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

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As Your Excellency sees, this would be an act of desperation, yet it is perhaps our only chance. Even in the event of a strategic defense, our only chance lies in biding our time and hoping for allies. We only have a real chance if the French navy joins us along with the Russians. Although I do not doubt for a moment that England will nonetheless emerge victorious, this turn of events would be a very unpleasant complication arising from a small-scale war with Germany.

Your Excellency will easily see from the offensive outlined above that, for a thorough evaluation, we need accurate information on forces and speed of mobilization. In addition, German naval officers need to make a careful study of the Thames to make a more or less reliable [illegible] assessment. Nevertheless, Your Excellency will see how I currently assess power relations and recognize the direction we need to take. When it comes to British military power, our newspapers are as reliable as a deaf man discussing music. Your Excellency is definitely right in saying that English policy is guided by trade interests. The “City” forges English policy, yet this does not change the fact that we must reckon with this circumstance. We currently have many ships that are obsolete or not seaworthy. As soon as we have two to three modern squadrons supported by cruisers, as well as reserve material in this old fleet, the city on the Thames will suddenly see Germany as a nation worthy of respect under all circumstances and in all matters.

It will probably be impossible to bring back the vessels from East Asia. They do not increase our chances against England, and any attempt to retrieve them would make it even more obvious that we have gotten ourselves into an unfavorable situation there. All told, there is a tendency in Berlin to demand a greater presence abroad. I have also spoken in favor of this. But we do not have any vessels for this purpose, and naturally we cannot do without the cruiser squadron in case of a war against France at home.

I beg Your Excellency to excuse the rather long ramblings above, but the matter has greatly preoccupied me].

Source: Rear Admiral Tirpitz to Admiral von Stosch on the political function and significance of naval power in Germany’s relations with England (February 13, 1896) Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv Freiburg, Nachlaß Tirpitz N 253/321.

Original German text reprinted in Volker Berghahn and Wilhelm Diest, Rüstung im Zeichen der wilhelminischen Weltpolitik: Grundlegende Dokumente 1890-1914 [Armament within the Context of Wilhelmine Global Politics: Key Documents 1890-1914]. Dusseldorf, 1988, pp. 114-17.

Translation: Adam Blauhut

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