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13 The Whirlwind Rises, 1908–1911

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

The 1908 Novelle, and the less celebrated but equally important ratcheting up of the ship cost table, was a great victory. Shipbuilding increased at an energetic pace. Money poured in to expand imperial and private shipyards, as well as Krupp’s great armor and artillery forges.

In June 1908 Tirpitz arranged a junket for Reichstag and Bundesrat members. From Danzig to Kiel to Wilhelmshaven, the parliamentarians inspected fortifications and fleet exercises. Tirpitz explained the need for quiet, steady work over the next few years, and radiated confidence that the navy was spending the public’s money efficiently and wisely.1

The 1908 Novelle was a potentially provocative act. Tirpitz tried to soft-pedal it, but he feared that British Conservatives would raise a hue and cry and demand a corresponding expansion of the Royal Navy or, even worse, replay the “Copenhagen” cries heard in 1904–1905.2 Just as threatening for Tirpitz were British diplomatic attempts to limit the arms race.

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14 Denouement, 1911–1914

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

The explosive events of the summer and early fall of 1911 were triggered by an innocent and routine ship redeployment. The gunboat Panther, Southwest African station ship, was due to return to Wilhelmshaven for major repairs. Chief of the Admiralstab, Fischel, on 8 March 1911, asked the Foreign Office if there were any objections if Panther stopped in a Moroccan port on its way home in July. The French, in violation of the Algeciras Act of 1906, occupied the Moroccan capital of Fez on 21 May. Foreign Secretary Kiderlen-Wächter agreed to allow Panther to visit the port of Mogador.1

Late in June Bethmann and Kiderlen decided to challenge the French occupation of Morocco. A handy excuse was to protect hypothetically endangered German nationals in Agadir. The Emperor reluctantly consented, though nervous that it might spoil his upcoming visit to London. Since all the principals were at Kiel Week, Kiderlen called in Heeringen, the new Chief of the Admiralstab, to prepare the necessary orders without clarifying the political context. Heeringen told Michaelis that the Emperor had ordered the immediate dispatch of Panther to Agadir. Michaelis asked why the initiative, to which Heeringen replied: “To hoist the flag.” Michaelis responded: “The little ship is too weak to make a difference, and, by raising their flag at Fez, the French have declared that Morocco is in their sphere.” Heeringen answered: “It is not supposed to conquer Morocco but only to show that we are there, too. As Kiderlen says, it should be a trumpet blast with which we will get compensation from the French elsewhere.”2 Neither Tirpitz nor the Fleet Chief was officially informed.

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8 On the Verge of Power, 1895–1897

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

When William II became Emperor in 1888, Germany was in the midst of explosive population and economic growth.1 Between 1871 and 1910 the population of the Empire grew from 41 million to 65 million. Urban dwellers more than doubled and the annual population growth was 1 percent, after emigration slowed down in the early 1880s. Coal production grew sevenfold, and iron and steel production even faster, so that by 1900 German industrial power had caught up to that of Great Britain. Globally Germany was second only to the even faster-growing United States. Foreign trade grew alongside industry. Exports of industrial goods and imports, principally foodstuffs and raw materials, became increasingly important to the economy. Burgeoning growth continued in the German merchant marine, although the vast bulk of foreign trade was with other European countries.2

There was a concomitant growth of an industrial working class. The discriminatory three-class voting system within Prussia muted the number of seats of Social Democrats, but in the Imperial Reichstag the Socialist vote rose from 1.4 million in 1890 to 2.1 million in 1898, 27 percent of the total. The geographic distribution of seats, unchanged since 1871, limited Socialist seats to 56 (of 397) in 1898; but the trend of growing legislative representation seemed clear to contemporaries, as frightening to parties of the right as it was heartening to those of the left. The largest single party, the Center, represented Catholic interests and consistently won about 100 seats. Conservatives worried about how these two parties, anathematized by Bismarck as “enemies of the Reich,” would function in the post-Bismarck era.

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3 The Aspirant, 1865–1870

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

On 24 April 1865 seventeen-year-old Alfred Tirpitz arrived at the newly established Prussian Baltic base of Kiel and swore the oath that marked the beginning of his career. On 15 May he boarded a large ship for the first time in his life, the corvette Arcona, then serving as a watch ship for Kiel harbor. Senior officers did not pay much attention to cadets, who were left in the care of the petty officers. Tirpitz, like many others, suffered from homesickness. He missed his mother and his indulgent home life in Frankfurt. He also witnessed, with distaste, his first flogging.1

On 14 June Tirpitz and his comrades of the crew of 1865 boarded the British-built sailing frigate Niobe, their seagoing home for the next year.2 Its captain was one of the navy’s most distinguished officers, Commander Carl Batsch. Among his cadet shipmates were six who later became admirals: Wilhelm Büchsel, Oscar Klausa, and Iwan Oldekop, who were personally close to Tirpitz; Otto von Diedrichs, a few years older than the others because of prior service in the merchant marine; plus Richard Geissler and Oscar Boeters.3

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5 The Creation of the German Torpedo Arm, 1877–1889

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

When Tirpitz joined the Torpedo Commission, the first halting steps had already been taken in the evolving technology that would culminate in the sleek, deadly underwater missiles of the twentieth century. One idea was to put a mine at the end of a spar and use it as an exploding ram. Another was the Harvey tow torpedo, a floating charge on a tether attached to a boat, with the intention of turning the boat away at the moment of attack and allowing the charge to strike the target. Both these methods required almost suicidal bravery on the part of crews of improvised 10-knot torpedo boats. Nevertheless, by the early 1870s, most naval powers were trying out variations of these weapons. The possibility, even if remote, of sinking expensive battleships with cheap torpedoes was too tempting to resist, especially for smaller navies.

A more dynamic approach was the self-propelled “fish” torpedo. An English engineer, Robert Whitehead, director of the Firma Stabilimento Tecnico in Fiume, pursued this concept, the outcome of which would be the modern torpedo. In 1867 the Austrian government bought Whitehead’s patent. As early as 1869 a delegation from the North German Navy visited Fiume. By 1873, with Stosch in charge, the Imperial German Navy purchased torpedoes under license from the Austrian government and Whitehead.1

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