Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: July 2009

1 - Wilhelm II and ‘his’ navy, 1888–1918


The uniform that the German Kaiser probably most loved was that of a British Admiral of the Fleet. Already as a child, when he had visited naval dockyards in Britain and Nelson's flagship Victory with his parents, he had been fascinated by the Royal Navy and both its great history and its achievements in making Britain the world's most powerful state and the supreme naval power in the nineteenth century. In order to emphasize his affection for the Royal Navy as well as the navy in general, one of his first acts after his appointment to the Royal Navy's highest rank was to have a picture painted showing him in this uniform and to present it to his grandmother, Queen Victoria. His pride and his vanity were so great that time and again he wore this uniform when he officially received the British ambassador to the court of Berlin. Pride and vanity were, however, only one aspect of Wilhelm's strange ‘love’ of the Royal Navy. More importantly, following his appointment, the German Kaiser now even felt entitled to interfere with British naval matters, and, as John Röhl has described in great detail in his biography of Wilhelm II, did in fact do so whenever possible, however trivial the matter was in the end.

Although German naval officers regarded this behaviour of their own ‘supreme warlord’ with deep contempt, generally speaking, the latter's passion for the navy, which he had obviously ‘inherited’ from his mother and which had steadily grown during his visits to England as a child, was indeed a blessing for the nation's ‘junior service’.