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England and the German Fleet: Alfred von Tirpitz looks back on the Naval Race (1920)

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Nonetheless, various reasons compelled me to oppose the introduction of an amendment at that time, and in early 1906 I offered my resignation in connection with this. The amendment that I introduced in 1906, which easily passed in the Reichstag, only included the six large cruisers that the Reichstag had not approved in 1900 and for which I immediately announced renewed requests in 1906. I also had to ask the Reichstag for the larger sums required to begin dreadnought construction, which the English had forced upon us, as well as all the world’s navies. Further, the Reichstag finally had to approve the funds required to enlarge the North Sea Canal on account of increased vessel sizes.

I responded with reserve to the pressures I was under to make additional demands, which not only had a calming effect on foreign policy but also increased the trust shown by the Reichstag. Under the circumstances, any additional demands in 1904-05 would probably have resulted in the direct threat of war without bringing us any immediate benefits. Over and above this, the navy would not have been able to handle further additions.

Fiscal year 1908 was the point at which, for many reasons, we had to ask for the vessels’ service life to be reduced. In the summer of 1907, even before the Imperial Naval Office had decided in favor of a naval amendment, a veritable battle broke out between the centrist parties and the Liberals over who would be the bigger champion of such an amendment, so we had no difficulty having our demands met. It was the first time the Liberals had voted both for the ships and the principle of a legal commitment.

This amendment did not increase the number of ships under the Naval Law, but it did considerably rejuvenate the fleet, thus increasing its combat strength. The replacement of the ships also meant an acceleration of dreadnought construction, a class of ships that had shaken the confidence in older vessels.


The only real crisis in Anglo-German relations between 1904 and 1914 occurred in the summer of 1911 and resulted from the manner in which our political leadership attempted to resolve the Morocco dispute with France. Like so many German diplomats, the foreign secretary, v. Kiderlen-Wächter, lacked any talent for dealing with England. He did not do damage by capitulating but rather by his sloppy handling of the affair. At his suggestion, the chancellor dispatched the gunboat Panther to the Moroccan port of Agadir on July 1, 1911. Though the British government demanded an explanation, the chancellor left them in the dark about our intentions for several weeks. The result was the speech that Lloyd George read before the English cabinet on July 21 warning Germany that Britain would side with France if that country was challenged.

I was off duty and about to leave on my summer holiday when I learned of the order to dispatch the Panther. I considered it a sign of disorganization on the part of our imperial leaders that the Secretary of the Navy had not been consulted prior to a naval manoeuvre of such import for international politics, and, from the moment I learned that we had not informed England, I was also convinced that this show of power on the Atlantic was a blunder. If Kiderlen believed it would be necessary to make a military gesture, it would have to be made on land and solely against the French. I would have been opposed to this in principle. A flag is easily hoisted on a pole, but it is often difficult to retrieve it honorably. We did not want to go to war. But the imperial leadership made the gravest miscalculation when it did not reveal our intentions in the first weeks of July. Kiderlen made subsequent assurances that the chancellor had never considered demanding Moroccan territory. After Lloyd George’s threatening speech, though, it looked as if he was backing away from England’s raised sword. Our reputation suffered a blow across the world, and public opinion in Germany was influenced by this failure. “England stopped Germany” ran the headline in the international press.

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