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Subject: German naval strategy in WW1
Aussiegunneragain    5/24/2009 6:36:08 AM
I'm interested in exploring the pro's, con's and possibilities of an alternative German Naval Strategy in WW1. To me it seems that the strategy that the German High Command adopted was an integral part of why they couldn't break the British blockade, bought the American's into the war and consequently lost. As I'm sure most people here know the High Seas Fleet was much smaller than the British Grand Fleet and the German high command were retiscient about engaging the Royal Navy directly. Instead they tried to lure parts of the Grand Fleet out of Scapa Flow through hit and run shore bombardment raids with Battle Cruisers on English Coastal towns and destroy them, wearing down the British Fleet bit by bit. The problem with this as I see it was that there was in reality very little strategic value in the shore bombardment missions themselves, the battles that resulted like Jutland were inconclusive and killing civilians just enraged the British public and international opinion. While their later resort to unrestricted submarine warfare had a strategic impact on the British war effort, the killing of civilians by submariners including neutrals played a big part in bringing the US into the war and ultimately losing it for Germany. What I a wondering is if an alternative strategy concentrating on the use of the 5 battle cruisers in a surface raiding role might have allowed the Germans to impact more on shipping to and from Britain, without killing civilians and bringing the US into the War? None of the Battle Cruisers were less than a knot slower than their RN equivelents so it is reasonable to assume that they would have been able to make the dash out through the North Sea and to the Atlantic. There they would have been able to conduct hit and run attacks on convoy's, with minimal chances of being caught by the 9 RN equivilents. To my way of thinking it would have forced the RN to deploy all of its battle cruisers into the Atlantic to hunt for the German ships and a fair number of the RN battleships in the convoy escort role to protect against the battlecruisers. They could have still used submarines against the convoy's, but instead of hitting the merchantmen they could have concentrated on sinking the escorting battleships and reporting the position of the convey to nearby battle cruisers waiting to pounce. The net effect of this is that shipping to and from Britain would have been interdicted without killing civilians and bringing the US into the war, and the British fleet would have been worn down to the point where the High Seas Fleet's battleships could sortie against the remainder with a higher degree of confidence of winning and breaking the blockade. Finally I'd suggest that had the German's emphasised further battle cruiser rather than submarine production before and once the war commenced, then the strategy would have had an even greater chance of success. Thoughts? (positive, critical, alternative all welcome?)
 
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Aussiegunneragain    This line should read ...   5/24/2009 6:38:17 AM
"None of the Battle Cruisers were less more than a knot slower than their RN equivelents"
 
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Wicked Chinchilla       5/26/2009 1:11:09 PM
Seems logical enough.  I think it would have been a gamble worth trying.  I always thought the Germans could have done more with the High Seas Fleet than they did.  The Brits and Germans had these massive, capable ships and were deathly afraid of some being sunk or even damaged that they would not commit unless they possessed massive advantage.  Its telling that Jutland itself was largely an accident, rather than the result of some massive plan.  Neither side wanted a largely equal fight.
 
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Wicked Chinchilla       5/26/2009 1:14:36 PM
I do have to disagree with the Battlecruiser production though.  These ships were there own worst enemies.  They were not built to be able to stand on the line of battle yet their armaments forced them to be confronted by their equivalents, or by enemy dreadnoughts.  In either case their armor was insufficient to offer protection.  If the Germans had your strategy in mind from the outset then more cruisers could have helped, but I cant help but feel they are just very expensive bait that you really cant afford to use and lose as bait.
 
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Herald12345    Insifficient cruising radius.    5/26/2009 1:29:57 PM
Herald
 
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WarNerd       5/27/2009 4:11:55 AM

I do have to disagree with the Battlecruiser production though.  These ships were there own worst enemies.  They were not built to be able to stand on the line of battle yet their armaments forced them to be confronted by their equivalents, or by enemy dreadnoughts.  In either case their armor was insufficient to offer protection.  If the Germans had your strategy in mind from the outset then more cruisers could have helped, but I cant help but feel they are just very expensive bait that you really cant afford to use and lose as bait.


You are thinking of the British battlecruiser designs based on Fisher's discredited "speed = armor" philosophy.

 The Germans took the opposite route, reducing the number and sometimes the size of the guns to achieve greater speed.  Their battlecruisers were TOUGH.  At the Battle of Jutland the British had 3 battlecruisers sunk, and nearly lost a 4th.  The Germans only lost one, which they torpedoed to prevent capture after it took 24 hits and flooding quenched the boilers.
 
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stbretnco       5/27/2009 4:27:47 AM
The loss of the British battlecruisers at Jutland (There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today)  has been attributed to a single flaw in the design of the turrets.
 
They lacked flash protection to protect the magazines from turret hits.
 
The German battlecruisers had a much better flash protection system, largely because (IIRC) the Germans had an accident which showed the need for the system. Minus that system, the Seydlitz (again, IIRC) would have been at the bottom along with a couple of her sisters and their British counterparts.
 
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WarNerd    re:Insifficient cruising radius   5/27/2009 4:38:27 AM
I suspect that Herald is correct on this. 
 
Another factor to be added is that the German ships were coal fired, so they would have to put into port to refuel.  That's how the British managed to catch the German Far East Squadron in 1914.
 
With British and France controlling both sides of English Channel the only way out for the German ships would be to sneak north between British and Norway, past the British fleet anchorages at Firth of Firth and Scapa Flow.  Basically the same route that the battleship Bismark took in WWII.
 
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StobieWan       5/27/2009 5:20:11 AM

The loss of the British battlecruisers at Jutland (There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today)  has been attributed to a single flaw in the design of the turrets.

 

They lacked flash protection to protect the magazines from turret hits.

 

The German battlecruisers had a much better flash protection system, largely because (IIRC) the Germans had an accident which showed the need for the system. Minus that system, the Seydlitz (again, IIRC) would have been at the bottom along with a couple of her sisters and their British counterparts.



The RN ships had adequate flash protection as designed - what had happened was in the Battlecruiser squadrons in particular, such an obsession with speed of firing had developed that the various safety systems in place had been systematically disregarded or even permanently disabled. The result in many ships was to lay a power trail from the turret to the magazines, meaning that a penetrating hit which in the German ships resulted in local fatalities, could often cause the entire magazine to flash over, destroying the ship.
 
The battlecruiser concept was possibly based on false premises but their major failure at Jutland was due to mishandling of ammunition and failure to follow prudent safety procedures.
 
It probably stemmed from an earlier age of sail where the RN's successes mainly sprang from laying their ships alongside the enemy at close range and servicing their guns at rates of fire that less experienced or trained crews on French and Spanish vessels simply couldn't match, and winning the day by sheer volume of fire.
 
In Jutland, the rapid fire often simply went wide- German gunnery appeared to be more accurate at all ranges and in particular, longer range engagements were far more successful for the German gunners. 
 
 
Ian
 
 
 
 
 
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Aussiegunneragain    Wicked Chinchilla   5/27/2009 8:09:03 AM
You accurately describe the key problem with the German High Command's approach to the use of their capital ships. They were so worried about loosing them that they kept them in port most of the time and they didn't have any impact on the war, and they were lost anyway in when they were scuttled after armistice. It was a complete psychological victory.
 
On your comment about battlecruiser production I disagree. Battlecruisers were fine for the missions they were designed for such as commerce raiding, hit and run shore bombardment and in backing up recon forces with fast moving punch. They came out second best against battleships because they weren't designed to fight them. The scenario I outline would rely on battlecruisers as they would have the speed to get them into the Atlantic unmolested and to evade capture by the British Battlecruisers, and the firepower to defeat any cruiser escort requiring the British to use the Battleships as escorts. The more the better I say.
 
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Aussiegunneragain    Cruising radius   5/27/2009 8:38:12 AM

I suspect that Herald is correct on this. 

Another factor to be added is that the German ships were coal fired, so they would have to put into port to refuel.  That's how the British managed to catch the German Far East Squadron in 1914.
 
With British and France controlling both sides of English Channel the only way out for the German ships would be to sneak north between British and Norway, past the British fleet anchorages at Firth of Firth and Scapa Flow.  Basically the same route that the battleship Bismark took in WWII.

The shortest ranged German battlecruiser, the SMS Moltke, had a  4,120 nm cruising radius at 14 knots which would have allowed a 12 day cruise, maybe cutting down to 9 or 10 so that the ship would be able to dash. The longest had a 5,500 nm radius (it may have been greater if the ships had cruised slower). Thats not a huge length of time but certainly enough to do a run out of the North Sea and up and down the English and Irish Atlantic coast during which time they would undoubtly pick up at least a couple of merchantmen.
 
As for getting out of and into the North Sea, I don't see that that should have been a huge problem for fast battlecruisers. The North Sea is about 200 miles wide and 600mi long and a ship timed its run to pass Scotland at night (especially longer northern autumn,winter and spring nights) would be unlikely to be intercepted in the day's before radar. If it was then being a fast battlecruiser all it needed to do was to abort the mission and run back to Germany, to try again another day. Things that the Germans might have done to improve the ship's chances would be to run diversionary sorties further south against. They would also have stationed submarines off Scapa to try and hit the British ships coming out for the intercept, like they tried at Jutland. It would be bound to work eventually and would be a good way to whittle down the British capital ships without loss to the Germans.
 
They key would have been for them to do it on a far more regular basis than they did, to increase their odds of success.
 
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