A couple days ago I wrote that I wouldn't mind getting rid of an entire German armed service. 
Now my challenge to (German) readers:

Offer me an example for collective defence (NATO or EU being under attack by a foreign government's armed services) in which a German navy is necessary to keep Germany from getting blockaded, bombed or invaded/occupied or necessary to reconquer/defend an ally that got blockaded, bombed or invaded & occupied!*

Phrases such as "Germany's navy would seal off the Baltic Sea exit for Russian navy" don't count. If that was really important and likely, the Russians could simply order those Baltic Fleet units to deploy to the Northern Fleet prior to a hot conflict.
Phrases about German ports needing naval mineclearing don't count either, since there are minehunter ships in allied navies as well, and the small Baltic Sea ports would hardly be used during a hot conflict (for safety reasons).

I think it's obvious that a German naval presence would hardly be felt in a Mediterranean conflict, but such a conflict is super-unlikely for want of a threat anyway.**
A Eastern European conflict on the other hand requires a super-quick deployment (or predeployment) of ground combat (and air defence) forces, as well as air power intervention. Navies would be utter sideshows unless the conflict escalated to the Atlantic Ocean, and in that case a German navy would hardly be felt either.

One might say that keeping a navy just in case, as a pool of competence,  would make sense. That's the ideology of balanced military forces - as if having a coastline inevitably makes a navy necessary (regardless of allies), even though landlocked allies do not need a navy at all (with equal apparent self-evidence).
I counter this with the 100+ year track record of German navy uselessness. I don't think it's worth spending billions waiting for a mythical time in which a German navy makes sense for a change. We wouldn't even have much use (and thus not any need) for it if we were alone and without allies again.

This is not a proposal for Germany to freeride on allied efforts. It's a proposal to tailor the armed services for collective deterrence and defence. Our geographic location puts an above-average burden on us as early defender of Eastern frontier allies. The navy is a mere distraction to this.


*: I wrote this rather complicated set of requirements because it's unrealistic to demand that military power prevents every alliance member from even only temporary naval blockade, air attack or hostile forces incursions.
**: Israel is the only somewhat relevant non-allied power there, and it's extremely unlikely that it attacks NATO or the EU.


  1. When you are allied with the biggest navy in the world, there is no scenario where a German navy is needed.

    However, as you pointed out in the NATO summit article, the duties and responsibilities of allies are not well defined and when not at war the assistance isn't assured.

    Germany hence needs a capacity to police the waters and if needed protect the trade routes. The other option would be to pay some ally for this, like small countries without an airforce do.

    I would argue that the latest ships are in that mold, comperably useless for war, but well suited for long range patrolling.
    Quite expensive but it might be offset with all the sales to foreign countries.

    1. This thing about protecting trade routes is such a nonsense in general. We could escort a single convoy well in and out per weak. That's ridiculous compared to simply re-route transportation over the rail network to safer harbours.
      Event eh USN could not protect more than a tiny fraction of its nations' maritime trade.

      We "police our waters" with weak maritime law enforcement elements, the navy has no such job and may actually be considered banned from it by the constitution.

    2. You can't reroute the Far East trade to the rail network. Germany in WW2 wasn't able to reroute the coal trade to Italy from ship to rail, that deficit cost Italy a lot.

      I don't think about WW3 when I mean protect the trade routes, but about not state or hybrid warfare actors.

      Always assumed that that was part of the navy job. Learned something new.

      In somewhat related news, today the new grand strategy for the armed services was published, and it is clearly back to delusions of grandeur, with the whole world being declared a German interest sphere.

      For that, one should start building some CVs.

  2. I'm not German and maybe this doesn't qualify to your requirements, but in an event of NATO/EU war against Russia fought in the Northeastern part of Europe (Poland to Finland) German and allied navies would be tasked to guard the Baltic Sea in order to secure their left flank.

    This would obviously call for a localized littoral force and not an ocean-going blue water navy.

    I do think the Baltic Sea would play a big role in hypothetical Baltic countries conflict. Wintertime freezing is only temporal and somewhat geographically restriced event.


    1. Because what bad might happen in the Baltic if it's not "secured" (by Germans in addition to others)?
      Would tanks swim through it to Poland?

      Your remark has the flavour of applying a standard schematic without thinking about if it fits. Tell me/us what bad could happen exactly if there were no 4-7 mission-ready German frigates and 3-5 mission-ready German subs. Where would they make a difference in what?

    2. Well, you asked to create a purpose for German navy so I did :)

      What I meant by securing the flank, is that Baltic Sea is part of the Western Alliance's (NATO+EU) area of collective defence. and i do think it's important. There are five capitals located on the Baltic coast: DK,SE,FI,EE,LV + Russia's 2nd city. Or to quote another commenter: "If you want something more precise to help the swedes to defend the island of Gotland and secure the baltic countries coasts against naval bombardements, raids, spetsnaz incursions, or even small invasions to outmaneuver NATO forces in land. And be doing this having the possibility to do all of this to the russians."

      I find it unwise to trust Baltic maritime defence to nations outside the Baltic sea for obvious political reasons and special local reasons you pointed out, such as ice and salinity. Of Baltic coastal countries Germany is the key western nation as it's in every way bigger than all the rest combined.

      However let's for argument's sake assume Germany disbands its navy. Poland would do the same following similar logic. In this scenario Russia would be able to build a Baltic Fleet to overwhelm combined Western (=Nordic) navies and thus open door to invade islands of Gotland or Aland, harass shipping at will or infiltrate special forces, among other things.

      I don't think it's in German interest to change the balance of power in the Baltic Sea towards Russia.


  3. Well, you have some good points. Coastal areas can be controlled by land based AShM and planes as well and looking at the tiny German coastline compared to other countries a larger navy makes little sense.
    But I guess that removing the whole branch will not give a single Euro to the army or air force or used for proper border defences - the money will be spend on other stupid "projects" as we are currently witnessing... Therefore, reducing the whole service to earn some "peace dividend" in the near future will leave us open to complete uneffectivness regarding a proper defence. Even as we are currently "surrounded by friends" every country should have sufficent arms and ammuntion to defy most enemies alone.

    1. Seriously, pointing out that money gets wasted elsewhere as well has never been a good justification for wasting it in the bureaucracy one is looking more closely at.

      And why would a German navy in a NATO-less future suddenly be required for a "proper defence"? I think you're following the lazy ideology of balanced armed forces that asserts that every country with a coastline needs a navy while no country that has no coastline needs no navy.

      Furthermore, the great utility of being allied is that the need for military expenses is smaller because the threat is smaller and its remnants only have to be met together instead of individually.
      I suppose people from small countries understand this better intuitively.

    2. I am not German either and you covered some aspects of that topic:

      For a strict defence of Germany (non-imperialistic strategy), the cost effectiveness of a big Navy is at best doubtful. The Austro-Hungarian Empire Navy, the Yugoslav Navy, the Egyptian purchase of Mistral class amphibious assault ships… are example of failed cost efficiency.

      But, if I was German, I would have the same concerns as some of the above comments:
      - ‘Germany hence needs a capacity to police the waters’;
      - but NEVER rely on ‘pay some ally for this’ because it is the most expensive and most expeditive suicide option (alliance and animosity are never eternal);
      - ‘Even as we are currently "surrounded by friends" every country should have sufficient arms and ammunitions to defy most enemies alone.’

      Germany can financially afford to choose any cost effective anti surface warfare: (manned/unmanned) speed boat program with anti-ship missiles (i.e. Iran), coastal defence (i.e. INS Hanit*, 2006 Lebanon War), air force (and drones) and even space. Special Boat Service (SBS) and a small fleet of submarine vehicles for sabotage and special operations: any country that has rivers, lakes and mare clausum.
      Moreover, Germany is producing and exporting very efficient and silent diesel-electric submarines that can ambush any kind of ship and submarine (diesel and nuclear powered alike). It would be nice to keep that knowledge alive and the shipyards active.

      I think that the blogmaster’s knowledge of economy, strategy and military hardware can suggest a few options for surprisingly cost-effective defence solutions that even ‘small countries’ could afford; and that could ‘humoristically give nightmares to imperialistic endeavours’.
      (The search function of this blog was helpful for a non German reader like me. Thank you.)

      As far as Baltic Sea is concerned, for the Russians the situation is as locked as in the Black Sea. Russian Navy has a role of a self-defence force.

      * How is this situation possible: ‘Israel is the only somewhat relevant non-allied power there’
      Israel = biggest US ally
      Israel not = EU and/or NATO ally
      I understand that Israel is not a signing party to EU and US-lead NATO collective defence, but ‘shouldn’t the friend of my friend also be my friend’?

      Putin fires Baltic Fleet Commanders

    3. I dislike the inflationary use of the words "ally" and "allied". This leads to nonsense situations as a year or two ago, when Republicans demanded that Obama supports the "ally" Israel" in its diplomatic clash with Turkey. I only consider countries as allied if they pledge to protect us in return.

      Germany doesn't really need coastal defences. Last time we were under attack by sea was in the Viking Age (and even the Vikings mostly came by land), for good reasons.

    4. Well the Challenge is almost like a rhetorical question.
      As of today, whether it is in a radius of 200 km, or 2000 km, or even 20.000 km around Germany/allies, I see no potential threat to Germany/allies of getting blockaded, bombed or invaded/occupied.

      Then, we could generally agree with ‘Why couldn't we simply ignore our coast and think like Austrians, Swiss, Hungarians...after all, our much more continental nature than maritime nature emphasises the need for land and air power.’ And like the Vikings (a common ancestor to Germans and Russians?), a potential invader of Germany would mostly come by land/air for practical reasons.

      By ‘coastal defence (i.e. INS Hanit, 2006 Lebanon War) I meant mobile anti-ship and anti-submarine missile defence: when Hezbollah used Chinese C-802 anti-ship missile on high tech Sa'ar 5-class corvette of the Israeli Navy. I did not mean old style fortifications (i.e. Atlantic Wall and the like in history) that could be devastated by cruise missiles, etc:

      Now, here is where I insert question notes:
      Does Iran need a navy?
      I am self-conscious that the following question is of the utmost stupidity:
      What if, in an improbable scenario, the USN crosses the Atlantic and land again (for the 3rd time) in France or elsewhere, as enemies?
      Same question with the improbable scenario of Russian Navy.
      Would deception tactics be cost effective?
      In case of necessity, could Germany develop the skills and hardware fast enough to respond to a threat?

      If I was German, and just because of the strange feeling/anxiety of being disarmed somehow, and my natural mistrust for the term ‘allies’ (I am not Polish either), I would still believe that Germany could afford a ‘minimal but efficient water capability’ at minimal cost:
      1. a speed boat program with anti-ship missiles for sea- lake-river intervention;
      2. a Special Boat Service (SBS) is an essential part or Special Forces;
      3. a submarine program that is viable through exports.

      The first 2 can be financed even by tourism, speedboating activities, diving and civilian related activities (instructors being military personnel).
      Joke: and why not get some inspiration from Israel, let’s get defence spending financed by a third party (‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’).

      But, strictly speaking, you are right; Germany and many other countries could live without a cent spent on Navy, like France could have lived without the Charles de Gaulle carrier. Often restricted resources are emotionally spent on ‘pride and prestige’, without rationally examining the real needs.
      And the reallocation of the saved resources could strongly augment the air and ground defence forces as some skills and weapons are multiple purposes (i.e. Tunguska-M1 can be equally efficient against air and ground targets).

  4. Having a proper navy is like having condoms:
    Better to have them and don´t need them than needing one and not having.
    Fleet construction and training needs more time than training and equipping infantry. We have just witnessed how the UK voted for Brexit. If they (or someone else who has a big navy) leaves for instance NATO in a time of tension or conflict an important piece in an overall defense concept will be missing. Now the first line defence (in case of a NATO/Russia clash) will be held (or not for very long) by the tiny Baltic states or by the (economically and numerically) weaker new NATO members.

    1. I see you repeat the memorized conventional default assumption. Such nebulous writing requires no thought.

      Now again; can you describe a realistic situation in which a German navy may make the difference regarding Germany or an ally getting blockaded, bombed, invaded/occupied?

      The point is "needing one" doesn't mean that "having one" solves any problem, for "having" a navy used to be utterly wasteful to Germany and many other powers again and again.

  5. If it is about competence, it would make sense to buy items from powers that have a necessity to secure own and capability to secure German sea lines of communication. The naval investment would be a most compatible alliance contribution to any continguency that needs alliance investments into open sea lines anywhere on the globe (reserve stocks of compatible equipment are one possible contribution). So it would be UK and US ships with German subs as an own niche product specializing on shallow waters.
    If no naval investments are being made, the alliance can be received as unbalanced if one contribution is not valued as much as another.

    1. Why care about sea lines of communication at all? Germany can trade to neighbours' ports unless said neighbours block our trade, in which case a navy -particularly one of the typical post-WW2 size - is not going to help at all.

      Think about Hungary. Does it need a navy? Why not? If it does, why does it keep surviving without one? Why couldn't we simply ignore our coast and think like Austrians, Swiss, Hungarians...after all, our much more continental nature than maritime nature emphasises the need for land and air power.

    2. Germany lost two world wars due to a lack of sea lines of communication and resulting lowered industry output and food availability. The EU or earlier WEU covers a similar territory and would face similar problems. For this reason, with the foundation of Western Germany, it was decided to align with the sea powers UK and USA. The USA is pivoting out, but the UK is geographically and economically the best choice for a naval ally, that would benefit from being free in home waters for their global challenges. A navy under these circumstances serves as an alliance reinforcement by integrating as good as possible into the allied navies.
      Hungary has no coastline any more and Slovenia arguably could do without a navy. A navy is not about many big ships, but our overwhelming power as an alliance depends on our naval capabilities. The majority of which is provided by the USA, which does these stupid interventions creating streams of refugees. But as long as there is one superior navy, none dares to challenge the order that has most goods transported by ships. Of course, Germany could specialize and do without a navy, but for competence and good vibes it makes sense to have a small well-integrated naval contribution at low costs that upper the necessary naval investment to topple the dominant naval alliance, the NATO. Toppling NATO via shipbuilding is not unthinkable.

    3. France would have been defeated in 1914 or 1915 had Germany not wasted so many resources on naval power. Germany's defeat in 1918 happened only AFTER it had solved the food crisis by occupying the Ukraine.

      My point is that Poland and Germany should indeed specialize on early defence in the East.
      In a first mental step the need for such an early defence (and thus deterrence) capability should be recognised, and Germany is in position to meet this need.
      In a second mental step one should recognise that several allies have a maritime mindset (US, UK, Italy, Netherlands, to some extent France) and will spend much on naval power, regardless of how much Germany spends on it.
      The third step is the logical conclusion is that German naval power is superfluous even to non-Baltic defence and deterrence needs.

      Only the Chinese could out-produce the NATO in warships, and they're no threat to Europe. Wrong side of the globe.

    4. "Germany lost two world wars due to a lack of sea lines of communication and resulting lowered industry output and food availability."

      That is nonsense. If you were smart you would make a simple gedankenexperiment: What would have been the strategic situation if Germany had no fleet in 1914 at all. No real difference.

      Now you could ask how many army corps could have been financed with the saved money? Around 10-15, i.e. three regular armies.

      With two more German armies in the west the ground war would have been over in autum 1914, spring 1915.

      UK could not have been defeated in any scenario, but UK could not have won with a defeated France.


  6. First, let's say that the only real ennemy of a german navy today is Russia or...pirates. So the task would be to prevent russians to transform the Baltic into a Putin's lake, in case of hot war.
    If you want something more precise to help the swedes to defend the island of Gotland and secure the baltic countries coasts against naval bombardements, raids, spetsnaz incursions, or even small invasions to outmaneuver NATO forces in land. And be doing this having the possibility to do all of this to the russians.
    Personally I think that Germany would need something like the South Korean navy (coastal warfare and some small transport capabilities)before they went crazy with the big blue water navy thing.

    1. Nothing too bad happens before hostilities commence, and once hostilities commenced it would be MUCH easier to simply bomb the ports with air power than to maintain a navy specifically for such flimsy hypothetical purposes.
      Besides, there's a Swedish navy, a Dutch, a British... and in case of Finland joining the conflict due to the EU Treaty the entire Russian Baltic surface fleet would be holed up in Russian ports as in 1941-1944.

      SSI submarines on the other hand, in the tricky waters of the Baltic Sea, possibly even under ice - the best counter would be to hit the bases and lay a couple thousand simple naval mines in Danish waters. To defeat such an opposition in battle at sea would require disproportionally high effort.

  7. Opinions are pretty close here. The no navy argument is the old Prussian approach that had three important naval allies, Netherlands, Denmark and England. Still, even Prussia was not totally without own ships.
    Navies pay off, when they project influence, which costs money or requires new concepts. Going without a navy takes all capabilities in that regard. Going with some navy is the competence pool Sven suggested. When going with a navy, take the cheap shared option or make the all out military and diplomatic investment into a superior navy. I suggest to be more part of the superior navies, but at low costs.

    A Franco-German alliance could have seriously threatened the UK in 1914 for example. This was no issue because of certain differences. The navy of the German Empire was build rather mindless for lots of money and no diplomatic levers. A coastal raid and submarine navy with few up to date battleships would have been more of a threat and eased the concentration of the blockade, but people were stuck with grandeur and Mahan's battle.