The stupid is strong in (German) navies

I am a continental guy when it comes to German military power, and this blog post will show why and how much. Don't despair about the Germany-centric details, some 'fine' generalising stuff was placed at the end:

German navies have barely existed until the late 19th century, save for the period when the Hanse (a club of Northern German cities with a focus on long-distance trade) mobilised for naval warfare in the Baltic Sea.

This changed with the navy officer Tirpitz, Wilhelm II's childish fascination with the fleet and the Flottenverein pro-navy lobbying association which led to a series of naval arms race laws beginning in 1898. The strategic raison d'être for the naval arms race and the hyper-expensive warships was the idea that the English could be deterred from siding against Germany in a future war by a German fleet 2/3rds as strong as its own, because it would be too risky.
The English did the exact opposite - they arms-raced against Germany which made the 2/3 rule extremely expensive to achieve, turned strongly against Germany alliance-wise (1904, 1907) and ultimately joined the war in 1914 based on an obligation that hardly anybody believed to be that important previously.

Wilhelm II - a navy fanboi who made freehand sketches of the fleet

Technology played against Germany's navy anyway: The introduction of wireless long-range telegraphy made commerce-raiding much more dangerous for cruisers. It also failed to build proper protected cruisers with oceanic range (diesel engines for fuel efficiency coupled with coal-fired boilers for steam engines to make use of captured coal), spending almost entirely on strength in the North Sea and Baltic Sea. 

Even a British defeat in battle would have been pointless in the North Sea, for the battleships were quite irrelevant for closing the North Sea exits to German blockade runners and merchant raiders. A defeat of the British cruiser fleet in battle was impossible because it wouldn't be concentrated for battle.

The naval arms race since 1898 was politically disastrous by 1904, super-disastrous by 1907 - and still continued till the advent of super-dreadnoughts in 1916 because emotion had overtaken reason.

The German imperial-era navy had little to show for all its budgets; the new submarine arm was the only cost-efficient thing about it. Until its activities added the United States to the long list of enemies during the first World War and thus provided the final impetus towards defeat.

- - - - -

The German naval procurement of the 1920's  and early 1930's was a low point. The budget was tight, but it was also squandered. The light cruisers were either obsolete by design (Emden's old-style armament) or extremely fragile and essentially unfit for combat (the later light cruisers of the Königsberg and Leipzig classes). The Panzerschiffe ('pocket battleships') of the Deutschland class were extremely poor designs: Too lightly armoured to be a real counter to the (deteriorating) Soviet battleships and inevitably useless in the merchant raider role for which they were optimised: A handful merchant raiders like them could not possibly make much of an impact save for newspaper headlines. They were political ships in nature; meant to provoke a change in international treaties including Germany's restrictions. Yet as usual, there was no beneficial foreign policy effect from German naval procurement at all.

Panzerschiffe - big guns for show, thin armour

- - - - -

The German naval growth of 1933-1939 looks surprisingly* sane by comparison, albeit it's very dubious whether the political capital spent on the submarine treaties with the UK was worth it. The subs' coastal defence role was soon assumed by air power, and the submarine force would have been a wasteful distraction of resources in a conflict with only France or France plus Poland - and that was what the German military was preparing for. A conflict with France and the UK at the same time looked hopeless for economical reasons during the 30's.
The relatively sane part about the naval procurement of about 1934-1938 was the modest expansion speed which avoided personnel shortages and the suitability of this balanced fleet for breaking a French blockade at the North Sea exit between Norway and Scotland. The French could have maintained about half of their fleet as blockade force at most (almost all cruisers and destroyers had a poor endurance and they had but one aircraft carrier). The Kriegsmarine of 1939 could have defeated that half and could thus have enabled blockade running; transatlantic trade with high value goods such as concentrated industrial chemicals and scarce goods such as natural rubber and copper.
Meanwhile, the Soviet navy in the Baltic Sea was increasingly in disrepair and neglect after a sailor revolt during the Russian revolution and the Kriegsmarine was de facto dominating the Baltic Sea with little effort.
The sanity did not extend to the procurement of extremely expensive fast battleships. Those were more of a pissing contest entry than of military usefulness.

- - - - -

It's astonishing that both German post-WW2 states rebuilt navies after so much demonstrated uselessness and budget squandering by historical German navies. Germany could hardly have lost the First World War if but a half of the navy budget of 1898-1913 had been spent on the armies instead (there were still separate armies for all German states, not a national one).
About the same can be said about an alternative allocation of half of the naval spending 1933-1942 on diesel trucks, tanks and guns.

Today we have again a 'balanced' navy, albeit a small one. A couple "frigates", a couple submarines, some mine countermeasure ships and some helicopters in disrepair. Back in 1940 a destroyer was worth about fifty fighters, nowadays a frigate is worth less than ten fighters. This development of prices tells us that the small navy doesn't nearly squander as big a share of the military budget as historically. The level of wastefulness is rather comparable to the Inter-War Years: Small navy, few new hulls, but some very, very pointless ship designs.

Let's elaborate on the "pointless ship designs":
We purchase "corvettes" (K130) as "replacements" for fast attack craft. The military value in warfare is negligible. Those corvettes aren't even useful as pickets for bigger warships since they lack even basic ASW capabilities. Their crews are furthermore too small for cost-efficient use as training ships.
We purchase colonial patrol cruisers a.k.a. "frigates" (F125) which are good in patrolling only. We don't have colonies though. Their actual warfare strength is a disgrace. They are huge targets, incapable of self-defence against submarines, with short range air defence capability only and with little offensive power.
Meanwhile the F123 class of ASW frigates is apparently fine due to its sonar power and the F124 class of AAW frigates seems to be mediocre. The subs seem to have teething problems (like the corvettes), but are respected. Their miniscule numbers make them almost perfectly irrelevant for national and collective defence, though.
The final replenishment ship ("EGV") has meanwhile turned into an all-too obvious shipyard subsidy program due to the ridiculous unit price increase.

K130 corvette design - uselessness redefined!
- - - - -

The stupid is strong in German navies.

Even occasional and short periods of sanity cannot hide the fact that German naval expenses have been largely wasteful - in ALL German navies; imperial pre-war, imperial wartime, Weimar, Nazi pre-war, Nazi wartime, West German Cold War**, East German Cold War and reunified Germany. The vast majority of their expenses did not serve the security of the people of Germany.

I suppose I expressed my attitude towards German navies clearly. I think quite the same about Italian, Russian/Soviet, French, Spanish, Belgian, Dutch, Polish, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Turkish, Yugoslavian and Portuguese navies.

Naval spending tends to be wasteful:

Supposedly "maritime" countries (such as the UK) tend to overestimate the utility of a modern navy and are all-too often enticed to overspend on marginally useful naval capabilities.

Naval power was a "winner takes it all" affair until land-based air power came to dominate over warships even hundreds of miles from the shores. Underdog approaches to naval warfare (Jeune École, submarines, mine warfare) were somewhat promising, but they never reached the critical mass for actually helping to win a war. The underdog navies which attempted a balanced navy approach merely wasted resources in their delusion of capability.

And then there's the all-too enticing overspending and inefficiency of the dominating navies. That's where the outright ridiculous waste of resources happened and still happens.


*:The incompetent Nazis messed up basically everything that they touched. Their few success stories were built on what was planned before 1933 already or achieved by the industry.
**: The German navies of the Cold War were perfectly irrelevant.


  1. Really nice nice thread, you could add the annaul costs of the imperial German army and navy for a pre-WW I year.

    The only point I can not agree is the impact of the German fleet after 1898. The fleet did not help to improve the German strategic situation, however, even a non existing German fleet would not have changed the main driving force in UK foreign politics, the relations with Russia. Here the "Sleepwalkers" add many interesting nuances.


    1. The German budget is tricky to look up in primary sources because the armies were state armies while the navy was imperial. The German Wikipedia (http://tinyurl.com/o8l5oqa) offers these figures (million Mark):
      1905: 697 army, 231 navy
      1910: 831 army, 426 navy
      1913: 1009 army, 467 navy
      (The per capita spending was still much lower than in France or UK).

      France and Italy had similar ratios, Japan parity. Even Austria-Hungary which could not expect any utility from battleships had a ratio of 496:155 in 1913.

      A different source ("Maritimer Imperialismus", Rolf Hobson, p.336) says that Russian military spending in 1913 was 42% navy!

  2. Iam not so sure if pumping more money into the Army instead the Navy before WWI would have easily brought victory. Armys in that period were still hard to control with the contemporary means of communication. And then build an even more bigger Army? In my view this would have been for nothing cause these bigger Army would have been almost impossible to control.

    As for todays German Navy. For a country that so much depends upon foreign trade and resources I find it strange that the Navy isnt stronger. Naval warfare isnt about gaining territory but for controlling lines of communication.

    1. Barely more than half of the young men were conscripted, while France conscripted over 80%.
      The artillery ammunition stocks were feeble.
      The French army mobilization strength (based on a much smaller population) was superior to the German one throughout teh 80's, 90's and 00's.
      The army's demands for additional army corps (2 divisions each) to match the French efforts were rejected until 1912 primarily for budget reasons.
      The German land power strength in the East 1914-1917 was badly stretched. The battle victory of inferior German armies in 1914 was only possible due to Russian command ineptitude.

      The German army (armies) could have absorbed and put to good use additional funds easily.

    2. "For a country that so much depends upon foreign trade and resources I find it strange that the Navy isnt stronger. Naval warfare isnt about gaining territory but for controlling lines of communication."

      I covered that elsewhere.

      Feel free to provide examples of any country other than the UK and US ever doing with its navy what you described.

      I think it's only relevant for what I called "dominant navies" in the blog text. We could consider NATO as naval power and the German navy a part thereof, but even that doesn't justify the K130 crap or the F125 coastguard cutters with the price tag of an actual frigate.

  3. TSW,

    the German problem in September/October 1914 was the fact, that a war plan was tried that required 20-25 more divisions in the west than divisions actually were available.

    Schlieffen's Große Denkschrift (Great Memorandum) covered a one-front war without BEF and required 82 divisions. Therefore, one would add ~6 divisions for the BEF and 8 for the east front and comes to around 96 divisions, the German army actually had 72.

    At the same time around 500000 trained soldiers were not assigned to any formations in Germany, i.e. enlisted men were available but nothing that made the diffrence between 500000 riflemen and 10 army corps.

    Here the Schlieffen plan discussion in the journal "War in History" by Zuber is a very good reading.

    Two armies more in the west would not require fancy communication, these armies would simply outflank the allies and force them to retreat. There would not have been a miracle of the marne or a race for the channel.

    The manouver/control argument comes from the fact that the outnumbered German forces in 1914 would have needed better leadership to compensate for unsufficient numbers, a few divisions more would have reduced/removed this need.

    Even French staff officers admitted in 1918 that they had been saved in 1914 by the fact that Germany had only a much smaller level of recruiting which resulted in a relatively small peacetime army and "only" 36 army corps at the beginning of the war. This was a result of spending for a useless fleet.

    Re fleet: The line-of-communication argument does not work, even a stronger fleet does give open lines in when fighting UK, you can't change geostrategic constraints and OTOH WWI and WWII clearly showed that it takes years to strangle a modern economy.

    The screw-up in 1914 by the German general staff was to gamble in the west, i.e. to try a war plan that required more than they had. A solid east strategy would have spared the Austrians many of their high losses in 1914/15 and would have offered much more options for 1916.


  4. The German Imperial fleet idea wasn't so much wrong as miscalculated.
    The UK required the Royal Navy to defend the empire against regional powers. Without the Royal Navy, Argentina, Brazil and America were severe threats to British possessions in the Atlantic, America, Japan and Russia in the Pacific /Indian

    Its a reasonable assumption that the UK would not risk the loss of the fleet, and with it the empire, over a minor issue.

    The problem was, although the UK considered the loss of the fleet an existential threat to the empire, it considered a German conquest of France an existential threat to the UK itself.

    The German fleet may have bought British neutrality in a minor war overseas, but not in a huge war close to home.

    I disagree with your view on land based airpower, fundamentally no different to mounting cannon in a coastal fortress.

    Its not so much about 'winning', but being able to pay the price.
    Svenia might be able to divert 180 aircraft to the coastal zones, giving it a theatre wide 5:1 advantage. However, if the theatre is big, thats not likely to be reflected on the day, it might be 2:1.
    Even lower when you consider that the UK picks the time and location of any fighting. Repeatedly launching probing attacks just to draw up your QRA before melting away, if you give chase, its an ambush, if you don't, well, we can do it again tomorrow.

    Plans to attack the fleet are quickly dropped, the Svenian air force has some simulated experience attacking lone coastal patrol ships, but none of attacking a fleet in the deep ocean.

    As aircraft spares stockpiles dwindle at an alarming rate, the neighbouring Ortmanian Empire begins a 'training' mobilisation, foreign trainers have been spotted at key staging areas and the UK has quietly begun buying and forgiving the Ortmanian national debt.

    The ortmanian air force begins flying the border.
    'Lost' Ortmanian infantry patrols are increasingly intercepted inside Svenia driving new trucks, carrying modern radios and weapons.

    Svenian ground commanders issue increasingly dire warnings that they cannot possibly defend against an imminant Ortmanian invasion without the return of 'their' ground attack aircraft.
    Royal Navy submarines begin attacking C4i links along the ortmanian border.
    Civilians begin a bank run and riots break out in supermarkets as the shelves are stripped bare.

    Or does Svenia capitulate and undo whatever it did to piss the UK off?

  5. It seems to me the only sensible investments for today's German navy would be submarines and ASW vessels, maybe some smaller coast-guard cutters for maritime policing. The German surface fleet seems totally superfluous and doesn't even complement NATO fleet operations well. Submarine and mine warfare have the potential to upset the larger surface fleets in any future conflict. Germany should maintain high levels of competency in these areas, but neglect the rest, as there's basically no chance of Germany building a strategically useful surface fleet in the future.

  6. TeT wrote: "The German Imperial fleet idea wasn't so much wrong as miscalculated."

    For Germany it was, that is the point. The Hochseeflotte did not dliver any startegic advantages, but came with high startegic costs.

    "The UK required the Royal Navy to defend the empire against regional powers. Without the Royal Navy, Argentina, Brazil and America were severe threats to British possessions in the Atlantic, America, Japan and Russia in the Pacific /Indian"

    The main part of the RN was always in the North Sea, no chance for Germany even with more ships.

    "Its a reasonable assumption that the UK would not risk the loss of the fleet, and with it the empire, over a minor issue."

    How could Germany enforce a battle that would decide anything, it was always a British decision, that was actaully one of the German geostartegic issues.

    "The problem was, although the UK considered the loss of the fleet an existential threat to the empire, it considered a German conquest of France an existential threat to the UK itself."

    Here you should read paper on Jackie Fisher (again).

    BTW nobody assumed in France or UK that the French army would be defeated quite fast in the border battles and nobody assumed that German forces would be able to perform a attack through Belgium with many divisions at the same time. Hint: Germans used their reserve corps as regulkar ones.

    "The German fleet may have bought British neutrality in a minor war overseas, but not in a huge war close to home."

    Again, wrong POV. A larger german fleet only brought disadvantages for Germany, no comparable ones for UK.

    BTW Even without German fleet there was the chance that UK would enter the war. Read the "Sleepwalkers", the driving force was the relation of UK to Russia.


  7. You're rather missing the point.

    Severe losses to the Royal Navy would be catastrophic to the UK. It was our schwerpunkt
    Fear of severe losses to the RN would force the UK to be cautious.
    Fear of a single European hegemon forced the UK to throw all caution to the wind.
    USS monitor kept the UK out of the US civil war.

    1. The only consequence even of a 100% destruction of the British battlefleet in 1914-1917 would have been an inability to maintain the naval blockade against Germany during wintertime against fast blockaderunners.
      The German small cruisers and battlecruisers had only about 3,500 to 6,000 nm endurance - insufficient to maintain a blockade south of Ireland after sailing around the British Isles. Oil transfer from ship to ship at sea was not in the repertoire yet and coal transfer in quantity at sea was all but impossible. Loading coal was still about sailors carrying coal bags from the pier!

      The maintaining of a war-winning blockade of the transatlantic route would have required more ships than Germany ever had. The ships could only be at sea about 50-60% of the time, and would be in transit about half of that time. This leaves a petty strength south of Ireland - much less than the French navy strength.

      And even IF there was a perfect transatlantic blockade, the British could still have used the Portsmouth/Le Havre route and done their transatlantic trade through the Western Mediterranean and the Strait of Gibraltar.

      Geography made an effective, war-winning blockade impossible.
      The first time the UK could have been blockaded effectively would have been in late 1940 if Germany had adopted the Japanese G3M2 bombers.

      And even in case of a 100% blockade it's dubious whether the UK would have suffered worse than Germany during the 1916/1917 famine. That famine did totally not prevent Germany from defeating Russia in 1917, delivering the knock-out blow against Italy in 1917 or delivering the near-knockout blow in the West during spring 1918.

      Fact is the German navies never justified their peacetime or wartime budgets, and geography combined with technical and adversary knowledge should have made that obvious to the national leadership.

    2. TnT,

      to lose so much ships that a german naval victory would have been possible would have required a lot of incompetence on the RN side, which I do not see.

      Germany was like the Netherlands in 1700: There was a clear need for a large army and therefore Germany was not able to defeat UK.
      Quite contrary, a medium size German fleet was a strategic disadvantage because it does not produce a startegic impact but costs OTOH army corps, which could have.

      UK strategy in 1914: Fisher showed a clear understanding in the pre war years. (The implicit assumption was IMHO that even a Frrench defeat was possible).

      Therefore, sending the BEF to France and hoping that would be enough is like believing in a concept of being a little bit pregnant.
      Here some British generals were very realistic in 1914. With sending the BEF you killed Fisher's approach.

      Some concepts in UK in 1914 still used a Napoleonic framework without acknowledging that there was now a larger power in Germany with huge manpower and industrial capacity


    3. Still missing the point, its not about the first world war.
      It was never about "beating" the UK but forcing our neutrality.

      Germany didnt think it could beat Russia and France at once, never mind the UK too.

      The THREAT of inflicting massive losses on the Royal Navy, and the attendant loss of empire was geared at forcing the UK to sit out a war, and would have, if the issue at hand were not of such import.

      Nor is it about Blockade.
      What do you think would have happened if the German Fleet had flattened south end on sea and began heading towards London?

    4. You're still buying into the risk fleet doctrine after its spectacular failure?
      And you're not paying attention to the argument that inflicting losses son the RN was largely meaningless and nothing the UK would have had to fear nearly as much as you imply. And a naval bombardment of London was never in question given the state of coastal defences (mines, torpedoes) at the time. We also know by now that unloading much ammunition on a capital does squat to win the war.

    5. No Sven
      Ultimately I've explained both German and British thinking.

      I'm really so you can't grasp why the UK wouldn't nuke Moscow over a spilt drink at a diplomatic dinner but I don't know what else I can add?

      The UK is for the most part a rational actor.
      A major naval battle against a near peer enemy could inflict severe losses on the Royal Navy.
      Those losses would invite a dozen other powers to begin carving off parts of the British Empire they wanted and were now able to seize.

      That fear would force the UK to act in a far more cautious manner than it otherwise would.
      Not because Germany can invade England, not because it could mount a surface blockade, not even because it could cut off France, but because the price of victory simply was not worth paying.

      There thinking was incorrect, because the UK was prepared to pay any price to prevent a German conquest of large parts or France and the low countries.

    6. The only powers that could be expected to grab anything were Argentina (would have to hand the Malvinas back after the war because of its tiny fleet) and Japan (could have grabbed Hong Kong at most).

      There's no "dozen other powers" that could grab anything. The world of 1912 had very few countries actually - and only 14 had at least one dreadnought or a few armoured ships (Sweden, Greece, Turkey, Italy) at all. The RN threat situation was even less impressive in 1898 or 1906.

    7. Pre-WWI German navy had the same missions as the British navy- to defend German colonies and trade from local regional powers, such as China. The German colonies were not defensible against UK (or Japan, or France), but that wasn't the intent.

  8. All major wars of the last couple of hundred years were won by the powers with free and protected sea lines of communication. The raison d'etre of a navy is to protect own lines and endanger enemy lines. That does always include more or less ability to inflict damage on land from the sea as most people and industry are not far away from the coast.
    Is it possible to define a non-wasteful navy for Germany with these objectives?

    1. War of 1870/71: Won by Germans despite having almost nothing to face the French navy.

      The German navies of the 1880's-1930 period made sense as defenders in the Baltic Sea to secure trade with Sweden (especially iron ore - it would have made sense to sponsor railway line between Kirkenes and Stockholm for year-round iron ore supply). This would include offensive mining against the Russian fleet and defensive mining against the British empire's fleet. The North Sea coast was easily defensible as I described earlier.

      The same approach could be a bit more ambitious (dominating the Russian fleet in the Baltic) in the 1933-1945 timeframe. A few proper light cruisers or 14 cm-armed destroyers and two battlecruisers (~Strasbourg class with 3x3 28 cm) would have sufficed.

      The overseas trade was possible with the scarcest products and most value-dense export goods using merchant submarines.
      Thousands of tonnes of annual natural rubber and steel additives imports would have been feasible with less than a dozen merchant subs.

      The internal lines of communications (railroads) suffices for German troops deployments and except for the Southern Mediterranean operations 1940-1943.

    2. "All major wars of the last couple of hundred years were won by the powers with free and protected sea lines of communication."

      Again, even a stronger german Navy would not have been able to defeat the RN. Germany was/is is the same startegic position as the Netherlands in 1700. :-)

      Almost no blue water navy but a stronger army would have given much much more strategic options in 1914-16.

      Your argument is a correlation and you bring no real causation.

      Hint: It took in both world wars four years to inflict noticable economic damage, i.e. it is hard to bring a country with top chemical industry to her knees with a blockade.


    3. Thanks for the reply.
      Germany could run blockade breakers against a more powerful opponent, but they have very limited transport capability. Although, such a device would also be very handy for resupplying a strong submarine fleet.
      Could some investment into air and surface assets enhance the capabilities of the subsurface fleet as this is the main strike force for Germany outside the Baltic theatre?
      In the Baltic theatre small assets with limited endurance seem sufficient, especially with all the friendly coastline. Some transport capability for logistics could possibly help land operations there.

      I think about long range aerial surveillance for improved coordination of assets, aircraft carrying cruisers and amphibious troops to raid the coast and force a superior navy to invest heavily and spread out.
      The objective would be to bind greater numbers of enemy resources and personnel. This binding of limited resources would shift the balance more in favour of the silent service further out in the ocean and possibly to increase devastation by better coordinated strikes against protected targets such as convoys.
      It would not be able to win, but limit production capabilities. Under these conditions other approaches would meet less capability to resist.

      And yeah, I just realized, that I like Germany losing these wars, because I did not like the attitudes they wanted to transport via their victories.

    4. Had the war been fought a couple of years earlier, before Germany figured out how to make nitrate explosives through the (?) Fischer torpe process (?) the blockade would have shut down the German army in short order.

    5. @Anon:
      "And yeah, I just realized, that I like Germany losing these wars, because I did not like the attitudes they wanted to transport via their victories."

      There wasn't much of an attitude of Germany in WWI when you ignore the vile British propaganda. It didn't plan any annexations, it didn't plan to force the Frenchmen drink German beer, force the Americans to speak German etc. A few heavy industries captains asked for annexation of the iron ore-rich French border region in 1916, that's the most evil thing in terms of demands "Germany" came up with in WWI.

      The real troublemakers were
      France (which wanted to annex Alsace-Lothringia),
      Russia (which wanted to dominate the Balkan patriarchally),
      Serbia (which wanted to expand and weaken Austria-Hungary),
      Japan (which wanted and did grab Tsingtao) and
      Austria-Hungary (which had grabbed Bosnia before the war for no good reason and overreacted to the Serbs in Neocon style).

      All of these were either "winners" or fell apart in 1917-1919, so Germany was blamed and tasked to pay for the war.
      The allegedly militaristic Germany furthermore had a no more arrogant and present officer corps than the other involved countries and much less military spending per head and in %GDP than France or the UK. There was almost no enlargement of German land power from the late 1880's to 1911 despite economic and population growth.

    6. Could we return to the naval discussion?
      Germany can invest into the modern equivalent of cruisers, submarines and be a menace for any nation with seagoing commerce. capability to import via the same hidden route rare materials under blockade would be nice.
      In the Baltic, Germany always had land or allies, making a coastal defence surface fleet of small ships useful.
      What I'm not sure about is surface assets in this setting. In the Baltic supply by sea, accessing harbors and maybe building new ones would strengthen land operations.
      The picture is more complicated in the North Sea and Atlantic. Here, the coastal defense system of ships and shore installations developed for the Baltic can work well. But, can cost efficient surface assets be built that improve the existing subsurface force's performance. Subsurface is attack of enemy shipping and supply with rare materials, blockade breakers.

  9. TrT wrote: "Had the war been fought a couple of years earlier, before Germany figured out how to make nitrate explosives through the (?) Fischer torpe process (?) the blockade would have shut down the German army in short order."

    wrong on two accounts:

    1) As long as the advance is not stopped (and the whole affair becomes a war in fixed positions) the ammunition demand is quite low. Actually, more men with the same amount of ammunition become a winning combination, this a little bit counterintuitive.
    The ammunition reserves for a manouver war were sufficient. The German manpower was not in 1914.

    2) The lab experiments to the ammonia synthesis were much older, the patent for the industrial process (Haber-Bosch process) was already filed in 1910. The works on production of nitrates by burning ammonia were also older.


    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Haber_process

      I disagree with the ammunition aspect.
      The war stocks of the German field artillery ere only about 1,000 grenades/cartridges in early 1914. Austria-Hungary 500, Russia 1,000 and France 1,390 (source: Georg ortenburg, "Waffen der Millionenheere", p.199).

      All countries had a munitions crisis in late 1914 already. It's true that mobile warfare tends to consume less ammo and more fuel (hay), while relatively static battles tend to consume more ammo and less fuel (hay), but the stocks were insufficient for both.

    2. Sven,

      I have the same books in my book shelf and do not see how they contradict me. :-)

      Late 1914 the affair was already a series of more or less static battles or futile attemps to get the divisions moving again. This consumed a lot of ammunition.

      Do you have any sources which show that the Marne battle was determined by ammunition shortage on the German side?

      Two additional armies on the right German wing would not have met any significant French forces. Why would they spend ammunition? Why should there have been a stop at the Marne? The French defense only worked because the German army could not outflank them.

      More army corps with the same numbers of artillery rounds would have led to a situation like 1871. The critical aspect is IMHO not that the fronts froze in France (due to low ammunition levels) but where.


    3. Literature sources typically give August to October for the onset of artillery ammunition rationing among the European powers. The British ran out of heavy artillery and howitzer ammunition in Mid-September, for example. German divisions had to ration to ridiculously low daily expenditures at that time as well.

      "Field Artillery and Firepower" is one book that covers the topic, but many others do as well. You may forgive that I won't dive into books to find lots of references here.

      Additional armies and corps would have provokes a different French/BEF deployment, but might also have overburdened the few available railroad lines or even provoke major friction of the main body's movements.

  10. TrT wrote: "Still missing the point, its not about the first world war.
    It was never about "beating" the UK but forcing our neutrality."

    The initial question was how the own fleet strategically affects a country like Germany which is not in the same geostrategic situation as UK/USA/Japan.

    For Germany the answer is quite clear, a German fleet costs more strategically than it offers. Discussion over.

    It is painfully obvious that without a fleet you could not defeat UK in 1914, but this was not necessary. Without France and Russia UK would not have been a thread to Germany, therefore, 10 more army corps were strategically much much more valuable and at the same time economically cheaper than an ocaen-going fleet.

    Or from a UK perspective: without intact groundforces of France and Russia what would have been the point of a longer war? What option would have been left?


  11. I am going to disagree on the Bundesmarine and partially on the Volksmarine during the Cold War.

    The Bundesmarine was primarily meant to work alongside the RDN in order to close the Baltic narrows. This put the focus squarely on Mine Warfare (the RDN somewhat more than the Bundesmarine), Fast Attack Craft (torpedoes, later missiles as well) and Coastal Submarines. In the 1950´s and early 60´s there was also a "nebengeschäft" of running antisubmarine operations and convoys in the North Sea, which of course necessitated a limited number of escort and ASW ship. On top of this there was a limited need for destroyer/frigate class ships as flotilla-leaders for the FACs and for operations in weather where the FACs couldn´t sail.

    Now you might reply: Aircraft could fulfill the same tasks. I do not disagree, but I must remark that all airfields in the BALTAP area, especially the ones used by the Marineflieger (who were the ones who specialized in anti-shipping tactics) who were stationed at Jagel and Eggebek, lay very close to the IGB. We know from East German and Polish exercises, that they thought a period of 3 days sufficient to wear down the combined NATO airforces in the BALTAP region before committing to an amphibious invasion towards the Danish isles (3 days would also allow an attack up through the Jutland peninsula to threaten the aforementioned airfields). In addition there are some tasks that specialized naval craft are simply better at such as minelaying.

    As for the Volksmarine, they did what the Soviets told them to do, which was to specialize in ASW and amphibious warfare, with fast Attack Crafts coming third. It wasn´t like they had much leeway here. To their credit the Volksmarine was able to avoid having to spend resources on submarines (which would be useless untill the Nord-Ostsee Kanal or the Danisha straits had been cleared), so it is of course possible that the NVA might have been able to skimp even more on the navy. But as argued by the late professor Carl Axel Gemmsell, it is of course possible that the focus on amphibious warfare was just a way for the Volksmarine to hog resources and justify its own existence.

    My take on it.

    1. The blocking of Kattegatt and Skagerak was possible with land-based defences. I don't remember any dedicated German Cold War minelayers and frankly, mining Danish waters would have been a job for he Danes.
      Convoys in the North Sea would be pointless because the air attack threat made even Rotterdam a questionable choice for landing reinforcements.
      The WP war plan summaries I saw treated amphibious ops against Denmark as mopping up moves, with normal divisions pushing past Hamburg into Jutland as main move regarding Denmark.
      Even a perfect defence against amphibious attack wouldn't have saved Denmark from Soviet paras.
      Moreover, Denmark was peripheral. The main question was whether the Soviets could expect to cross the Rhine within days and "win" before European mobilization and American reinforcements stopped them. All those naval toys were irrelevant to this.

    2. I don´t disagree with the BALTAP area (or AFNORTH in generel) being secondary. One only needs to look at where the earmarked British and American reinforcements were going after all ;-)

      Well, if the Entente could block the North Sea with a mine barrage in 1918, it will also be possible much later with land based anti-ship missiles and improved mines. The only problem with settling for blocking the Skagerrak or North Sea is that it entails giving up most of Denmark, which is an unpalatable proposition for Danish politicians (and the Danish people). The German politicians championed Vorneverteidigung for much the same reasons the Danish ones did after all.

      In any event, the Bundesmarine was only responsible for arming and defending the Fehmarn-Lolland mine-barrage, somthing which it was capable of doing with its two dedicated minelayers (converted ex-USN LSTs untill the late 60s, Sachsenwald Klasse from then, although the Ubootjagdschiffe and most of the FACs would have been able to lay mines too). I agree that the number of Bundesmarine ”big ships” might have been smaller, since most of these were stationed in Wilhelsmhaven and not meant for employment in the Baltic anyway (and thus irrelevant to defending against a possible landing in Slesvig-Holsten to outflank the defence along the IGB)

      Convoys in the North sea was mostly an issue in the 1950´s and early 1960´s where WAPA airforces were not as formidable (and using long ranged anti-ship missiles) as they later became. The problem back then was Polish and Soviet Subs sneaking out through the Danish straits. This was stopped by the installation of passive listening devices on the seabed during the 1960s, but untill then it was a problem (remember, the 1950´s and 60´s were when most NATO forces locked onto the force goals they would then try to attain for the rest of the Cold War)

      Soviet paras is not generally something that crops up in the extant E. German or Polish exercises for the BALTAP (in some exercises a single soviet regiment/brigade size airlanding unit is used to seize a bridge/crossing along the Nord-Ostsee Canal, but that´s it). The only airlanding units here are generally the Polish 6th Airborne Division and sometimes the E. German FJ units. As you say, the most important strategic direction was towards France and The Low Countries and thus the Soviet airborne units would likely have been used to seize crossings over the Rhine and Maas.

  12. @SO: Strong support to your post.

    Only some (minor) points:

    1. The strength of the German Armies pre-WWI was not a question of money but of political will. As Herfried Münkler says there was a resistance against expanding the army because commoner were not to be officers and socialists were not to be NCOs.

    2. I disagree with your rating of the K130. It is a well defended and well armed patrol cutter. It has the punch of a F125 with the price tag of a corvette.
    The rating of the F124, that I read, is more than mediocre.

    3. In your post and in the discussion the focus is only on the costs of the ships for the own defence budget. I found no hints at the inflicted costs on the enemies budget. As I remember you posted a text, that the anglo-american air strikes against Germany in WWII were not effective because of their destructions, but because they forced Nazi-Germany to spend huge amounts of ressources for air defence.

    1. 1. True, but not spending much on the navy would probably have made it easier to enlarge the army. The conscription rate of about 55% instead of 75+% wasn't so low only because of socialists, after all. The officer corps was open for non-aristocrats, non-bourgeois if they had Abitur IIRC.

      2. A heavily armed patrol cutter is irrelevant for national or collective defence.

      3. I don't think the British would have built a super army if they hadn't spent like crazy on the dreadnought race. The Warsaw Pact did likely not react much to the West German Cold War frigate and destroyer fleet and the East German navy was quite obsolete by design.
      The ASW costs as reaction to the submarines of 1940-1944 were huge, but save for the long-range patrol bombers (modified B-17 and B-24) the spent resources hadn't much alternative use for want of a major land campaign in the west or Med before 1944. And additional troops for the Italy campaign wouldn't have changed much.

    2. @ K.B. and S.O.

      The fleet "ate" potential army officer candidates and of course money that could have been spent on army hardware.

      The officer corps was quite open in 1914, however, many officers positions were not filled in 1914 IIRC. I think there was a problem to enlarge the active army.

      Even with only 55% recruiting there were already ~500.000 trained enlisted men without reserve units in 1912. Hence, more enlisted men would not have solved the problem, which were NCOs and officers.

      The most promising solution would have been to enlarge the number of reserve divisions and therefore the reserve officer pool. Scrap the requirement that the OC had to provide his own uniform and accept poorer applicants. The training of more than 5000 Jewish OCs without promoting them to Leutnant also was a complete waste.


  13. "Naval power was a "winner takes it all" affair until land-based air power came to dominate over warships even hundreds of miles from the shores. Underdog approaches to naval warfare (Jeune École, submarines, mine warfare) were somewhat promising, but they never reached the critical mass for actually helping to win a war."

    The tables also turned for some time when the first effective antiship missiles came online in the absence of effective defences, chiefly illustrated by the Eliat sinking.