** First World War I: Naval War national navies

World War I: National Navies

World War I boys Royal Navy
Figure 1.--Here are British boys studing in one of the Royal Navy's training ships during World war I. The photograph was captioned, "With the British Navy in war time. No time wasted while waiting for the Germans. Boys at school." The Grand Fleet spent most of the War in the North Sea waiting for the German Navy to sallout from its North Sea bases.

The British Royal Navy was still the dominant naval force of the day. The Royal Navy outnumbered the Germans in all important classes of surface vessls. The Royall Navy's numerical superority in capital ships made its control of the Sea virtually unassaiable. Britain's long naval tradition was also an important advantage. The German High Seas fleet was the only force capable of mouning a serious challenge to the British. The German built the second most important highseas fleet with ships every bit as good if not marginally better than the British ships. The German Navy included mostly modern ships because their construction prgram was reltively recent. The German crews despite the lack of a naval tradition were well trained and highly motivated. The geography of Germany with coasts located on the Baltic and North Sea met that invariably the British and Germnans would confront each ther in the North Sea. The Russian Navy was bottkled up in the Baltic. The French Navy was largely deployed in the Mediterranean. The Austrians had only a small navy which saw little action outside the adriaric. The Japanese Navy aided the Royal Navy in eliminating the German Pacific squadron and in seizng Grman colonies in the Far East and Pacific. The only important navy that was not engaged in the War from an early stage was the United States Navy.

Austro-Hungarian Navy

The Austrians had only a small navy which saw little action outside the adriaric. They were outclassed by the French Army which was largely deplpyed in the Mediterranean and even more so when Italy entered the War (May 1915). The major Austrian action was a sortie when Itly declared war (May 23, 1915). The Austrian battleships and cruisers mostly remained in port which forced the French and Italians to commit major assetts as well as a few British ships to Adriartic patrols. The small Austrian submarine force at first proved ineffective. The Germans began sending U-boats into the Mediterranean. (Doenitz was captured on one of thise patrols.) The German U-boats targetted Alied ships off the Dardinelles as well as convoys to Suez. At first they operated under the Austrian flag. (Italy only declared war on Austria). This only changed when Italy and Germany dclared war (August 1916). , German U-boats operated under their own flag. The smaller Austrian vessels (light crisers, destoyers, and submarines), sinking several allied vessels and damaging the French dreadnought Jean Bart. The final Austrian naval action resulted in the loss of the dreadnought Szent Istvan (June 1918).

British Royal Navy

The British Royal Navy was still the dominant naval force of the day. The British had virtual undispute control of the seas since Trafalgur (1805). The Royal Navy between Traflgur and World War I fought no major fleet engagements. It had, however many responsibilities as a result of Britain's far-flung Empire and all impotant merchant fleet. It was the Royal Navy's responsibility policie the colonies and trade routes and defending the British coastline. It also wa used to imposing blockades. This was a major factor in the Npoleomic Wars, but Until World War I this primarily meant small countries that were not paying their bills. Successive British government adopted the policy that to accomplisgh its responsibilities and to guarante British security, the Royal Navy needed a battlefleet that was larger than the world's two next largest navies put together. Thus the Royal Navy could prevail against even an alliance of hostile European powers. The only serious threat was the new German High Seas Fleet built by Kaiser Wilhelm and Admiral Tirpitz. The growing U.S. Navy before the War was also a concern, but it was the bombastic Kaiser and German High Ses Fleet that dominated British thought. The Royal Navy at the time of the War outnumbered the Germans in all important classes of surface vessels. The Royal Navy at the outbreak of World War I had 18 modern dreadnoughts (with 6 more under construction), 10 battlecruisers (lightly armored but heavily gunned), 20 town cruisers, 15 scout cruisers, 200 destroyers, 29 battleships (pre-dreadnought design) and 150 older cruisers (built before 1907). The Royall Navy's numerical superority in capital ships thus made its control of the Sea virtually unassailable. Britain's long naval tradition was also an important advantage.The German calculation was that this was unimportant. They thought that Britain mght even stay out of the War and at any rate the British had only amall Army. The Germanswere convinced tht using the Schhliffen Plan that the German Army would quickly win the War quickly by defeating the French Army as they did in the Franco-Prussian War. With France knocked out of the War, the British would quickly sue for peace. Thus the poerful Royal Navy was not a major concern. Unfortuntely for the Germans, not only did the Belgians fight, but the British did enter the War and rushed the small British Expeditionary Force (BEF) ws quickly deployed to Belgium and slowed the German advance. ARussian offensive in the East forced the Germans to shift forces east. And the French Army held at the Marne September 1914). The War turned into a protracted war of attrition and the Royal Navy supported by the French fleet tured into a key element of the War by eforcing a crippling blockade of Germany and its allies. Rather than being unimportant it became a central element in the War. Most of the Royal Navy's capital ships stationed at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys or Rosyth in Scotland. Here the Grand Fleet stood in readiness to stop any major German fleet action go break te blockade. Britain's smaller ships (cruisers, destroyers, submarines and light forces) were clustered at various points around the British coast. There were also smaller forces in Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and Pacific. The German High Seas fleet was the only force capable of mouning a serious challenge to the British. And as Admiral Jelocoe famously stated, he was the only man who could lose the War in a single day.

French Navy

France's oprimary role in World War I was in stopping the Germans on the Western front. France also had a navy which made an important contribution to the Allied war effort. The French Navy was largely deployed in the Mediterranean. German diplomatic beligerance helped to grdually push France and Britain, two historic fes, together. A major step was the Anglo-French Entente Cordiale (1904). French naval strategy developed in concentrating forces in the Mediterranean where it would likely face Italian-Austrian forces. (Italy joined the Central Powers, but did not join its allies in the War.) As relations improved with Britain, there was less need to maintain a large Atlantic fleet. The Royal Navy had the primary responsibility to bottle up the German highseas fleet. At the beginning of the war the French deployed only a few ships (cruisers, destroyers, torpedo boats, and submarines), mostly in the western approaches to the Channel. All of Frnce's 21 battleships we deployed with the the 1st Arm�e Navale under Adm de Lapeyr�re with. The French battleships included four newly-commissioned dreadnoughts and 6 "Danton" class pre-dreadnoughts. The force also had 15 cruisers, around 43 destroyers and 15 submarines. The immediate assisnment of the French fleet was to escort troop transports which brought North African divisions to France. Some arrived in time to participate in the critical Battle of the Marne (September 1914). When Italy did nt enter the War on the side of the Central Powers, the French were able to fcus oin the Austrian Navy. They based a powerful force of 14 battleships, 6 armoured cruisers, destroyers and submarines at the British base at Malta. They patrolled the southern Adriatic Sea to prevent any attempt by the Austrian Fleet to brek out. The French shelled Cattaro and Lissa. Two French pre-dreadnoughts joined a British squadron ptrolling off the Dardanelles to prevent the German battlecruiser "Goeben" from breaking out (September 1914). Italy decided to enter the war on the Allied side (May 1915). This improved the French stratehic position and they move their naval position forward (east) to Brindisi (Italy) and Corfu (Greek island). The French Navy participated in the Dardinelles operation (1915). The French Navy played a key role in saving the Serbian Army.World War I had been sparked by the Austrian invasion of Serbia (July 1914). The Austrians were stopped, however, by the Serbian Army. The Central Powers convinced Bulgaria to enter the War and a joint Austria, German, Bulgarian offensive smashed through Serbian lines (October 1915). The Serbs managed a terrible winter retreat across the Albania mountains to the Adriatic coast where French and British vessels transported 270,000 men to safty on Corfu (December 1915). Later they were moved to Bizerta in northern Tunisia eventually redeployed at in north eastern Greece. An eventual total of 270,000 men were evacuated by mainly French forces without loss. The French Navy played an important role in bringing Greece into the War on the Allied side. The King was sympathetic to the Germans, but wanted to remain neutral. Aver diplomatic persuasion failed, a French task force was deployed to Athens. The shelled the city and landed sailors. A new Greek Government declared war on Germany and joined the Allies (December 1916). The French seized Greek vessels which were than used in Allied operations against U-boats. France gradually expanded operations against German U-boats. The French engaged in both patrols and convoy escorts. French anti-Uboat operations were substantial. They organized into nine patrol and escort commands operating 111 torpedo boat's, 35 submarines, 63 sloops and gunboats, 153 submarine chasers and 734 armed trawlers.

German Navy

The Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) has a very limited history. Prussia was a countrywith a large army, but virtually no naval tradition. The German Navy ws created at the time of the formation of the German Empire around the Kingsom of Prussia and the Hohezolern monarchy (1871). The Imperial Navy was formed from the small Prussian Navy and Norddeutsche Bundesmarine which primarily was a kind of coast guard. Kaiser Wilhelm I was uniterested in the Navy. This changed with the accension of his son, Kaiser Wilhem II (1888). The new Kaiser was the son of British Vrown Princess Victoria. He was often taken to visit his Grandmother, Queen Victiria and on several occassions witnessed Royal Navy vessels and demonstrations. As Kaiser her eanted a fkleet if his own. As a result, he devoted substantial resources in building a German High Seas Fleet. He was impressed with the arguments of Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz (1849�1930) who was inflluenced by the naval theories of American strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan. Tirpitz's own naval stateggy for Germany was based on risk theoiry. He argued that while Germany could not build a fleet as large as the Royal Navy, it could bulld a fleet that could create a suficient element of risk that Britain would hesitate to go to war with Germany rather than risk damage to the Fleet. Because of the imoortance of the Royal Navy in maintaiing the Empire, Tirpitz argued that Britain would avoid confronting Germany on the Continent. The Kaiser bought Tripitz's argument, especially after dismissing the cautious Chanvellor Bismarck. It was a mistake of mounumental proportions. The Kaiser's boorish behavior might have been excepted, but building a Highseas Fleet to challenge the Royal Navy shook the British establishment to the core. And Germany quickly shocked in the public mind from a histotric ally to Britain's principal foreign threat, laying the ground work for a raprochment with France. The result was a naval arms race of hisdtoric proportions. The battleship was the super weapon of the early-20th century. And they were enormously expensive. The Japanese victory at Tsushima demonstrated the importance of bigun battleships (1905). And the British launching of HMS Dreadnought rendered all existing battleships obsolete (1906). Rather then disuade Tripitz, he saw Dreadnought as Germany's great naval opportunity. It provided Germany the opportunity by rendering all existing battle ships obsolete, to build a fleet that could challenge the Royal Navy. The resulting Imperial Navy would be by the time of World War I one of the greatest maritime forces in the world, second only to the Royal Navy. The ships of the Imperial Navy were designated SMS, for Seiner Majest�t Schiff (His Majesty's Ship). The German built the second most important highseas fleet with ships every bit as good if not marginally better than the British ships. The German Navy included mostly modern ships because their construction prgram was reltively recent. The German crews despite the lack of a naval tradition were well trained and highly motivated. Their very existence, however, meant that Britain could not allow Germany to occupy the Low Countries. Thus wghen the Germans invaded neutral Belgium (August 1914), Britain immediately declared war and dispatched the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to assist thge Belgian Army. The German surface navy proved ineffective during World War I. The geography of Germany with coasts located on the Baltic and North Sea meant that invariably the British and Germans would confront each other in the North Sea. The only major engagement, the Battle of Jutland (1916), was indecisive. However, the small submarine (U-boat) fleet was greatly expanded and posed a major threat to the British supply system. Because of Tirpitz's focus on big-gun surface ships, the U-boat fleet was very small. While the U-boats threatened British commerce, their major accomplishment was to bring the United states into the War. And the American infantry woulkd ptoive to be the principal factor in the Allied victory (1918). The Imperial Navy was largely destroyed at Scapa Flow in 1919 by its own officers, after Germany's defeat.

Greek Navy

The King (the Queen was the Kaiser's sister) was sympathtic to the Germans, but he wanted to remain neutral when World war broke out. The Greeks did allow the Allies (British and French) to land a force at Salonika to support the hrd-pressed Serbian Army (October 1915). The Bulgarians, however, stopped the Allies from reaching the Serbs. The Government was criticised and fell. Greece remained neutral. When Allied attempts to bring Greece into the War failed, an Allied task force appeared off Salamis--the site of the ancient naval battle near Athens (September 1916). The French seized the Greek fleet (October 1916). The French demilitarised the larger ships. They added the one cruiser and smaller ships to the French Navy. The Allies at this time were in desperate need of escort and ptrol ships for operations against U-boats. After the formation of a new government, Greece declared war on the Central powers (July 1917). France then eturned the seized ships to Greece. The Allies maintained naval bases aT Corfu (Ionian Sea), Suda Bay (Crete), and Lemnos/Mudros Bay (Imbros Islands).

Italian Navy

Japanese Navy

The Japanese Navy in World War I aided the Royal Navy in eliminating the German Pacific squadron and in seizng German colonies in the Far East and Pacific. The Japanese Navy was modeled on the Royal Navy. Individually wrapped British bricks like the ones used for the Admiraly were used to build Ita Jima--the Japanese naval academy. And a lock of Admiral Nelson's hair was inshrined there. Britain signed a mutual defence treaty with Japan (1902). It was essentially a naval agreement and recognized the role of the Jpanese feet in Far Eastern waters. The assistance offered by Britin was instrumentl in the Japanese naval victories against Russia (1905-06). When war broke out in Europe, the Japanese surprised the British by offering to conduct operatins against the Germans. Japan then declared war on Germany (August 23, 1914). The Japanese and asmall British contingent besieged the German treaty port of Tsingtao which fell (November 7, 1914). The Japanese First Fleet seize the German Marshall and Caroline Islands--Western Pacific islands that would play important roles in the World War II Pacific War. The Third Fleet helped escort ANZAC troops across the Indian Ocean where they were deployed in the Middle East. The Japanese participatedin the search for the German light cruiser Emden which took place in the East Indies and Indian Ocean. They also participated in actions against Adm. von Spee�s East Asiatic Squadron in the Pacific Ocean. This led to the Battle of Coronel and finally the Battle of the Falklands. The Japanese helping British forces supress a mutiny in Singapore (February 1915). Finally the Jpanese deployed a squadron of destroyers with a cruiser flagship in the Mediterranean (April 1917). The Japanese were based in Malta and conducted anti-U-boat operations. Japan after the War joined the Allies in Far East operations against the Bolsheviks, occupying Vladisvostock.

Ottoman Navy

The Ottomans and Christian Balkan states fought the two Balkan Wars (1912-13) just before the outbreak of World War I. The Ottoman Navy as aresult when Wold War I broke out was oprimarily focused on the Greeks, the only Balkan state with an aprecisable navy. Neiter country had the capability of building moden warships, but had ordered vessels from foreign shipyards. The Ottomans had two dreadnoughts, two scout cruisers and four destroyers under construction in British shipyards. None of the vessels were delivered which was afactor in the Ottomans into the war on the side of the Central Powers. The only modern ships in theOttoman Navy was the German battlecruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau. These two vessels had eluded the Royal Navy when war broke out (August 1914). The ships were forally transferred to the Ottoman Navy, but continued to be operated lmost entirely by the German crews. The Ottoman fleet was put under the command of German Rear-Admiral Wilhelm Souchon. The Grman ships with the obsolescent Turkish Navy shelled Russian black seaports. The Ottoman fleet was engaged in various operations, although not daring go venture into the Mediterranean. They escorting coal convoys (Zonguldak to Constantinople), cleared Russian mines off Constantinople, escort Ottoman troop convoys through the Sea of Marmara to Gallipoli, provided some of te Dardanelles defences, and operating small boats on the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers in Mesopotamia where the British opened a land front.

Russian Navy

The Russian Navy was devestated by the Japanese at the battle of Tsushima (1905) during the Russo-Japanese War (1905). The disasterous War led to unrest resulting in Bloody Sunday and the 1905 Revolution. Strikes were launched around the country. There were muinies in both the army and navy. The Revolution shook Russia to its core. Tsar Nicholas appointed Ivan Konstantinovich Grigorovich (1853-1930) to be Russia's Naval Minister (1911). Grigorovich was a naval officer who had commanded the garrison at Port Arthur during the Japanese seige. He was praised for both courage and competence--one of the few naval officers to emerge from the War with his reputation barnished. As Naval Minioster, he set out to reform and expand the Imperial Navy. He had a repoutation as a liberal and was thus a rare choice by her Tsar who surronded himself with conservsatives. He developed develped good relations with naval interests in the new Duma while retaining the ear of Nicholas II and his closest advisers. Grigorovich's reform program was only just beginning when World War I broke out (1914). He did have the Baltic Fleet prepared for action. Grigorovich was, however, unable to contol naval operations. Comand of the Navy was turned over to the army General Staff which ordered a basically defensive strategy. The Russian Navy was lsargely bottled up in the Baltic. The regional commander Alexander Kolchak made some effort to conduct offensive operations. Grigorovich warned the Tsar of growing unrest in the Russian Navy (1916), but the Tsar ignored these reports. And Grigorovich was unable to control the griwing unrest. Naval unrest played a role in the The February Revolution (1917).

United States Navy

The only important navy that was not engaged in the War from an early stage was the United States Navy. America's entry into World War I was the deciding factor in the War. Here it was the American infantry that brike the dead lock on the Western Front. The Royal Navy and French blockade of Germany played a major role in undermining the German and Autrian economies and civilian morale. This was largely accomplished before America entered the War. America had the third largest navy in the world, second only to the British and German navies. The 300 warships of the American Navy only added to the effectiveness of the Allied blockade, but were primarily deployed in the North Atlantic to guard the sea lanes between America and the Britain and France. Especially important was guarding the troopships that delivered the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to France. A few Navy vessels were deployed in the Mediterranean, but the bulk of the Navy was deploted in the North Atlantics. Only a few Navy vessels were sunk during the War. The cruiser San Diego sunk by mines set by a German U-boat off New York. Two Navy destroyers protecting convoys were sunk by U-boats. It was German U-boats and the German decesion to resume unrestricted sunmarine warfare that brought America into the War. The German U-boat campaign proved unsuccessful because of the convoy system imnplemented by the Royal Navy and the invention of ASDAC (SONAR). The United States had a small sunmarine force of 30 ships. The U.S. Navy established its Submarine School at the main Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut (January 19, 1917). The American submarines would play little role in World War I, but the force would play a major role in World War II.


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Created: 2:35 AM 10/16/2007
Last updated: 7:45 AM 9/20/2015