The German navy was the navy of the German Empire and not of any of its constituent kingdoms or states. Its members took the oath ot allegiance to the emperor and it flew the colors of the empire, Article 52 of the constitution of the German Empire states: "The navy of the empire is a unit under the command of the emperor. Its organization and structure is in the hands of the emperor." Since March 1899 the emperor had himself been in chief command of the navy.
The Kaiser was supreme commander of the navy in law as well as in fact. An "Admirals' Staff of the Navy" (Admiralstab der Marine), with a staff commander at its head, had its seat in Berlin, and is immediately subordinate to the Kaiser, as are also the commanding officers of the naval stations, the commanding officers of the squadrons, and the Inspector of Naval Instruction. The administration of naval affairs was entirely distinct from what one might call the "hierarchy of command" in the navy itself. This administration was carried on under the control of the Imperial Naval Office (Reichsmarineamt), at the head of which is a Secretary of State. The office was under the immediate control of the Imperial Chancellor, who was responsible for its acts. All naval officers and naval officials were appointed by the Kaiser. Officers and officials, as well as the men in naval service, took the oath of allegiance to the Kaiser, not, as in the army, an oath of obedience merely incorporated in the primary oath of allegiance to the ruler of the State to which the individual belongs.
Naval service, therefore, was imperial service. No symbols indicating the supremacy of the particular States were recognized there. No ship floated any but the imperial flag. The standard of a State had no place at the masthead. All the apparatus of the navy, the fleet, the naval harbors, the docks and yards, etc., belonged to the Empire. The naval fiscus was an imperial fiscus. The naval budget was part of the imperial budget. It was fixed and administered only by organs of the Empire. In the sphere of naval activity the individual States had no share, nor had the individual State a right to a sea force of its own. On the sea the armed force of the Empire was that of a unitary State.
Kaiser Wilhelm II insisted on building a formidable German navy. Why, he argued, should Britain alone dominate the seas? The British were building a new class of battleship, the powerful Dreadnoughts. Germany, the kaiser declared, should have them too. The German fleet was ordered to double in size. Wilhelm's motives had more to do with gaining respect and a mutual alliance than military advantage. "We ought to form an Anglo-German alliance," the kaiser had written as part of a speech (which his advisers removed) on leaving England after his grandmother's funeral: "You keep the seas while we would be responsible for the land. With such an alliance not a mouse could stir in Europe without our permission."
"The image which danced before Wilhelm's eyes as the most wonderful prospect for the future was to see himself at the head of a great, a very great, German fleet starting out on a peaceful visit to England. At the heights of Portsmouth the English sovereign at the head of his high seas fleet would await the German Kaiser. The two fleets would file past one another; each of the sovereigns standing on the bridge of their respective flag ships wearing the naval uniform and decorations of the other. Then following the obligatory embraces and kisses, a gala dinner with splendid speeches would be held at Cowes." -- Bernhard Furst von Bulow, Memoirs
The British saw it differently. "The German Emperor is aging me," wrote Lord Grey. "He is like a battleship with steam up and screws going, but with no rudder, and he will run into something some day and cause a catastrophe." Britain declared it would build two ships for every German battleship. An arms race at sea was under way.
The German navy was a force which was hampered by few traditions. It existed with one object only - to fight and to win. One feature of the German ships at the beginning of the 20th Century was that there was no wood to be holystoned, and no brass work to be polished by the crews. From end to end of the ships there is no gleam from a square inch of metalwork, brass, or steel. The weather decks are laid with a light reddish colored cement, which can be cleansed easily by the turning on of a hose. The cement will not splinter or ignite under gunfire, and nothing can look smarter than this hard and even material. There are very few wooden fittings, and though the insides of the cabins are made of wood, these could be cleared away in a few hours before going into action. The comfort of the crews is considered more than in British ships. The vessels are ventilated mechanically in hot weather, and heated in cold weather by pipes that run everywhere. There are baths for the officers, and for the men numerous hand-basins with water laid on in comfortable airy spaces. The food is good, is supplied in excellent quality and in ample quantity. The men have a different diet every day, and enjoy their meals; nor do they need to supplement their rations at the canteen out of their own pockets.
The same general rules that prevail respecting the liability of German subjects to service in the army applied also to service in the navy. The entire seafaring population of the Empire, including machinists and ship laborers, was liable for naval service. Those who were liable to service in the navy were exempt from liability in the army. Further, the obligation to serve in the land forces of a State was fulfilled by service in the navy. Service with the fleet corresponded to service in the active army, while service in the naval reserves was equivalent to service in the land defence.
Soon after the accession of Emperor William a new spirit made itself manifest among the officers as a result of imperial favoritism. The consequence was that the naval officer tried to get rid of everything that tended to weaken his influence and prestige, and in the course of years the warrant officer was.gradually ousted from his old position and reduced to the same level as the men. The connecting link was thus broken. Moreover, sea-men no longer aspired to warrant rank, which had ceased to mean a desirable career, and in the last years before the war all the best and most efficient men had cut loose from the service as soon as their time was up. Even between themselves and the so-called "specialist" officers, such as engineers, paymasters,' etc., the executive officers had created a wide gulf both socially and in the service. By the outbreak of war the executive branch had constituted itself an hermetically-sealed corps. Working exclusively for their own interests, they cared nothing for the welfare of those subordinate to them, and were blind and deaf to the grievances of the men. The executive officer soon came to be regarded by the men as the embodiment of ignorance, pride, and arrogance, and in these circumstances it is not surprising that they eventually lost all confidence in their appointed leaders, regarding them with feelings of hatred and bitterness.
The enormous cost of building,supplying, and crewing the fleet had been borne only grudgingly by both the German army and the public. After the loss of Blücher at the Battle of the Dogger Bank, Admiral Tirpitz and his Risk Theory (Risikogedanke) became the object of increasing criticism from many quarters. The inactivity of the High Seas Fleet and the mounting effect of the British "hunger blockade" were having disquieting effects. Wolfgang Wegener argued that the strategic-defensive orientation of the Risk Theory was invalid, in that it did not threaten theprincipal British vulnerability, maritime trade. Wegener accused the wartime leadership with committing the fleet to battle in pursuit of tactical victories that, having no strategic consequence, were meaningless.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|