German Battlecruisers Steaming To Scapa Flow
SMS Seydlitz (German Battle Cruiser, 1913-1919) leads her fellow battle cruisers toward Scapa Flow and internment on Thursday 21 November 1918. SMS Moltke is next astern, followed by the two remaining Derfflinger class ships, Derfflinger and Hindenburg (Lützow had been sunk at the Battle of Jutland in 1916). Von der Tann is the fifth ship in the column. (Ref: Enclosure No. 2 to Memorandum H.F. 0050/9 of 20 November 1918 - "Operation ZZ")
Even before there was, a "Germany", there had been support within the states that would become Germany for building an ocean going navy. The domestic clamor for a German fleet only grew with German unification, and Germany's strident emergence on the global stage as a colonial power late in the nineteenth century. The combination of nationalism and militarism inherent in the push for a greater German naval capability quickly found its greatest patron after the German unification; in the form of one Alfred von Tirpitz (1849-1930). After joining the Prussian navy in 1865 Tirpitz had steadily risen through the ranks. By 1897, as the Secretary of State of the Imperial Navy Department, Tirpitz had gained considerable access to Kaiser Wilhelm II - access Tirpitz used to launch the Imperial German Navy on a breathtaking expansion primarily focused on building a modern and powerful battle fleet. This effort led to the 1897 Navy Bill and its elevation of the battle fleet to the pre-eminent place in German naval policy and as a top instrument of German foreign policy.
Tirpitz's early efforts had an unintended side effect however; they invariably alarmed a British government anxious to maintain its position as the world's top naval power. This led to a prolonged naval arms race centered on the construction of the first Dreadnoughts, a class of powerful capital ships named after the H.M.S. Dreadnought, the forerunner to Battleships and Battle Cruisers, with examples of the latter seen above, dominating the world's seas during the first two decades of the Twentieth Century. Tirpitz was undeterred by Britain's technological breakthroughs and own prodigious building program; he continued ahead with his own - albeit eventually modifying his belief in the decisive battle to take into account the deterrent effect a German battle fleet "in being" offered against the British Navy. Tirpitz's "fleet in being" compromise however highlighted a salient weakness of any battle fleet; the massive cost incurred in building and maintaining battle fleets meant nations only cautiously employed their battle fleets for fear of losing such expensive investments. Hence, the enormous resources needed to construct battleships in ever greater size and strength represented the Achilles heel of these magnificent ships. In spite of the enormous costs involved in building a battle fleet, and Germany's position far behind her chief competitor at sea, the battle fleet occupied a central place in German maritime strategy throughout the first half of the twentieth century.
Picture Courtesy of Australian War Memorial Collections Database, stated to be an image from the Imperial War Museum, file number Q19284