WW1 - The Maritime War

World War 1 was the era of the dreadnought battleship, with two main contenders, the British Grand Fleet, of approximately 24 dreadnoughts based in Scapa Flow, and the German High Seas Fleet, of approximately 16 dreadnoughts based at Kiel. British dreadnoughts, inspired by the legendary admiral Jackie Fisher, tended to be heavy of gun and fast of speed but weak on armour, with German dreadnoughts - not constrained by small British shipyards, and thus able to be built with wider beams - the opposite, with smaller guns but more armour.

The tactic of the day was a form of static warfare, the concept of the fleet in being. A fleet in being does not have to leave its port, rather, it exercises control over the seas simply by its existence, and the fact it can sally forth if needed to do battle when alerted. Thus, for much of the war, the two fleets were in port, waiting for the other to make a move. The advantage seemed to be with the British, who placed Germany under blockade almost immediately, and the Germans had to attempt to break that blockade.

Admiral Ingenohl, in overall command of the German fleet, thus had a problem. In 1914 the Germans managed to sneak out a number of raiders before war was declared, most famously the SMS Emden which had a truly heroic voyage, raiding as far as Java and India, but by 1916 all the raiders had been hunted down and sunk by Allied warships. And the High Seas Fleet was no match for the British in the North Sea.

Ingenohl's plan was to split the Grand Fleet up and thus attempt to destroy it in detail, rather than trying to take on the whole navy at once. To that end early in the war German battle cruisers raided the east coast on England, shelling Lowestoft and Yarmouth, and provoking outrage in Britain. After all, the Royal Navy ruled the waves, how could the German fleet be permitted to shell British towns? The government demanded that a force of British battlecruisers be placed further south at Rosyth and thus able to protect the British east coast - the cautious British admiral John Jellicoe did not agree with this plan but had little choice, public pressure demanded it. Thus, Ingenohl had his chance.

In January, 1915, German battle cruisers again raided the east coast, and were intercepted by the British battlecruisers from Rosyth. In the Battle of Dogger Bank, the British performed well, sinking an old cruiser the SMS Blucher, but poor communications between the British ships meant that the Germans mostly managed to get away, and Ingenohls cautious leadership didn't help either, with most of the High Seas Fleet waiting in port. Ingenohl was fired and the more aggressive Admiral Scheer put in command.

Scheer continued where Ingenohl had left off, using his fast battlecruisers to raid the British east coast and provoke the British, thus enabling him to pounce on the Rosyth force with the combined High Seas Fleet and destroy it. In May, 1916, he almost succeeded.

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