In the late 1920s the German navy was being publicly accused of having provoked, prolonged, and, eventually, lost the war. The naval officer corps itself was divided by a storm of controversy over Tirpitz's memoirs, which had been published in 1919.
German foreign and defense policy during the Weimar and, at least initially, National Socialist regimes was oriented not against Britain but against the threat of a combined Polish and French invasion. Post-Great War German naval policy, prior to the rise of Hitler, was strictly limited to the requirements of a war with Poland, which would likely draw in France against Germany. The German navy was tasked with the protecting East Prussia against French naval intervention. At that time the basic idea of the Naval High Command was to prepare for a short counter-action against any Polish aggression and, by securing of supplies from overseas, also againstFrance. The threat to East Prussia in the event of French naval intervention was clear; without naval protection, Poland could cut the sea route across the Baltic, the only reliable line of supply for East Prussia.
Early ship designs were defensive, not offensive, in nature. Contrary to popular opinion, for instance, some contend that the armored ships (panzerschiffe) of the Deutschland class were designed specifically for this two-front French-Polish scenario. The potential French naval threat was a blockade of German ports by a cruiser squadron, reinforced by a modernized but old battleship: the Deutschland-class ships were intended to break it. The armor-versus-speed argument went on endlessly in all navies, but the notion of increased range that has particular significance. Successive classes of German capital ships showed only negligible improvements in range. The endurance of German battleships tended to be between four and five thousand nautical miles at an operational speed of approximately fourteen knots, as befitted Tirpitz's vision of the theater of operations limited to the North Sea. During the interwar period, before underway refueling was perfected, the limiting factor of onboard fuel capacity caused naval influence to be regarded as regionally isolated, centered upon major bases with fuel bunkers.
On 30 January 1943, Dönitz replaced Erich Raeder as "Commander-in-Chief of the Navy" (Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine) and Grand Admiral (Großadmiral) of ... Grand Admiral Erich Raeder relieved Admiral Zenker in 1928 as Chief of the Admiralty, and Raeder was head of the German navy for an extraordinary fourteen years and four months. In 1939 Hitler promoted Raeder to the rank of grand admiral, the first German to hold this post since Alfred von Tirpitz. Raeder attempted to keep the navy clear of all internal political difficulties, and supported the Nazi regime unflinchingly. He proved merciless against malingerers, deserters, and those who questioned the authority of the Führer.
The German navy of the 1930s was confronted by a classic medium-power naval dilemma. The Kriegsmarine was caught between its own limited capabilities, national maritime tasks, and a limited budget. The limitations of German naval capability were set by national defense policy, which was focused on priorities dictated by the military situation on land. Raeder advocated a balanced fleet, and did not want to concentrate solely on U-boats, as Admiral Karl Dönitz wished, or on a fleet optimized for cruiser warfare.
The three tasks of the German navy were : first, to defend the German coast from enemy naval activity; second, to protect German shipping; and third, to attack with all forces at their disposal the enemy shipping and lines of communication of the Western Allies, to damage them and if possible to paralyze them. These were fundamentally dissimilar and seemingly incompatible missions.
The Navy in 1939 was far inferior in strength to the British Navy alone, and would be no match for the combined fleets of Britain and France. The German Navy had few capital ships, nor did it possess a sufficient number of destroyers to provide escort for the Reich's merchant vessels carrying critical materials from abroad. In the event of war, this meant that the large German merchant fleet would be restricted mainly to the North and Baltic Seas. The German submarine force, though it would soon equal the British in numbers, was much lighter in tonnage, and the range of many of the U-boats was restricted.
By March 1939 the Hannover had been decommissioned and the obsolete battleships Schlesien and Schleswig-FIolstein were being used as cadet training ships. Still armed, the old battleships could be used for secondary naval missions. The battle fleet proper was composed of the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau; the 3 armored cruisers (pocket battleships) ; 2 new heavy cruisers, the Bluecher and Admiral Hipper, displacing 10,000 tons and mounting 8-inch guns; the 6 light cruisers' built during the replacement construction program; 22 destroyers of the Maass and Boeder classes (1,625 and 1,811 tons), with 5-inch guns; and 43 submarines. The U-l through U-24 and the U-56 displaced from 250 to 300 tons and were restricted to the coastal waters of the Baltic and North Seas. The U-25 and U-26 were 712 ton boats, and the U-37 through TJ-39 displaced 740 tons each; these larger submarines were capable of operating as far as mid-Atlantic without refueling. The U-27 through U-36 displaced 500 tons; the U-45, U-4-6, and TJ-51, 517 tons each. These last boats were capable of operations in the North Sea and the waters about the British Isles. Some additional submarines in various' stages of construction would also be ready for operations by the outbreak of hostilities.
The Supreme Naval Command OKM (Oberkommando der Marine - prior to 1935, known as Die Marineleitung), does not have an equivalent in the modern US Navy. The OKM was responsible for administrative and operational matters. The Supreme Commander in Chief of the Navy Ob.d.M (Oberbefehlshaber der Marine - prior to 1935, known as "Chef der Marineleitung") was the senior officer in the navy. This position would be roughly equivalent to the current position in the United States Navy of Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). From 1928 to 1943, the Ob.d.M was Admiral Raeder, Admiral Raeder controlled the fleet, Luftwaffe units attached to the Navy, and shore commands for the Baltic and North Sea coastal regions. The fleet comprised the heavy surface units, submarine arm, and naval reconnaissance forces. The shore commands were responsible for the training units and schools ashore, coast artillery units, arsenals, and other land installations of the Navy.
The Norwegian campaign was the focus of Germany's naval planning in the fall and winter of 1939. The dominance of naval planning derived in part from the precoccupation of the army and air force with the preparations for the invasion of the Low Countries and France.The navy the planners concluded that fast warships of the German fleet could be used a stroop transports for part of the assault force. This use of the surface fleet would overcomethe range limitations on air transport andallow for the simultaneous occupation the numerous points on the Norwegian coast, including Narvik. The Kriegsmarine torn between realistic assessments of its position, and wildly optimistic dreams of success to be achieved by magnetic mines or pocket battleships. This uncertainty contributed to the genesis of Operation Weser. Initial German hopes of preserving Scandinavia's neutrality were overcome by Admiral Erich Raeder's ambitions for Norwegian bases for his U-boats. Raeder convinced Hitler, and the Wehrmacht once again proved its operational virtuosity in April 1940. But the grievous German surface vessel losses in the Norway operation essentially eliminated the chances for their further cooperation with submarines.
Combined navy-Luftwaffe actions were at best poor, and on occasions appallingly bad. Operations in October and November 1939 and February 1940 clearly exposed the poor preparation and attention to the demands of air and sea cooperation. This was exemplified by Luftflotte 5's operations in the Norwegian theater, which included fratricidal sinking of the German destroyers Maass and Schultz, British reconnaissance planes flying unhindered over Narvik, and the poor support of operations by the Tirpitz by the Luftwaffe.
Adolf Hitler grew increasingly disillusioned with the performance of the German Navy and after the Luetzow and Admiral Hipper failed to stop a large Arctic convoy he accused his commander of incompetence. Raeder resigned in January 1943, and was replaced by Karl Doenitz as Commander in Chief of the navy. On 30 January 1943, Dönitz replaced Erich Raeder as "Commander-in-Chief of the Navy" (Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine) and Grand Admiral (Großadmiral) of the Naval High Command (Oberkommando der Marine).
Raeder has been accused of attempting to formulate strategy like his predecessor Tirpitz, without weighing national goals, interests, threats, or strategies, seeing the fleet largely as an isolated entity, detached from grand strategic planning. An American historian writing in 1940 felt that Raeder and his subordinates suffered from an atrophy of strategic thought. The collective assessment implied that interwar German naval leaders learned nothing from the Great War, and directed all of their energy toward preparing for another major fleet engagement against the Royal Navy. Criticism extended to the capital acquisition plans and operational concepts employed by the Kriegsmarine during the Second World War. One of the most damaging such attacks accuses the Germans of having no coherent concept of operations: "The important decisions on warship construction were changed several times and were not based on a detailed, structurally well-thought-out plan." In this view, the German admiralty had not even a modicum of strategic sense in the handling of capital ships; for instance, Bismarck should have been held in reserve until Tirpitz was operational, at which point these two battleships should have been used together with the battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and an aircraft carrier.
Neither Raeder nor Doenitz harbored any illusions about the naval superiority of the British fleet, or the vulnerability of the German surface ships due to geography and lack of basing in the Atlantic. Both wanted to avoid a naval strategy which relied on a fleet to fleet, Mahanian battle, which would pit them against the superior surface fleet and growing air superiority of the British.
Raeder's often-quoted fatalistic declaration that the German surface forces were so weak that they could "do no more than show that they know how to die gallantly and thus are willing to create the foundations for later reconstruction" is overused and overplayed. The postwar writings senior members of the wartime German naval staff assessment was that German strategy and operations were consistent with the tasks of the navy and its resources. They refute repeatedly the notion that the German navy was designed or organized for a classic Mahanian naval confrontation with the Royal Navy.
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