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Kiel Canal

The world`s busiest artificial waterway, the KIEL-CANAL (known in Germany as the NORD-OSTSEE-KANAL) runs for almost 100 km right through Schleswig-Holstein - from Brunsbttel to Kiel-Holtenau - and links the North Sea with the Baltic. The Kiel Canal is not the first to give communication between the North and Baltic seas. A small canal was constructed at the end of the 14th century, uniting Hamburg with Liibeck; and since that time, two other canals had been cut through the peninsula.

The first Kiel Canal was opened in June 1895. Since that time the constant increase in tonnage of the vessels using the waterway, made it necessary to enlarge it, especially for vessels of war. Its military importance is that of maintaining supremacy both in the Baltic and on the German coasts of the North Sea by a short route; and the allied French and English fleet, though about twice the strength of the German navy, would have to pass around the Danish peninsula to blockade both ends of the line.

The Canal was built in the years 1887-95 at a cost of 7,800,000, but its dimensions were too narrow. It was proposed to enlarge and make it navigable to the largest ships. The reconstruction was begun in 1907 and completed only a few weeks before the outbreak of the Great War. English warships were present at the festivities which accompanied the formal opening of the new waterway. The Canal was exceedingly well built. The walls are so solidly made that ships may pass through at great speed. They may steam through at the rate of ten miles per hour, but in war time they would probably be allowed to increase that speed. The locks are few and extremely roomy.

The Canal itself was very wide. It had a considerable number of passages of double width, where ships going in different directions may pass each other, and it had four turning basins which have a width of more than 900 ft. at the bottom, where the largest ships may turn. Thus a fleet may enter the Canal from the west, and, instead of emerging at the Kiel opening, return and leave the Canal by the western entrance while the enemy is racing round Skagen to the Baltic.

Close to the Elbe mouth is the second important German war harbor, Wilhelmshaven, and a little further to the west lies the subsidiary naval port of Emden. As numerous sandbanks lie in front of the North Sea shore, ships unacquainted with the intricate channels will find it dangerous to approach the coast, especially as these are protected by very powerful fortifications. Sheltered by sandbanks and enormous guns, a German squadron lying at Kiel can easily and almost unnoticed slip through the Kiel Canal and enter Wilhelmshaven, and vice versa. Almost unnoticed, too, German fleets may effect a junction.

A naval Power at war with Germany must observe the two principal war harbors. It must divide its ships, placing part in front of Wilhelmshaven and part either in front of Kiel or at a convenient spot in the Skager Rack or Kattegat, whence the passages leading through the Danish archipelago may be watched. The two watching squadrons are, of course, exposed to the danger of allowing one of the German squadrons to slip out unnoticed and join the other by passing through the Canal. If they should succeed in such an attempt they would be able to fall on one of the observing squadrons in their united strength.

The enlargement of the Kiel Canal cost 11,000,000. Altogether, the cost of the Canal came to about 19,000,000 as much as ten Dreadnoughts. In view of the great strategical importance, the Kiel Canal was certainly worth the outlay. It was a most potent instrument for the naval defense of Germany. It was almost as important to the defense of Germany as the Panama Canal was to the defense of the United States.

The Kiel Canal and the Danish islands, with their numerous tortuous channels, enabled Germany to play the game of hide-and-seek with a strong naval opponent, such as the Royal Navy. Besides, they strengthen very greatly Germany's position in the Baltic. Whereas Russia must send her ships through the Skager Rack and Kattegat, Germany can pass them quickly and safely through the Canal. Last, but not least, the Canal converted the Baltic and the North Sea into a single sea as far as Germany goes. Kiel was an enormous harbor, but it lay on the Baltic, while Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea was too small. The Kiel Canal transferred the harbor of Kiel to the North Sea.

Germanys greatest commercial harbors, Hamburg and Bremen, may be said to be protected by the enormous guns in the fortifications which shelter the Elbe mouth of the Canal and by the island of Heligoland, which was a colossal fort in the midst of the sea in front of the Elbe mouth with Hamburg, of the Weser mouth with Bremen, and of Wilhelmshaven. The combination of the Canal with the great war harbors on either side and the strongly fortified rocky island in front were great assets for Germanys defense.

Commercially, also, the Kiel Canal was of great importance and value. In 1896 19,960 ships of 1,848,458 tons passed through the Canal. By 1900 the number of ships had increased to 29,045, and the tonnage to 4,282,094. In 1913 the Canal was used by 53,382 ships of 10,349,929 tons. How enormous is the traflic passing through the Canal may be seen from this it is half as large as the traffic passing through the Suez Canal.

The making was effected regardless of expense. Therefore the Canal may be considered to be a model undertaking. Its generous dimensions may be seen from the fact that the Canal has a depth of 45 ft., that its width at the bottom is 140 ft., and its width at the water edge 310 ft. The locks of the Kiel Canal (one on each end) are 1,082 feet long, 144 feet wide and 45 feet deep. The locks of the Panama Canal are 1,000 feet long, 100 feet wide and 40 feet deep. The Kiel Canal locks will pass craft (particularly military craft), which are broader in the beam, than the Panama Canal. Evidently the waterway can be used not only by the largest Dreadnoughts then existing, but also by liners of 50,000 tons and more. It was a monument of German engineering and German thoroughness.

As the Canal had to be made very largely in marshy ground, the work was exceedingly difficult. Before its construction many engineers believed that the nature of the ground made its construction impossible. It was scarcely a paying undertaking. Its income amounted in round numbers to 50,000 in 1896, and to 235,000 in 1912. The whole income of the Canal is, then, only equal to a return of 1 percent on the capital invested. Therefore the expenditure on the Canal was far larger than the interest derived from it. The dues had to be kept low, because the saving in time eflected by the Canal was not very great. After all, the Canal was not built on economic, but on strategic grounds, and its strategical value cannot be doubted.




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