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7 Oberkommando der Marine, 1892–1895

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

When Tirpitz became Chief of Staff to Admiral Max von der Goltz, Commanding Admiral in the Oberkommando der Marine (OK), it was a time of critical uncertainty within all the world’s navies. A generation had passed since the last great naval battle, and a “fog of peace” had descended, analogous to Clausewitz’s famous expression, the “fog of war.”1

By the end of the 1880s confusion reigned in most of the world’s navies about virtually all major strategic, tactical, and technological questions. The last great naval battle had been the Austrian victory over the Italians at Lissa in 1866. It was fought by a potpourri of wooden ships and ironclads, under both sail and steam, using not just artillery but also ramming, a tactic that dated from classical times. Austrian Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff had used a triple line abreast V formation to slam perpendicularly into a larger and more modern Italian fleet that was in line ahead. Execrable Italian leadership complicated any rational analysis of the battle, and it provided only a muddled guide for future development.2

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16 Uncommon Recessional, 1916–1930

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

Tirpitz, upon leaving the RMA, moved from his grand official residence with his wife Marie and daughter Margot to a large flat in Berlin at von der Heydt Strasse 15. His salary as State Secretary had been 45,000 marks, plus 15,000 for office expenses. His pension would be half his salary (22,500 marks).1 His family’s financial situation appeared reasonably secure. The status of his holdings in Alghero, Sardinia, San Remo on the Italian Riviera, and a Paris apartment was uncertain. He also had invested a substantial amount in war bonds,2 and he retained the house at St. Blasien.

Tirpitz’s son, Wolfgang, was a prisoner of war in Britain and was later interned in Holland. Ulrich von Hassell, the husband of daughter Ilse, slowly recovered from the bullet in the heart he had received at the Marne in 1914. His convalescence took place at the Tirpitz home. Unable to resume his diplomatic career for health reasons, in January 1916 he took an administrative position for the government of Prussia at Stettin.3 From then on Hassell served Tirpitz as a political agent and surrogate in dealing with nationalist opposition figures, particularly Wolfgang Kapp.4

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8 On the Verge of Power, 1895–1897

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

When William II became Emperor in 1888, Germany was in the midst of explosive population and economic growth.1 Between 1871 and 1910 the population of the Empire grew from 41 million to 65 million. Urban dwellers more than doubled and the annual population growth was 1 percent, after emigration slowed down in the early 1880s. Coal production grew sevenfold, and iron and steel production even faster, so that by 1900 German industrial power had caught up to that of Great Britain. Globally Germany was second only to the even faster-growing United States. Foreign trade grew alongside industry. Exports of industrial goods and imports, principally foodstuffs and raw materials, became increasingly important to the economy. Burgeoning growth continued in the German merchant marine, although the vast bulk of foreign trade was with other European countries.2

There was a concomitant growth of an industrial working class. The discriminatory three-class voting system within Prussia muted the number of seats of Social Democrats, but in the Imperial Reichstag the Socialist vote rose from 1.4 million in 1890 to 2.1 million in 1898, 27 percent of the total. The geographic distribution of seats, unchanged since 1871, limited Socialist seats to 56 (of 397) in 1898; but the trend of growing legislative representation seemed clear to contemporaries, as frightening to parties of the right as it was heartening to those of the left. The largest single party, the Center, represented Catholic interests and consistently won about 100 seats. Conservatives worried about how these two parties, anathematized by Bismarck as “enemies of the Reich,” would function in the post-Bismarck era.

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13 The Whirlwind Rises, 1908–1911

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

The 1908 Novelle, and the less celebrated but equally important ratcheting up of the ship cost table, was a great victory. Shipbuilding increased at an energetic pace. Money poured in to expand imperial and private shipyards, as well as Krupp’s great armor and artillery forges.

In June 1908 Tirpitz arranged a junket for Reichstag and Bundesrat members. From Danzig to Kiel to Wilhelmshaven, the parliamentarians inspected fortifications and fleet exercises. Tirpitz explained the need for quiet, steady work over the next few years, and radiated confidence that the navy was spending the public’s money efficiently and wisely.1

The 1908 Novelle was a potentially provocative act. Tirpitz tried to soft-pedal it, but he feared that British Conservatives would raise a hue and cry and demand a corresponding expansion of the Royal Navy or, even worse, replay the “Copenhagen” cries heard in 1904–1905.2 Just as threatening for Tirpitz were British diplomatic attempts to limit the arms race.

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1 Introduction

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

On 3 August 1914 gray-clad German troopers crossed the Belgian and Luxemburg frontiers to begin, in that theater, the greatest conflagration Europe had ever seen. Nestled in the fenlands of the North Sea coast, the small, drab German city of Wilhelmshaven overnight became a household word. In its harbor and in the nearby Jade, a lagoon-like body of water, sheltered from the stormy North Sea by a great sand bar, there gathered the most powerful fleet ever assembled in continental Europe, the mighty German High Seas Fleet. Fifteen of the most modern (Dreadnought-type) battleships, soon joined by two more in trials, and four speedy battlecruisers lay poised for an expected Armageddon with the even mightier British Grand Fleet, which then had twenty-two Dreadnoughts and ten powerful battlecruisers.

A few dozen leagues to the north, on the small island of Helgoland, lookouts scanned the horizon in wary anticipation of the British Armada. Smaller warships, based in Helgoland, formed a picket line to the north and west, ready to wireless the alarm.

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