Friday 20 June 2014

The Imperial German Navy 1902 - sketches of life on board ship

My blog this week is based on my recent discovery of a German 1902 publication entitled "Germany's Honour on the World's Oceans" (Deutschlands Ehr im Weltenmeer) by a Vice-Admiral von Werner. The sub-title is "The development of the German Navy and sketches of life on board." It is on the latter aspect I'll concentrate in this blog.

The timing of the book is significant - the German Navy was just starting the expansion which in just over a decade was to bring it from second-class status to the second most powerful one in th world. Enthusiasm for the Navy and naval affairs was high and was fostered by the government, Kaiser Wilhelm II seeing naval strength as essential for his personal prestige no less than for the nation. This is reflected in the book's frontispiece - see above - in which the ridiculously mustachioed kaiser is seen inspecting naval personnel. Prior to this time the German Empire, building on traditions of the Prussian military, and its crushing defeat of France in 1870, had been primarily a land power with only a limited naval tradition. This was to change and the book seems to be part of the shift in cultural mindset. It is notable that it is printed in German Gothic font which is quite difficult to read at first (I hadn't read in it for almost 50 years!), but which one gets quickly used to.
Painting entitled "Squadron at Sea"
Leading ship is a reconstructed central-battery ironclad of the 1874 "Kaiser" class
Much of book's focus is on presenting life in the navy as attractive for young men either as officers or seamen. The text is illustrated not just by photographs of ships, but with drawings - many not just idealised, but indeed sentimentalised - of life on board. There are some very attractive stylised capital letters at the start of each chapter, all incorporating a sketch. I have scanned many of the illustrations and have included them below. They tell as much about aspiration as about reality and as such give what is to me a unique insight to the thinking of the time.
A first step towards a naval career - a worried cadet, aged about 13, prepares to
leave home. Interesting that it is a maid, rather than a family member, who helps him pack
Fun in the gunroom - cadets enjoying themselves on board a training vessel
Boy recruits for the lower deck scrubbing - not too clear what! Clothing or stools?
A nap on deck for an exhausted recruit- hard to imagine this lasting for long!
Note blackened soles of feet!
Instruction by an older seaman
Sunday religious service conducted by a Lutheran chaplain
Young sailors dancing hornpipes - not sure if doing so voluntarily or under orders!
Christmas overseas - note tree in background
The training ship SMS Nixe of 1883 was described in "Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1860-1905" as "a hopeless anachronism, with her full rig and wood and copper-sheathed bottom, but useful as a school ship, though she was a bad seaboat and awkward under sail" She served in this capacity to 1901.
Training ship SMS Gneisenau (of Bismarck class of iron flush-decked corvettes),
commissioned 1880 but wrecked in Malaga harbour, Spain, during a storm
in 1900.  The captain and forty others died.

Britannia’s Shark by Antoine Vanner 

1881 and the power of the British Empire seems unchallengeable.

But now a group of revolutionaries threaten the economic basis of that power. Their weapon is the invention of a na├»ve genius, their sense of grievance is implacable and their leader is already proven in the crucible of war. Protected by powerful political and business interests, conventional British military or naval power cannot touch them. A daring act of piracy draws the ambitious British naval officer, Nicholas Dawlish, and his wife into this deadly maelstrom. Amid the wealth and squalor of America’s Gilded Age, and on a fever-ridden island ruled by savage tyranny success – and survival –will demand making some very strange alliances...
Britannia’s Shark brings historic naval fiction into the dawn of the Submarine Age. 

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