Staatskaperei : the German navy and commerce warfare, 1856-1888
Olivier, David Harold
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This dissertation is the first attempt to examine the effects German commerce-raiding philosophies had on naval operations planning and construction policies from 1856 to 1888. Commerce-raiding doctrines reflected the awareness of the importance of overseas trade, provided a simple strategy for a second-class navy, and gave officers and crews a means of contributing to the war-effort. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the relationship between maritime commerce and the conduct of war at sea underwent a profound transformation. This alteration was the result of both changes in maritime law and in technological advances. The world's established navies were uncertain as to how best to exploit these new dynamics. At this time, Germany emerged as a new naval power. Unencumbered by centuries of tradition, naval officers were free to assess this new situation in the light of their current experiences serving as guardians of German commercial and political interests overseas. The very ships they used were ideally suited for a long-range cruiser warfare against enemy shipping. Furthermore, commerce-raiding gave the new navy an offensive function exclusive to itself, allowing it to create its own identity separate from the army and from the army officers who were the navy's initial leaders. The topic of commerce warfare in the German navy deserves a greater degree of coverage than it has received from scholars because of its importance in later debates regarding the German navy. When Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz adopted a policy emphasizing the construction of a fleet of battleships in 1897, he went against decades of tradition. When Germany lost the First World War, a bitter discussion ensued over the navy's failure. The leadership of the German navy never officially adopted cruiser warfare as a general strategy, but it never took the steps necessary to remove it as an option in case of war. This ambiguity reflected the continued interest of many naval officers in cruiser warfare. Nevertheless, the strategy of commerce warfare never received the one policy decision necessary for it to be feasible: a serious pursuit of overseas naval bases. The ambiguities of the German navy--was it for coastal defence, pitched battle, or high-seas raiding?--were not resolved until Tirpitz's controversial new direction in the late 1890s. This dissertation is a deliberate rejection of the notion that this connection can be explained solely by the influence of the French 'Jeune Ecole ' philosophy of commerce-raiding of the mid-1880s. The German navy had its own thoughts on cruiser warfare, developed by its own officers, before the 'Jeune Ecole' came into existence. Basing their ideas on the experience of the Confederate States in the American Civil War and on their own experience in the Franco-Prussian War, a number of senior naval officers were prepared to have the navy engage in a war on commerce which was neither as profit-motivated as the now-outlawed privateering nor as ruthless as the new French theories. These ideas are taken from their official correspondence, memoranda, and from naval presentations to the Reichstag.