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The Fleet and Anglo-German Relations: Rear Admiral Tirpitz to Admiral von Stosch (February 13, 1896)

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Still, this incident can do some good. I would even consider a larger disgrace of this sort to be useful to us if it opened the eyes of our misguided parliamentarians. First, the Anglomania in certain circles would definitively stop, and, second, the nation would be roused to build a fleet as outlined in Directive IX [Dienstschrift IX]. In fact, this bill is expected to be introduced in the next budget. The national government and the heads of parliament naturally see no prospect for success. If the navy wholeheartedly demonstrates the military and political value of our current fleet, it will at least be doing its part, and history will be forced to hold other people accountable. So I believe that we should retract our claws and, over the next twelve years, build a modern fleet whose strength will approximate the size discussed in Your Excellency’s 1872 paper.

[As for operations against England, if war breaks out in the near future, let me inform Your Excellency that the Supreme Command has not yet worked through this scenario; the more pressing issue has been the possibility of war against France and Russia. We worked solidly with two competent departmental heads to create a reasonable plan for this contingency. We had nothing at all when I came to Berlin, and we were all astonished at how much ground we were able to cover. We will be able to transfer much, but certainly not all, of this model to other cases; the military approach will require further consideration. For this reason I am only able to discuss my general understanding of this matter, not one that has been entirely thought through. I do not have great hopes for cruiser warfare, even against England. The ships that we have overseas will be quickly cut off, probably captured and destroyed, since England will not respect any political neutrality. We will be able to cause some disquiet with our Lloyd steamships, but not much, since our steamship fleet has not been built with this purpose in mind—though it could have benefited both sides, both Lloyd and the navy. While we lack any ports abroad, the English have ports and coal everywhere, and the world is teeming with English warships of the most modern design. This leaves us with our actual battle fleet, which must be concentrated in the North Sea. As long as it continues to exist, it must cover the Baltic and paralyze English trade there. If England badly underestimates our naval power—if she underestimates our only strength, the torpedo boats—there will be a battle off Heligoland with those English forces that are lying ready in England. It is conceivable that we might repel a poorly executed offensive by the English fleet and profit from the catastrophe breaking out in London—also, Russia might consider it an advantageous opportunity to strike England herself. But we would not be able to withstand a second English offensive.

If England acts correctly, she will attack us with overwhelming superiority, taking Borkum and establishing a foothold there. She will block the North and Baltic Seas, which will simultaneously serve as a show of force against Russia. She will take our colonies, destroy our trade across the world and wreak as much havoc along our coasts as possible. If France does not come to our aid, we will be forced to capitulate. Can we count on this happening? I don’t think so. If England pursues the right military policy, she will have to mobilize her entire home fleet, if only to guard against complications. She will have to mass her forces in the mouth of the Thames with strong surveillance squadrons to counter our attack. English mobilization will proceed slightly more slowly than ours, at least if it is done on a large scale. We would possibly have a few days’ head start and would have to decide whether we should go into the Thames with everything we could muster. We could use to full advantage the many vessels we have for harbor and river warfare. At one go, we could capture a fairly large part of the English mercantile fleet and be in a position to shell parts of London. The question is whether this short time period would be sufficient [?] to achieve success in the form of an agreement that is fair for both sides.

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