000,000. By another estimate the cost of enlargement of the canal was 223 million marks (about 60 million dollars), while the old canal cost 156 million marks.

The formal reopening on June 24, 1914, in the week ending on July 1, 1914, was believed by Germany to be the forerunner of great events.




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