Anglo-German naval arms race
|Events leading to World War I|
The United Kingdom had the largest navy in the world In accord with Wilhelm II's enthusiasm for an expanded German navy and the strong desires of Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, Secretary of State of the German Imperial Naval Office, four Fleet Acts from 1898 and 1912 greatly expanded the German High Seas Fleet. The German aim was to build a fleet that would be two thirds the size of the British navy. The plan was sparked by the threat of the British Foreign Office in March 1897, after the British invasion of Transvaal that started the Boer War, of blockading the German coast and thereby crippling the German economy if Germany intervened in the conflict in Transvaal. From 1905 onward, the British navy developed plans for such a blockade, which was a central part of British strategy.
In reaction to the challenge to its naval supremacy, from 1902 to 1910, the British Royal Navy embarked on a massive expansion to keep ahead of the Germans. The competition came to focus on the revolutionary new ships based on HMS Dreadnought, which was launched in 1906.
By 1913, there was intense internal debate about new ships because of the growing influence of John Fisher's ideas and increasing financial constraints. It is now generally accepted by historians that in the first half of 1914, the Germans adopted a policy of building submarines instead of new dreadnoughts and destroyers, effectively abandoning the arms race, but since they kept the new policy secret, other powers would be delayed in following suit.
The naval race between Britain and Germany generated massive public support on each side. In the midst of the race, the British public coined the slogan 'We want eight and we won't wait!', referring to the number of dreadnoughts that they wanted the government to build. With the surge of public support, the government commissioned more shipbuilding.
The British defense policy was to ensure that the British navy was at least the size of the next two largest navies as outlined in the two-power standard. It was not the case as the war approached because of financial and logistical constraints and the speed of expansion of the German and the US navies. Britain, however, boasted the largest and most mighty navy when war broke out in 1914.
Britain managed to build HMS Dreadnought in just 14 months and by the start of the First World War, Britain had 49 battleships, compared with Germany's 29. Although the naval race continued, it was economically impossible for the Germans to close the gap before the war broke out.
Attempt at resolution
In 1912, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg ended the naval arms race. His aim was to secure an understanding with the British to end the increasingly isolated position of Germany. Russian military expansion compelled the Germans to prioritise spending on their army and therefore less on the navy. The initiative led to the Haldane Mission in which Germany offered to accept British naval superiority in exchange for British neutrality in a war in which Germany could not be said to be the aggressor. The proposal was rejected, as Britain felt that it had nothing to gain by such a treaty since its naval superiority was insecure, but the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey favoured a more assertive policy against Germany.
|Country||Personnel||Large naval vessels
|*4th not commissioned yet.|
- Causes of World War I
- Imperial German Navy
- Germany–United Kingdom relations
- International relations of the Great Powers (1814–1919)
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