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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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· 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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12 Sow the Wind, 1906–1908

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

The RMA’s diverse workload and Tirpitz’s success as a bureaucratic warrior employed sixty mostly senior sea officers, by far the largest levy in the navy except for the fleet itself.1 Many of them were long-term RMA officers, whereas the Admiralstab had thirty-six officers, most of them quite junior, who rotated frequently in and out of the fleet. The RMA employed fifty-seven senior civil servants (none in the Admiralstab), plus clerks, scribes, and so on. The Admiralstab had only one admiral (Büchsel), whereas the RMA had six rear admirals or officers of even higher rank.

The RMA still had a leavening of Tirpitz’s Torpedo Gang, who, by 1906, were of high rank. These included Tirpitz’s close personal friends: Vice Admiral Hunold von Ahlefeld, Rear Admiral August von Heeringen, and Captain Raimond Winkler. Other torpedo men included Captain Reinhard Scheer and Captain Harald Dähnhardt. The latter two reported to Rear Admiral Eduard Capelle, Director of the Administrative Department (V).

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6 Interim, 1889–1891

Patrick J. Kelly Indiana University Press ePub

Late in 1883 or early in 1884, while Tirpitz struggled with the complexities of torpedoes and torpedo boats, the thirty-four-year-old officer fell in love. The young lady, Marie Lipke, was a fetching twenty-three year old from a wealthy bourgeois family. By early 1884 they were engaged. Their correspondence at the time shows Tirpitz as the eager suitor. “How much I love you and desire you . . . do you feel this desire at least a little bit?” Marie fretted that Alfred might find her boring.1 They married on 18 November 1884 at the Garrison Church in Berlin.2 After a happy and protracted honeymoon they lived in Kiel in a house subsidized by Gustav Lipke, Marie’s father.3

Marriage for a naval officer was a complicated business. The groom needed imperial marriage consent (Allerhöchsten Konsens), for reasons both financial and social. Officers needed enough money to support a family, lest they be overwhelmed with debt. Brides, too, had to have financial means, and a wife with low social status was considered unsuitable. The practical effect of such rules was to prevent officers ranked below lieutenant from marrying. Young officers searched for wealthy, socially acceptable young women so actively that, in 1894, the Marine Kabinett censured officers for advertising in the newspapers for a suitable match. Although there were no written rules, young officers were discouraged from seeking Jewish wives, even if the latter were financially and socially suitable.4

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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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