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To what extent did the British’s advanced war and mobilization strategies have an advantage Over the German in the First Naval Battles of Both World Wars? IB 20th Century History HL Historical Investigation
Word Count: 1287
In both World War I and World War II, the British are generally regarded as the victor of the first major single-day naval battles. However, the two battles have many differences in its actual significance on both world wars. On the 28th of August, 1914, Commodores Reginald Tyrwhitt and Roger Keyes— reinforced by additional forces led by Vice admiral David Beatty— led a speedy assault towards the major body of the German High Seas Fleet. Surprised and outnumbered, the Germans fought fiercely but were shattered by the well-planned British forces. Devastated, the Germans suffered casualties nearly fourteen times its attacker before. This battle was compared to “a dog rush in on a flock of sheep and scatter them” by the magazine The American Review of Reviews in 1914 and proved vital to the British in World War I by creating difficulty in future mobilization of the German fleet1. On the other hand, the Battle of the River Plate was victorious for the British in terms of the speedy mobilization of reinforcements despite the heavy losses so “Commodore Harwood’s tactics proved advantageous” according to England’s First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill2. In both battles, the British overpowered the German’s significant technological developments with their advanced rapid mobilization and war strategies. The aggressive Anglo-German naval arms race around the North Sea as well as the newly developed war strategies has resulted from “competition of building huge battleships like the Dreadnought, [with 10 12-inch guns], because of the ambition of the jealous Kaiser Wilhelm II and demand from a group in Germany that supported the idea of building up a strong naval force.”3
Britain became determined to “maintain its dominance of the seas [that has begin]
Shaw, Albert. "The Battle of Heligoland Bight." American Review of Reviews (July-December 1914) 485.
Churchill, Winston. The Second World War: The Gathering Storm (London: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1986) 466.
Seung-young, Kim. "Learn from Europe's past." The International Institute For Strategic Studies JoongAng Daily. 26 Feb 2006. 21 Dec 2009 <http://www.iiss.org/whats-new/iiss-in-the-press/press-coverage-2006/february2006/learn-from-europes-past/>.
since 1815” with its key element as the naval blockade.4 Thus, the naval blockade helped the British navy specialize in speedy long-distance mobilizations. However, even though the naval blockade can create economic hardship for Great Britain’s enemies, it is also very costly in that battleships uses fuel in order to make constant trips from British ports to the German seas in numerous shifts throughout the day. Therefore, once and for all, the British Commodore Roger Keyes had devised a plan with submarines under his command, destroyers under Commodore Reginald Tywhitt, and two battle cruisers. . . to attack German forces around Heligoland in order to impress the Germans.”5 After Churchill adjusted and approved the plan, it was immediately executed. When Admiral John Jellicoe learned of the plan at the last minute, he immediately mobilized three battle cruisers Lion, Queen Mary, and Princess Royal under Vice Admiral David Beatty to reinforce the forces already in combat. This immediate mobilization proved vital to the battle in defeating the German’s superior battleships. On the 30th of October, 1914, Jellicoe commented on why he mobilized against German’s superior technological developments: “The Germans have shown that they rely to a very great extent on submarines, mines, and torpedoes, and there can be no doubt whatever that they will endeavour to make the fullest use of these weapons in a fleet action, especially since they possess an actual superiority over us in these particular directions. It, therefore, become necessary to consider our own tactical methods in relation to these forms of attack.”6 Furthermore, in case the technologically advanced German submarines cooperate with the German cruisers, Jellicoe stated then the combination “The safeguard against submarines will
Osborne, Eric. The Battle of Heligoland Bight. (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2006) 1. Osborne, intro.
Jellicoe, John. “Jellicoe's Letter of October 1914.” The World War I Document Archive. 25 Oct 2001. 22 Dec 2009 <http://www.gwpda.org/naval/m03177.htm>
consist in moving the battlefleet at very high speed to a flank before deployment takes place or the gun action commences”—again, proving the vitality of “speed” in action.7 Despite the Germans’ superiority in high speed gunnery and the British’s internal confusion caused by the mist, the British managed to defeat the High Seas Fleet with its immediate reinforcements. Moreover, the hasty detachment of Beatty’s battle cruisers in aid of the British force allowed for the capture and sinking of numerous German cruisers, which was vital to the British’s great success. Badly exhausted its battleships Westentaschen-Sclachtschiffe in World War II, the Germans built armored ships panzerschiffe “faster than a battleship and more powerful than a cruiser they caused some alarm in international naval circles”8. Furthermore, for the Versailles Treaty of 1919 had imposed weight restrictions on new warships, the panzerschiffe pocket battleships were built with newly developed weight-saving artillery of the period. German technological development became far more advanced than its British enemies. Of these modernized ships, the Admiral Graf Spee was the most modern of all when it was built in 1936.9 Graf Spee was not equipped with armored protection of its class and used only “3 1/2-inch (80mm) armored side-belt and skimpy decks” so its battleship status was kept secret and therefore did not have to follow the Versailles Treaty weight restriction.10 Secret status and lightweight eleven-inch guns became a major technological strategy that the Germans used in response to the limitations of Versailles. This had quite an effect in the Battle of the River Plate because upon encountering three 28-knot panzerschiffes, “[the British] assumed they were inside
Gilbey, Joseph. "The Graf Spee." Langsdorff of the Graf Spee. 2008. Langsdorff of the Graf Spee "Prince of Honor". 22 Dec 2009 <http://www.grafspee.com/index.html>
the then Treaty limit of 10,000 tons [but]… they were of more than 12,000 tons and had a great range, sufficient armour, and a speed appropriate to their role.”11 The Spee managed to damage the British light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles. Still, the German naval officer Hans Langsdorff made an erroneous decision as he strategized to focus on defeating the British heavy cruiser Exeter and knocked the ship “temporarily out of control.”12 Nevertheless, the Spee was also superficially damaged and must stop at Montevideo for repair as it was chased on by British cruisers. The “heavily damaged” Exeter was quickly replaced by the eight 8-inch gun heavy cruiser Cumberland, which mobilized quickly to reinforce the battling navy.13 It was a vital replacement until Exeter return from restoration— in collaboration with HMS Achilles and HMS Ajax— trapped the Spee around Montevideo shore. At the end, the Spee was forced to scuttle under smoke screen. Even though the British had a total death rate twice that of the Germans, the British were generally considered victors in terms of achieving their purpose of attack— to free prisoners in the Norwegian waters as well as enhance the reputation of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill.14 On the whole, the Royal Navy’s ability to mobilize and strategize in foreign areas is vital to victories in the first naval battles of both World Wars. In the Battle of Heligoland Bight, the instant arrival and actions of Beatty’s reinforcements “tipped the scales in favor of the British. . . the German withdrawn with heavy losses.”15 Furthermore, the German “submarines, mines, and
Dudley, Pope. The Battle of the River Plate. (Blue Ridge Summit, PA: McBooks Press, 2005.) 7. Churchill, 466. Churchill, 469-470. Pope, 178 Osborne, viii.
torpedoes” were unfortunately defeated by Jellicoe’s advanced war strategies.16 Similarly in the Second World War, the dexterity of immediately switching between the ever-ready battleships and the damaged-from-combat battleships allowed for Exeter’s restoration hence assisted the British in dispelling the heavily armed and accurately aiming battleship Admiral Graf Spee.
Word Count: 1287
Works Cited Churchill, Winston. The Second World War: The Gathering Storm. I. London: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1986. Dudley, Pope. The Battle of the River Plate. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: McBooks Press, 2005. Gilbey, Joseph. "The Graf Spee." Langsdorff of the Graf Spee. 2008. Langsdorff of the Graf Spee "Prince of Honor". 22 Dec 2009 <http://www.grafspee.com/index.html>. Jellicoe, John. “Jellicoe's Letter of October 1914.” The World War I Document Archive. 25 Oct 2001. 22 Dec 2009 <http://www.gwpda.org/naval/m03177.htm> O'Connell, Daniel. The Influence of Law on Sea Power. Manchester: Manchester University Press ND, 1975. Osborne, Eric. The Battle of Heligoland Bight. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2006. Rickard, J “David Beatty, 1871-1936, British Admiral.” First World War. 23 Oct 2007. 22 Dec 2009 <http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_beatty_david.html.> Seung-young, Kim. "Learn from Europe's past." The International Institute For Strategic Studies JoongAng Daily. 26 Feb 2006 21 Dec 2009 <http://www.iiss.org/whats-new/iiss-in-thepress/press-coverage-2006/february-2006/learn-from-europes-past/>. Shaw, Albert. "The Battle of Heligoland Bight." American Review of Reviews July-December 1914: 484-486.
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