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15 Tirpitz at War, August 1914–March 1916

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

The central theater of the naval war was the North Sea. The north–south orientation of the island of Great Britain was a barrier that made the North Sea a virtual cul de sac. Germany only had access to the open ocean either to the south, through the narrow English Channel, or to the north. At its southern end, where the English Channel begins, less than 30 nautical miles separate Dover from Calais. The North Sea extends north about 700 miles, along the coast of England and Scotland, to the Shetland Islands. About 200 miles east of the Shetlands is the great Norwegian coastal archipelago, inside of which is the old Hanseatic port of Bergen. From Bergen, 400 miles south and slightly east, was the fortified island of Helgoland, 50 miles north of the Jade Bay, and Wilhelmshaven, the home of the High Seas Fleet. From there, initially skirting the Dutch coast, another 300 miles southwest, is Dover and the English Channel. At the northwest corner of the North Sea, in the Orkney Islands, is Scapa Flow, the principal base of the British Grand Fleet. From there, 600 miles away, almost exactly southeast of Scapa, is Wilhelmshaven. The route between the two forms a diagonal that neatly bisects the North Sea.

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17 Conclusion

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

Tirpitz entered the navy in 1865 as a gangly adolescent. From the outset he showed elements of the intelligence, diligence, and sheer determination that marked his entire career. His father, jokingly but prophetically, predicted he would be a Grand Admiral. As he matured into a junior officer and suffered the frustrating experience of serving through two wars without firing a shot, he demonstrated a talent, rare among his contemporaries, for working out on paper ideas that were logical, empirical, and creative. This talent attracted the attention of both peers and superiors and helped him obtain enviable career assignments, first (1877) as a junior officer in the mint-new Torpedo Arm, and later (1892) as Chief of Staff of the Oberkommando. Except for royalty, there was no early promotion within the navy’s iron-hard seniority system, and he was never promoted ahead of his own seniority (fifth within the “crew” of 1865).

Luck, too, played a role, even before he entered the navy. When the training ship Amazone sank with all hands in 1861, six senior officers and nineteen ensigns and sea cadets were among the crew, and each would have preceded him on the seniority list. Good fortune also spared him from the accidents and exposure to disease that cut short many careers. A lifelong hypochondriac, in 1876 he dreaded a posting to China. When he briefly went to China in 1896–97 he did become ill. Instead of service abroad, in 1877 he was assigned to the Torpedo Arm. He served there for twelve years with an unusual degree of autonomy and rose from Lt. Commander to Captain, with increasing levels of responsibility, taking a giant step toward the creation of a formidable reputation.

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· Appendix

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

THE TORPEDO GANG

The semi-tabular form used below lists each officer’s name; year of birth; years in the Torpedo Arm while Tirpitz was there (1877–89); years in the Oberkommando der Marine (OKM) when Tirpitz was Chief of Staff (1892–95); and years in the Reichsmarineamt (RMA) while Tirpitz was there (1897–1916). Listed last is each officer’s final service rank and the most important position he ever held. A few of them also served with Tirpitz when he was Chief of the East Asian Cruiser Squadron (1896–97). These are noted where applicable. Almost all the data below are from Hans Hildebrand, ed., Deutschlands Admirale, 1849–1945. Names listed as “von” indicate hereditary nobility; names listed as “(von)” indicate non-nobles by birth but enobled during their lifetime for their services.

Hunold von Ahlefeld (1851): Torpedo Arm, 1880–91; OKM, 1893–96; RMA, 1902–1907; Vice Admiral and Chief of the Baltic Station, 1907–1908.

Otto Braun (1864?): Torpedo Arm, 1885–87; OKM, 1892–95; died in a typhoon on 23 July 1896 as Lieutenant Commander and Commander of the gunboat Iltis, part of Tirpitz’s East Asian Cruiser Squadron.

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4 The Young Officer, 1870–1877: A Taste of War

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

Consolidation of the North German Confederation, which by 1867 included all the German states north of the River Main, had important maritime consequences. With the addition of Hamburg and other Hanseatic cities, the Confederation possessed the world’s third-largest merchant marine. Greater only were those of Britain and the United States.1 In Berlin the team of Roon as Naval (and Army) Minister, Prinz Adalbert as Commanding Admiral, and Jachmann as Operational Commander in October 1867 got the new Reichstag to approve a ten-year program for sixteen armored ships, twenty unarmored corvettes, and eight avisos (dispatch boats), all steam-powered. The navy’s proposed goals were encouragement and protection of worldwide trade, defense of the North Sea and Baltic coasts, and, most ambitious, the development of a modest capacity to threaten enemy trade, fleets, and harbors.2 The navy’s expansion meant a shift from long-term volunteer sailors to three-year conscripts. Their sheer numbers would greatly increase the navy’s training burden.3

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2 Tirpitz’s Early Life

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

Alfred Peter Friedrich Tirpitz was born on 19 March 1849 in Küstrin an der Oder in the Mark Brandenburg, Prussia.1 Oral tradition in his father’s family claimed that the family name had been Czern von Terpitz, originally from Silesia and Bohemia. The Thirty Years’ War brought impoverishment and forced the family to surrender the ennobling “von.”

The earliest Tirpitz who can be documented was Christian Ferdinand (1707–1790), a trumpeter and musician. His son, Jacob Friedrich (1750–1830), Tirpitz’s great-grandfather, was an army trumpeter for a Prussian dragoon regiment from the Küstrin area. He became a salt factor and overseer of the salt monopoly in Sonnenburg.

Jacob’s middle son, Friedrich Wilhelm (1782–1862), Alfred’s grandfather, was a lawyer and notary, first in Sonnenburg and later in Frankfurt an der Oder. His wife, Ulrike Rohleder (1788–1862), was the daughter of a government official in Sonnenburg and a descendant of noble Hugenot refugees. The eldest child of Friedrich and Ulrike was Rudolf Friedrich Tirpitz (1811–1905), Alfred’s father. He went to classical gymnasium in Berlin at the Gray Cloister, with a schoolmate named Otto von Bismarck. He studied law at Heidelberg, joined the mostly aristocratic Saxoborussia Corps, and was known as a boxer and duelist. Most unusual is that he drank milk instead of beer. The twenty-one-year-old Rudolf met and fell intensely in love with seventeen-year-old Malwine Hartmann (1815–1880). Once he secured an appropriate position, they were married in 1843. Rudolf had a long and successful career as a jurist. He began as a local magistrate in Küstrin and Frankfurt an der Oder, and capped his career as an appellate judge, sitting in Berlin, for the whole Mark Brandenburg.2 Rudolf’s education and career are clear indications of his status in the upper bourgeoisie.

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