The Kaiserliche Marine, German for Imperial Navy, is one of the two great forces in the game. It lacks the overwhelming numbers of its adversary, the Royal Navy, but makes up for it with some technological and qualitative advantages.
Historical background Edit
The German Imperial Navy was formed with the birth of the German Empire in 1871. It took over the role and the ships of first the Prussian Navy and the naval forces of the North German Confederation, the direct predecessor of the German Empire. In the first two decades of its existence, it was primarily organized to protect the German coasts and maintain a minimal presence of cruisers in other parts of the world. This was because of a certain demarcation towards Great Britain, which made a strong navy somewhat superfluous at the time, and the experiences from the two wars against Denmark, in which the superior Danish navy had successfully blockaded many German ports for a long time.
This all changed when Emperor Wilhelm II. assumed the throne in 1888. He, as many other rulers and governments of the time, put an emphasis on naval armament, as he felt the future of Germany would be forged on the oceans. Although he had no desire to seize naval domination from Britain, he wished his navy to be strong enough to be at least a serious threat to the Royal Navy in order to gain more political and military manoeuverability, and in time, the Imperial Navy grew to be the second-largest naval force in the world. Britain did not take this sort of ambition lightly and sided with France, Germany's arch-enemy. A great naval arms race started in the last ten years before the outbreak of the war, with new developments changing the face of naval war in many ways. When the fateful events of July and August 1914 took place, Britain reluctantly sided with Germany's adversaries, as a conflict seemed inevitable and they feared a German domination of the continent. Besides, with the growth of both Germany's economy and overseas trade the war was a great opportunity to cut the competition for the more opportunistic British politicians.
All German ships, as all Austrian-Hungarian ships, bear the pretext S.M.S., which means Seiner Majestät Schiff (His Majesty's Ship) - a tradition taken over from the Royal Navy.
When the war broke out, the Imperial Navy was mostly built for a conflict inside the North Sea. The ships and weaponry were designed accordingly, with a strong emphasis on stability and protection, and guns with a less than maximum range, because visibility on the North Sea is rarely good. The calibre of the main battery is generally smaller than that of other navies, but to make up for it, the guns have a high muzzle velocity, giving them a better accuracy and armour penetration. Since it was believed that the German navy could never have as many ships as the British navy, more money was expended for each individual ship, mostly for better armour protection and improved internal subdivision, giving the ships a superior ability to withstand damage, especially underwater damage by mines and torpedoes.
The German strategy counted on the Royal Navy closing on the German ports for a close blockade, so the overall range of the ships and crew accommodations were not emphasized. A direct result of this differences was the German approach to the new form of capital ships, the battle cruiser. Britain thought of them mainly as a strong cruiser, with a large range and high speed to hunt down small cruisers and auxiliary cruisers, whereas Germany used them as light battleships, with high speed and good protection to be a fast wing of the battle fleet.
As it turned out, the Royal Navy was not willing to risk its advantage in numbers in a dirty fight close to the German coast, and settled for a blockade of the entrances to the North Sea instead. In the past 18 months, the forces of both sides have clashed several times. Admiral von Spee achieved a great victory over a British squadron off Coronel in Chile, but was destroyed himself off the Falklands. Nevertheless, he remains the first officer to inflict a severe defeat to the Royal Navy in more than 100 years. At Helgoland and near the Dogger Bank, the Imperial Navy did suffer defeat, losing a great number of cruisers and the modern armoured cruiser Blücher.
Technology and strategy Edit
While the Royal Navy certainly enjoys the advantage in numbers and in strategic positioning, and generally employs heavier weaponry, the Kaiserliche Marine has a few aces up their sleeves as well.
Technology and advanced weaponry Edit
German ships, especially capital ships, are generally much tougher than their counterparts and have a much better gunnery targeting accuracy. A further advantage are the extensive minefields close to the German coast, which make it much more difficult for the enemy to harass the Germans in port. Also, the German Navy, being the underdog, has explored the possibilities of two devastating new unconventional weapons, the submarine and the airship. The submarine, or U-Boat (German: Unterseeboot), has shown its capabilities in the last year on numerous occasions, especially with SM U 9 sinking three armoured cruisers in less than an hour, and is a serious threat to British shipping, both civilian and military. The airship however serves mostly as a scout craft in naval service, but can achieve a speed and range that is unlike any other craft. As it is also airborne, it cannot be harmed by enemy naval forces, and thus can provide the German forces with a decisive edge in terms of reconnaissance.
Mine warfare Edit
There is one further German advantage that should be mentioned: the Kaiserliche Marine has a much greater capability for mine warfare. Every modern small cruiser bears mines at all times for laying down barrages, as do all modern torpedo boats, and a small fleet of auxiliary cruisers and converted cargo ships carry literally hundreds of mines each. Two specialized fast minelaying cruisers will enter service in 1916, joining up with one older vessel of that type and a large number of minelaying submarines. Mine barriers in unexpected places have already claimed a large number of civilian and military British ships, the most prominent among them being the super-dreadnought HMS Audacious.
The capabilities of the German Navy dictate its strategy to some extent. As the Royal Navy is reluctant to be drawn close to the German coast and be destroyed by close-quarters fighting in favourable waters, the German naval strategists need to come up with something else. One way of bringing down the Grand Fleet is to lure out isolated, smaller forces to be destroyed by an overwhelming German fleet, cutting down the numerical superiority until the Royal Navy can be challenged for one decisive battle. Another way is cutting off British merchant shipping by any means availlable and thus hampering the British industry in producing all the much-needed goods for the war on land and at sea, maybe even starving out the British population which is dependant on food imports.
The modern German ships are organized in the counterpart to the British Grand Fleet - the Hochseeflotte, meaning High Seas Fleet. It is composed of two major divisions: the Aufklärungsstreitkräfte (Scouting Forces), comprised of the fastest ships, especially the battlecruisers, and the Schlachtflotte (Battle Fleet), which contains the battleships. For fast actions, the Scouting Forces often venture forth on their own, whereas the Battle Fleet is never far behind when greater actions are planned.
Known weaknesses Edit
The Kaiserliche Marine, of course, has a few weak spots as well. The range of most ships is rather short, for example, and the lack of any bases outside Germany makes the High Seas Fleet vulnerable in case it should be cut off from these bases. A further weakness is the rather small calibre of most guns compared to this of the Royal Navy, and the reduced range which goes along with this. The German capital ships were designed for the North Sea, after all, where good visibility is rare and a long range is seldom required. Also, the German torpedo boats are generally smaller than the British destroyers and are lacking in artillery, making them vulnerable to their adversaries. Many of the older German small cruisers share this weakness and are armed with inferior 10,5cm guns which allow a high rate of fire, but lack punch and range. Most contemporary cruisers have already been upgraded to 15cm guns to make up for this.