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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: May 2017

The sea in German grand strategy, 1919–1939/40


ABSTRACT.The navy was developed in the 1920s as a political rather than strategic instrument, to divide the victorious powers and upset the terms of the Versailles Treaty by “assymetric” ship designs. But the 1935 Anglo-German agreement tempted Germany into competing once more in a conventional naval arms race, which she lacked the resources and the time to pursue.

RÉSUMÉ.La marine fut développée dans les années 1920 comme un instrument politique plus que stratégique, pour diviser les puissances victorieuses et contrarier les termes du traité de Versailles par une conception « asymétrique » des navires. Mais l'accord germano-britannique de 1935 entraîna l'Allemagne dans une nouvelle course à l'armement naval qu'elle n'avait ni les ressources ni le temps nécessaires de mener.

At the end of World War I, the German Imperial Navy was the starting point of a revolt which overthrew the German regime. Under such circumstances, the question would soon have to be asked, as to whether and how the continued existence of a navy could be justified. In the course of drafting the Versailles Peace Treaty, Great Britain was largely successful in gaining acceptance for her security interests: removal of the German colonies as possible naval bases, free use of the Kiel Canal, elimination of Heligoland as a naval base and the drastic limitation of German naval armament, reducing Germany to a status of a third-rate naval power.

Under Article 181 of the Peace Treaty, the active forces in the German Navy could not exceed the following size: six pre-dreadnought battleships, six light cruisers, twelve destroyers and twelve torpedo boats. Since the Treaty had not stipulated how many units Germany was to be allowed to keep in reserve, the Conference of Allied Ambassadors determined on 26 March 1920 the number of reserve units: two battleships, two light cruisers, four destroyers and four torpedo boats. Thus, the German Navy, in contrast to the curtailment of the Army, was reinforced by 33 per cent. Submarines and military aircraft were forbidden altogether. As a result, the German Navy lacked those weapons which modern naval warfare required. However, the attempt by Britain and the United States to abolish the submarine as a naval weapon was thwarted by the opposition of France, which made itself the champion of the minor naval powers by emphasizing the importance of the submarine as a naval weapon of weak nations.