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Kaiserliche Marine Shipbuilding

YardLocationStaff, 1912
Imperial Yards
Private Yards
Blohm & Voss Hamburg9,000
Germania Kiel5,600
Howaldt Kiel 3,500
Reiherstiegs Hamburg2,800
Schichau Danzig & Elbing8,000
Vulcan Stettin & Hamburg13,000
Weser Bremen5,000
Commercial Yards
Bremer VulkanBremen2,600
22 other smaller yards10,000
An important factor in modern sea-power is the building capacity and facilities of the country. The most serious competitors British shipbuilders had were those of Germany. The German industry was of comparatively modern growth, and it was not more than a few years since all the large steamers required by German owners were built in Great Britain. All the early steamers of the Hamburg- Amerika Linie and also of the Norddeutscher Lloyd were constructed there, but in the early 1870s, owing to the patriotism of a Secretary of State for the Navy in encouraging the construction of warships in German yards, shipbuilding was taken up in earnest and by the 1890s there were shipyards in Germany capable of turning out steam-ships in every respect equal to the best that British establishments can produce.

The development of Germany's shipping and shipbuilding had a double bearing. On the one hand, the growth of her mercantile marine increased the stake which she has floating on the water, already very large in the shape of the 70 percent of her total foreign trade that is sea-borne ; on the other hand, the evolution of her shipbuilding industry touched very closely the question whether she can place herself in a position to defend those maritime interests against all possible foes, and so become the dominant naval Power of the world.

For nearly twenty years after the general adoption of iron construction, practically every important addition to the German mercantile marine came from the United Kingdom. The 1870s witnessed the first considerable spurt in German shipbuilding, which in the succeeding decade finally broke with its old traditions and passed over to the use of iron as building material. The Imperial yards at Kiel and Wilhelmshaven laid down their first ironclads in 1869, and in 1875 the works at Dillingen, later a branch of the vast Krupp establishment, commenced the manufacture of armour plating, for which they were subsequently to become famous. About the same period the Vulcan works secured orders from China for two armored vessels and three protected cruisers, and the Schichau yard, at Elbing, made its name by the construction of torpedo craft, which it subsequently supplied to practically every navy in the world, with the exception of those of Great Britain and France.

Simultaneously the German yards came to the front with the construction of large passenger liners. The first vessels of this class to be built in Germany were ordered by the Hamburg-America Company from the Vulcan and Reiherstieg yards in 1882, and they were soon followed by the first half-dozen mail-boats of the Norddeutscher Lloyd. An attempt to rival the swift British liners was made in 1888 with the Augusta Viktoria, and less than ten years later the same owners and builders captured the blue riband of the Atlantic with the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, which, with its 22 knots speed, remained unchallenged till the Cunard Line, with the assistance of substantial and direct State subsidies, won it back with the Mauritania and Lusitania.

Numerous private shipyards existed on the German coast, especially of those which were of most importance to the Imperial Navy. Herr Schichau's Works at Elbing and Danzig had become particularly well known through supplying nearly all the torpedo-boats for the German Navy and a large number of such boats for foreign Navies. They had moreover built for the Imperial Navy some of the smaller- sized older vessels, as well as the new third-class cruiser Gefion. In his newly established shipyard at Danzig, Herr Schichau generally built large transatlantic merchant vessels.

Probably the most considerable of the German shipbuilding establishments was the Vulcan Ship and Engine-Building Company, Ltd., at Bredow, near Stettin, which had an excellent reputation on account of its success in the construction of transatlantic passenger and freight steamers. The Preussen, the first ironclad entrusted by the German Naval authorities to a German private firm, was built at this yard, and afterwards in quick succession a large number of other war-vessels were turned out, among which may be mentioned the battleships Sachsen and "Wurttemberg, the cruisers Stein, Stosch, Carola, Olga, and Irene, the battleships Oldenburg, Brandenburg, and Weissenburg, the Imperial yacht Hohenzollern, and the despatch-boat Komet. The Vulcan Company has built a number of battleships, protected cruisers, and torpedo-boats, and had some vessels in hand for the Chinese Navy.

Messrs. Blohm and Voss and the Reiherstieg Werft yard at Hamburg, which were well known for the construction of merchant vessels, had been entrusted with a few new vessels as well as with repairs for the German Navy. The former constructed for their own use the largest floating dock in existence, which would be of special value for docking the large battleships of the Imperial Navy. The Weser Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, of Bremen, built the nine armoured gunboats of the Wespe class, as well as the Brummer and Bremse, the fourth-class battleships Beowulf and Prithjof, and the despatch-vessel Hela.

The "Germania " Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, formerly the Norddeutsche Werft, at Gaarden, near Kiel, was taken over by the firm of Krupp, of Essen. This shipyard had built for the German Navy the despatch- vessels Blitz, Greif and Meteor, and quite a number of vessels and engines of old type, as well as the second-class cruisers Prinzess Wilhelm and Kaiserin Augusta, the fourth-class battleship Siegfried and the battleship Worth. The "Germania " yard also built, with great success, torpedo-boat destroyers and torpedo- boats for foreign Navies, amongst others for the Turkish and the Brazilian Navy. At the "Germania " engine-works, which were located at Tegel, near Berlin, the engines of 13,000 horse-power for the Ersatz Friedrich der Grosse, and those of 10,000 horse-power for a second-class cruiser were built. These engine-works were transferred to Gaarden, where some extensions of the shipyard were in progress, on which account these works deserved special notice.

The growth of the war-shipbuilding industry in Germany kept pace with every movement towards a higher standard of naval power. The remarkable character of this expansion of the country's resources was revealed by Count von Reventlow in an article which he contributed to the Marine Number of Cassier's Magazine published in December 1911. In 1890 German public opinion congratulated itself on the determination of their Government to rely no longer even on ships' plates manufactured in England, but to insist on German ships being built in the Fatherland of German materials.

The resources of the three Imperial yards, which had been greatly extended from time to time, were in keeping with the development which the navy has undergone in recent years. By 1912 the Imperial yard at Kiel had two large slips and a small one for torpedo-boats, six floating docks, and six dry docks. The yard at Wilhelmshaven had two large slipways, five floating docks, with four small ones for torpedo-boats, and seven dry docks. At Dantzig there was a comparatively small slipway, three horizontal slips, a docking-basin, and two floating docks. This yard was gradually being devoted to submarines. The Imperial yards were generally confined to repairs, yet they were designed on the principle that they shall possess a sufficient power of output so as to prevent private yards from being in a position to fix the prices at which war vessels should be built, and they had shown themselves equal to the occasion, and were by no means behind private establishments.

With regard to the ability of Germany to accelerate her rate of construction, Between 1906 and 1912 throughout Germany extraordinary energy had been devoted to the increase of all resources bearing upon shipbuilding. In this respect private enterprise had been fostered by the Government, and the principal firms engaged in the construction of warships by 1912 were : F. Schichau, at Danzag and Elbing ; the Vulcan Company, with yards at Stettin and Hamburg ; the Germania Yard and the Howaldt firm, Kiel ; Messrs. Blohm & Voss, Hamburg ; and the Weser Company at Bremen. The principal shipbuilding firms of Germany - the Weser Company at Bremen, and the Vulcan Company at Stettin - stated that as of 1912 each could build and deliver two battleships and two armoured cruisers in thirty months. In addition to these firms there were a number of private shipbuilding yards that had not yet undertaken the construction of warships, but were quite capable of doing so. The Krupp Company held the monopoly for the supply of ordnance and armor, and to meet the growing demand of an increasing naval programme the works increased their capacity, and were able to supply the component parts of eight battleships per annum.

In 1903 an attempt was made to establish a big yard at Emden, where, with the assistance of the municipality, the Nordseewerke were founded. The original capital was M. 2,100,000; but this proved altogether insufficient, and in 1907 a committee appointed to advise what could be done to keep the undertaking going recommended that an additional M. 2,200,000 was absolutely necessary. This was raised by shareholders' contributions and the renunciation by the creditors of a portion of their claims ; but these efforts to place the yard on a sound footing were unavailing, and it was sold by auction for M. 53,000 to the big coal-dealing firm of Hugo Stinnes.

Another ship-building undertaking which was unable to keep its head above water was the Eider yard, of Tonning, which, after various abortive attempts to amalgamate it with the Howaldt and other companies, went into liquidation in 1909.

In the winter of 1905-06 - that is to say, just before the era of the Dreadnought battleship) - Count Ernst Reventlow, the well-known writer on naval topics, circularized the German yards that up to that time had built capital warships, with an enquiry as to the speed at which they could construct such vessels and the number they could complete annually. The replies received may be summarized as under : Up to the present Germany has never laid down more than four capital warships in one year, so that at the date of Count Reventlow's investigation, without the co-operation of the Imperial yards at Wilhelmshaven, Kiel, and Dantzig, her private industry would, as was stated in the reply of the Schichau firm, have been able to turn out such vessels at a rate which would have been three times the Empire's past maximum production. It could, in fact, according to these figures, which which must, however, be accepted with some reserve, have kept up a speed of construction twice as great as that which Great Britain would be compelled by the German Navy Law to maintain for all future time if the two-keels-to-one standard were to be observed.

It should, however, be mentioned that the undertakings given to Count Reventlow by some of the yards were conditional upon the prompt delivery of armor plating and heavy guns by Krupps, who so far had furnished the German Navy with its entire requirements of these two essential articles of warship equipment. This Krupp monopoly was undoubtedly a weak spot in Germany's warship-building arrangements, and especially since the able race which developed the great works at Essen has become extinct in the male line and the undertaking is managed solely by what are in fact, if not in name, salaried officials. And yet, however, there is no reason to doubt the quality of Krupp workmanship or the capacity of the establishment, in case of need, to supply guns and armor for a much larger number of battleships and large cruisers than Germany has any immediate intention of building.

In the summer of 1912, when a distinct revival had already set in, it was complained in the German Press that shipbuilding was altogether in a parlous state, and that companies like the Vulcan, of Stettin and Hamburg, which continued to pay substantial dividends, were enabled to do so only by the profits of their general engineering business. It was urged that the only means by which German shipbuilding could be saved was a comprehensive trust, or, at any rate, an amalgamation into several large groups, which would have no difficulty in coming to agreements, as necessity arose, to prevent underbidding in the home market. Rumors of secret rebates granted to the German shipbuilders by the manufacturers of their materials suggest also that the yards do not work under the same economic conditions as other branches of industry, but are rather privily favoured at their expense.

An extensive strike movement, begun in the last days of January 1918, was brought to an early end by the military authorities. In Hamburg and Altona about 20,000 workmen employed in the principal shipyards (Vulcan; Blohm & Voss; Reiherstieg; Stiilcken & Sohn; Jansen & Schmilinsky) went on strike January 28, demanding an increase in the potato ration and in wages, better treatment of workers on the part of the foremen, a shorter work day, and suppression of illicit trade in foodstuffs. The workmen declared also that they were not willing to suffer any longer for the sake of annexations or doubtful indemnities, but demanded a peace based on conciliation. The commanding general placed the shipyards under military rule, and the strike collapsed.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:54:49 ZULU