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Tirpitz and the Imperial German Navy

Patrick J. Kelly

Publication Year: 2011

Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz (1849--1930) was the principal force behind the rise of the German Imperial Navy prior to World War I, challenging Great Britain's command of the seas. As State Secretary of the Imperial Naval Office from 1897 to 1916, Tirpitz wielded great power and influence over the national agenda during that crucial period. By the time he had risen to high office, Tirpitz was well equipped to use his position as a platform from which to dominate German defense policy. Though he was cool to the potential of the U-boat, he enthusiastically supported a torpedo boat branch of the navy and began an ambitious building program for battleships and battle cruisers. Based on exhaustive archival research, including new material from family papers, Tirpitz and the Imperial German Navy is the first extended study in English of this germinal figure in the growth of the modern navy.

Published by: Indiana University Press

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pp. ix-x

In the preparation and writing of this work I owe great thanks to many people and institutions. These include Dr. Dean C. Allard, Bernard Cavalcante, and Harry Reilly of the former U.S. Naval History Office in Washington, D.C.; Robert Hanshew and Chuck Haberlein, photo archivists of its successor organization, the U.S. Naval History and Heritage ...


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pp. xi-xvi

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-13

On 3 August 1914 gray-clad German troopers crossed the Belgian and Luxemburg frontiers to begin, in that theater, the greatest conflagration Europe had ever seen. Nestled in the fenlands of the North Sea coast, the small, drab German city of Wilhelmshaven overnight became a household word. In its harbor and in the nearby Jade, a lagoon-like ...

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2. Tirpitz’s Early Life

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pp. 14-23

Alfred Peter Friedrich Tirpitz was born on 19 March 1849 in Küstrin an der Oder in the Mark Brandenburg, Prussia.¹ Oral tradition in his father’s family claimed that the family name had been Czern von Terpitz, originally from Silesia and Bohemia. The Thirty Years’ War brought impoverishment and forced the family to surrender the ennobling ...

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3. The Aspirant, 1865–1870

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pp. 24-32

On 24 April 1865 seventeen-year-old Alfred Tirpitz arrived at the newly established Prussian Baltic base of Kiel and swore the oath that marked the beginning of his career. On 15 May he boarded a large ship for the first time in his life, the corvette Arcona, then serving as a watch ship for Kiel harbor. Senior officers did not pay much attention to cadets, who were ...

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4. The Young Officer, 1870–1877: A Taste of War

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pp. 33-46

Consolidation of the North German Confederation, which by 1867 included all the German states north of the River Main, had important maritime consequences. With the addition of Hamburg and other Hanseatic cities, the Confederation possessed the world’s third-largest merchant marine. Greater only were those of Britain and the United ...

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5. The Creation of the German Torpedo Arm, 1877–1889

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pp. 47-68

When Tirpitz joined the Torpedo Commission, the first halting steps had already been taken in the evolving technology that would culminate in the sleek, deadly underwater missiles of the twentieth century. One idea was to put a mine at the end of a spar and use it as an exploding ram. Another was the Harvey tow torpedo, a floating charge on a tether attached ...

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6. Interim, 1889–1891

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pp. 69-80

Late in 1883 or early in 1884, while Tirpitz struggled with the complexities of torpedoes and torpedo boats, the thirty-four-year-old officer fell in love. The young lady, Marie Lipke, was a fetching twenty-three year old from a wealthy bourgeois family. By early 1884 they were engaged. Their correspondence at the time shows Tirpitz as the eager suitor. “How ...

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7. Oberkommando der Marine, 1892–1895

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pp. 81-102

When Tirpitz became Chief of Staff to Admiral Max von der Goltz, Commanding Admiral in the Oberkommando der Marine (OK), it was a time of critical uncertainty within all the world’s navies. A generation had passed since the last great naval battle, and a “fog of peace” had descended, analogous to Clausewitz’s famous expression, the “fog of ...

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8. On the Verge of Power, 1895–1897

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pp. 103-128

When William II became Emperor in 1888, Germany was in the midst of explosive population and economic growth.

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9. Tirpitz Ascendant, 1897–1898

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pp. 129-165

There is no available written record of Tirpitz’s thoughts as he sailed home from New York. The voyage did little to help his severe bronchitis, but his fevered brain must never have rested. When he debarked at Bremerhaven early in June 1897, he entered the most complex, difficult, and delicate situation he had ever encountered. The array of problems ...

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10. The Second Navy Law, 1899–1900

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pp. 166-202

The Flottenverein was an attempt by the big industrialists like Krupp to start a massive lobbying effort for the navy. Trade was much less represented in the founding group than industry was. In 1897 the industrialists were more reticent than later in openly touting the Navy Law for fear of an adverse effect on agrarians in the Reichstag ...


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pp. 203-222

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11. The “Quiet” Years, 1900–1906

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pp. 223-262

When raised to the hereditary nobility in June 1900 Tirpitz, at age fiftyone, was in his mature prime. His public image, in newspaper photos and editorial cartoons, was dominated by his famous forked beard. His once trim body, hardened by years of strenuous outdoor work in the Torpedo Arm, was gradually softening. Eight years of desk work had taken its toll ...

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12. Sow the Wind, 1906–1908

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pp. 263-292

The RMA’s diverse workload and Tirpitz’s success as a bureaucratic warrior employed sixty mostly senior sea officers, by far the largest levy in the navy except for the fleet itself.¹ Many of them were long-term RMA officers, whereas the Admiralstab had thirty-six officers, most of them quite junior, who rotated frequently in and out of the fleet. The RMA employed ...

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13. The Whirlwind Rises, 1908–1911

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pp. 293-322

In June 1908 Tirpitz arranged a junket for Reichstag and Bundesrat members. From Danzig to Kiel to Wilhelmshaven, the parliamentarians inspected fortifications and fleet exercises. Tirpitz explained the need for quiet, steady work over the next few years, and radiated confidence that the navy was spending the public’s money efficiently and ...

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14. Denouement, 1911–1914

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pp. 323-374

The explosive events of the summer and early fall of 1911 were triggered by an innocent and routine ship redeployment. The gunboat Panther, Southwest African station ship, was due to return to Wilhelmshaven for major repairs. Chief of the Admiralstab, Fischel, on 8 March 1911, asked the Foreign Office if there were any objections if Panther stopped in a ...

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15. Tirpitz at War, August 1914–March 1916

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pp. 375-409

The central theater of the naval war was the North Sea. The north–south orientation of the island of Great Britain was a barrier that made the North Sea a virtual cul de sac. Germany only had access to the open ocean either to the south, through the narrow English Channel, or to the north. At its southern end, where the English Channel begins, less than ...

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16. Uncommon Recessional, 1916–1930

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pp. 410-443

Tirpitz, upon leaving the RMA, moved from his grand official residence with his wife Marie and daughter Margot to a large flat in Berlin at von der Heydt Strasse 15. His salary as State Secretary had been 45,000 marks, plus 15,000 for office expenses. His pension would be half his salary (22,500 marks).¹ His family’s financial situation appeared reasonably secure. The ...

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17. Conclusion

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pp. 444-466

Tirpitz entered the navy in 1865 as a gangly adolescent. From the outset he showed elements of the intelligence, diligence, and sheer determination that marked his entire career. His father, jokingly but prophetically, predicted he would be a Grand Admiral. As he matured into a junior officer and suffered the frustrating experience of serving through two wars ...


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pp. 467-468


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pp. 469-534


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pp. 535-553


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pp. 555-585

E-ISBN-13: 9780253001757
E-ISBN-10: 0253001757
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253355935

Page Count: 608
Illustrations: 26 b&w illus., 4 maps
Publication Year: 2011