Today August 1st, one hundred years ago in 1914, Germany also ordered mobilisation and declared war on Russia, a step that made war with France inevitable, and so also drawing in Britain.
|German Colonial Troops: East Africa (L) South West Africa (R)|
|Schematic view of Tsingtao base, 1906|
|Coaling - a brutally laborious and filthy operation in which the entire crew was involved|
What then were the German overseas deployments on the eve of war with Britain?
In the Mediterranean:
The 25,300 ton battlecruiser Goeben and the 5,590 ton light cruiser Breslau. Unable to leave the Mediterranean once war with Britain meant escape via Gibraltar or the Suez Canal being blocked, the only alternative was to run for Turkey, which was likely to shelter them. The consequences of this decision changed the history and power-balances in the Middle East and the consequences are still with us today.
In the Pacific:
|SMS Goeben, later to be the Turkish Yavuz - a ship that changed history|
The German East Asiatic Cruiser Squadron the largest and most powerful German naval force overseas and was the only one to have a fortified base – Tsingtao – to fall back on. This squadron was however outnumbered from the start by British, French, Russian and, most decisively, Japanese fleets in the area. Early moves by Britain and its ally Japan to besiege Tsingtao, which in due course they were to capture, showed that no reliance could be placed on retaining it as a base. The squadron was in due course to cross the Pacific, fighting a successful battle with British forces on the way, at Colonel, off Chile, and to break into the Southern Atlantic. Here it was to be met, and destroyed, at the Falkland Islands by superior British forces.
|SMS Scharnhorst in action at the Battle of Coronel, November 1st 1914|
|SMS Geier - with an unexpected career ahead of her in the United States Navy!|
In the Atlantic:
The 14,349 ton passenger liner Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was operating as an “armed merchant cruiser”, carrying six 4.1-in guns. This gigantic 650-ft long vessel, launched in 1897, was one of the largest liners launched up to that time and had held the “Blue Riband” for a fast Atlantic crossing. Fuel-hungry, unarmoured and massively under-armed it is hard to see how she could ever have been expected to operate independently, or to be able to survive battle with even a small warship . In the event she could not – and was sunk within a month by an obsolete British cruiser.
In the Caribbean:
|Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse: beautiful, fast and wholly|
unsuited for what she was called upon to do in 1914
The new and fast 6,191 ton light cruiser Karlsrühe, was to operate with some success against British merchant shipping until she was destroyed by an accidental internal explosion.
The 4,268 ton light cruiser Dresden was sent initially to the South Atlantic, then over into the Pacific, to join Admiral von Spee’s East Asia Squadron.
The 3,814 ton light cruiser Königsberg was to sink an old British cruiser, HMS Pegasus, before taking refuge in the swamps of Tanganyika’s Rufigi Delta. Destroying her there was to require mobilisation of a massive British naval force.
With the exception of the newly built Karlsrühe, the light cruisers were all generally similar, though belonging
to several different classes. Length was typically some 380 ft. The oldest, the
Leipzig, had been launched in 1905
and they were “protected cruisers”, with their machinery and magazines located
beneath a sloped armoured deck and typically in the 3,000-4,000 ton displacement.
Only Dresden and Karlsrühe were powered by turbines, the others having reciprocating
engines. Power was in the 12,000 to 15,000 ihp range and the maximum speeds
were, nominally, ranged from 22 to 25 knots. Given the long periods these ships
were to spend at sea performance was to be considerably lower. This was a major
factor when the East Asiatic Squadron was to be chased, and run down, by
British forces in the Battle of the Falklands. It is notable that only the Dresden was able to show her enemies a
clean set of heels in this action so as to survive a few months longer. Ten 4.1”
guns (12 in the Karlsrühe) was the standard
armament, plus two submerged 18” torpedo
|SMS Konigsberg before East African deployment|
|SMS Dresden - seen at New York in 1909|
|Battle of the Falklands, December 8th 1914|
SMS Scharnhorst sinking in the foreground, Gneisenau, behind, will survive a little longer
|SMS Emden - Germany's most successful surface raider|
Feared and admired
It was nearer home, in the North Sea, and in the U-Boat haunted wastes of the North Atlantic, that Germany’s real naval war was to be fought. It was going to be merciless and unrelenting, with no time for chivalry or compassion, a foretaste of even worse to come a quarter century later.
|The idealised German image of last defiance at the Falklands|
- the reality was little different. These men died hard and heroically.