Kaiser skips his navy

Admiral Beez

1st Lieutenant
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Oct 21, 2019
Toronto, Canada
I wonder how the air war during WW1 would have gone, had in the late 1890s Wilhelm II told Tirpitz we don't need to antagonize the British by building a battlefleet. Instead, let's follow the examples of our Baltic and Dutch cousins and focus on coastal defence vessels, plus protected cruisers for our colonies. And now, instead of a battlefleet, let's focus on building the strongest economy and advanced engineering and manufacturing industry in the world, 2nd only to the US. Oh, and build the largest and most technologically advanced army in the world so that if the time comes, we can roll over France and Russia… but to keep our British cousins happy, always stay out of Belgium. By the 1910s this would have led to the Germany’s introduction of warplanes. In 1914 when France and Russia declare war, the Luftwaffe might not have to face the RAF at all.
 

ThomasP

Tech Sergeant
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3,019
Apr 17, 2017
midwest USA
I think this is too much of a What-If. The reason I say that is if the German government had been capable of making a reasoned decision like that they would have been smart enough not to engage in the war, unless attacked by the UK or France which I do not see happening in those circumstances.

Also, pre-WWI US industry was a distant second to the UK, France, and Germany. The only reason we were able to contribute in a big way (in the way we did) to WWI was due to our population base, resource base, and the fact that we did not enter the war until 1918 - which together allowed us to build up our manufacturing to a level close to that of the Big Three European nations. Our manufacturing methodology was the same as the industrialized European nations - pre-war and post-war.
 

wlewisiii

Staff Sergeant
874
2,368
Mar 5, 2009
in 1887 then Prince Willhelm went to the Jubilee review. The sense of jealousy that inspired combined with the sense of inferiority due to his arm and the mental issues from the birth hypoxia pretty much made him putty in Tirpitz's hands. The only way the naval arms race didn't happen is if Wilhelm was out of the picture.
 

Shortround6

Major General
19,778
11,760
Jun 29, 2009
Central Florida Highlands
A big problem with these what ifs is that they assume that if the Germans (or pick another pair of nations) are smart and do what is suggested ( cut navel spending to the bone) that the British will continue on their merry way sinking the treasury with vast navy that the British don't have a real need for. The British won't stop, they have vast overseas empire to protect but they sure don't need the number of capital ships, Light cruisers and destroyers they did build.
The British had for years (decades) tried to use the 2 fleet standard. The British fleet would match any other 2 fleets in the world.
If Germany gives up then Britain only needs to match the 34d and 4th biggest navies. A major savings.
 

GreenKnight121

Senior Airman
401
638
Mar 16, 2014
I wonder how the air war during WW1 would have gone, had in the late 1890s Wilhelm II told Tirpitz we don't need to antagonize the British by building a battlefleet. Instead, let's follow the examples of our Baltic and Dutch cousins and focus on coastal defence vessels, plus protected cruisers for our colonies. And now, instead of a battlefleet, let's focus on building the strongest economy and advanced engineering and manufacturing industry in the world, 2nd only to the US. Oh, and build the largest and most technologically advanced army in the world so that if the time comes, we can roll over France and Russia… but to keep our British cousins happy, always stay out of Belgium. By the 1910s this would have led to the Germany’s introduction of warplanes. In 1914 when France and Russia declare war, the Luftwaffe might not have to face the RAF at all.
Hint: In the 1890s Germany had a larger and more-advanced engineering & manufacturing industrial complex than the US.

The US was still importing a significant percentage of its train wheels/axles and rail from Germany at that time (US industry not being able to produce the quantities required for the rail expansion going on), and Germany's warships were fully equal (if not superior, particularly their armor quality) in design and construction with the USN's.

The overall US economy was NOT superior to Germany's or France's at the time.
 

WARSPITER

Staff Sergeant
861
1,665
Oct 23, 2007
Germany had the aim of being a World Power which at the time given the non existence of air power meant
naval power. Overseas interests required a navy strong enough to back them up.

The bad move came when it was decided that a navy 2/3 the size of the Royal Navy would be enough to stop
blockades and service overseas requirements. It spawned a naval arms race which Germany had already lost
before it started.

A larger merchant fleet with a closer relationship (economic) between Germany and Britain would have been the best
way to go for everyone rather than getting ready for a sea war they would lose - but - stoopid is as stoopid does.
 

mikemike

Airman
71
68
Jun 30, 2007
I think you're overlooking what happened around Germany at the time. It was obvious that France was eager to revenge the defeat of 1870/71, and France had a bigger fleet than Germany at the time. Britain, indeed, at the time saw France as the most likely enemy in a future war. And, to the East, there was the Russian Empire, also with a big fleet, bigger than the German fleet until 1905. After the defeat against Japan, Russia aggressively expanded its fleet, especially in the Baltic (although that is beyond the timescale here discussed). So there was good reason for Germany to have a viable battle fleet to protect its coasts and its trade routes..

As to the rivalry with Britain, of course the expansion of the German Navy didn't help, but all that was needed to earn British hostility was to rival Britain economically, scientifically and technologically (which Germany did, overhauling Britain on all sectors hand-over-fist; in 1914 Germany produced 25% more steel than all of the British Empire combined). So years before the war, there was a growing desire in certain circles (Churchill!) to remove Germany as competitor by force. That had worked with the Dutch in the 17th/18th century - that conflict had started because of the size of the Dutch merchant fleet and its profits. So, Warspiter, a larger merchant fleet would have been seen as just as big a threat as a large navy. Britain had no real reason to declare war on Germany in 1914 (Britain never respected anyone's neutrality, and a German invasion of Britain was as realistic as a flight to the moon at the time) except the eagerness of the Subdue Germany crowd, so Churchill and his cronies got their wish (at the cost of millions of British dead) and achieved their objective, at least temporarily, but also started the end of the British Empire.

And when discussing Wilhelm II. , it is useful to remember he was half British (he was Queen Victoria's favorite grandson, indeed she died in his arms), he spent summers with his grandmother on the Isle of Wight, seeing the majesty of the Royal Navy, so he was of course bitten by the Navy Bug at an early age.
 
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WARSPITER

Staff Sergeant
861
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Oct 23, 2007
there was a growing desire in certain circles (Churchill!) to remove Germany as competitor by force
By all means post the actual proof that Churchill had such a desire while at the same time taking into account that Churchill
did all he could to avert such an outcome.

Also note that steel production does not equate to ship production - Britain's ship building capacity outstripped Germany easily.

It was also Germany's decision to engage in expansion of their fleet, not Britain's. Russia enters a rebuilding program after 1905
as so much was lost during the Russo Japanese conflict, including most of the Baltic fleet. France and Russia had fleets not to
attack Germany but to defend their own territories and overseas interests (how any navy can be said to be built to invade Germany I don't
know - you generally need ground forces for that).

Britain required a strong navy for it's actual survival. Germany did not.
 

GreenKnight121

Senior Airman
401
638
Mar 16, 2014
Well, here is a historic document relating directly to the issue of the UK and Belgium - it clearly shows that in 1908 the UK position was pretty much 'oppose Germany even if it means letting France violate Belgium's neutrality'! It also shown that the UK would look on a German violation of Belgian neutrality with great displeasure, and would probably intervene militarily.


Sir Edward Grey, was a British statesman and the main force behind British foreign policy in the era of the First World War - being Foreign Secretary from 1905-1916.
 

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  • 1908 Memorandum RESPECTING BELGIAN NEUTRALITY.doc
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mikemike

Airman
71
68
Jun 30, 2007
I may have overstated the extent to which Churchill was the driving antagonist to Germany, but he was an important member of the imperialistically-thinking group around Grey, who were eager to intervene on the continent on behalf of France, even if they were not always certain if Russia was not a bigger threat than Germany. As far as Churchill did all he could to avert such an outcome, in the Cabinet meeting on August 1st, Churchill is described as "very bellicose, demanding immediate mobilization". You might profitably read Christopher Clark's book "The Sleepwalkers", where he describes the genesis of the conflict. The tragedy was that in every country there were groups that very much wanted a war and those who certainly did not want a conflict were either complacent or were shouted down. The underhanded machinations behind the scenes did not help, either.

No, the amount of steel produced does not correlate with shipbuilding capacity, but that does not invalidate the point I was making.

The fact that France and Russia had fleets made it necessary, in the logic of the time, that Germany also have a fleet to defend its coasts, and if you look at the characteristics of German warships before WW1, you can see that the fleet was very much geared towards defence in the North Sea and Baltic (lots of short-ranged torpedo boats, short-ranged capital ships designed for fight at short distances). I agree that the growth of the German fleet was unwise, given that Britain was eager to take offense, but if your Emperor has been firmly bitten by the Navy Bug, what can you do? Wilhelm most certainly did not want a war with Britain, he was half British himself (which cannot have been conducive to self-effacement), and he was firmly convinced that the British saw it the same way.

Your statement that Britain needed its immense navy for its very survival beggars belief. Who in the world was going to attack them? And overseas trade was just as important for Germany as it was for Britain.
 

WARSPITER

Staff Sergeant
861
1,665
Oct 23, 2007
Your statement that Britain needed its immense navy for its very survival beggars belief. Who in the world was going to attack them? And overseas trade was just as important for Germany as it was for Britain.
If you see another country entering a ship building program that is geared towards being able to take on your navy then that may give you a clue as to who
was a threat.

Churchill was bellicose on 1st August in which year ?

Britain did have to have a strong navy as it stood to reason that anyone who wanted to take Britain would have to cross water to get there.
Therefore the British navy was essential to the security of Britain.
With the size and power of the British navy at the time it was more a deterrent to anyone who was thinking straight. What the hierarchy
in Germany thought about it is open to question.
 

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