The Strengths of Navies in World War One

In the build-up to war naval supremacy was regarded as a key asset for any nation wishing to become a dominant world power. This was partly the work of US naval strategist and writer Alfred Thayer Mahan, who had proposed in the 1880s that throughout history navally superior powers have been able to defeat otherwise superior enemies, citing the Roman defeat of Hannibal and the British defeat of Napoleon in support.

This had a major impact on Kaiser Wilhelm and determination to compete with the Royal Navy ended up contributing to the build-up of war by antagonising the British government, who were unaccustomed to challenges to their naval preeminence.

There was relatively little direct naval confrontation in the war, but navies became important in the economic aspects of the conflict. The British blockade of Germany in the North Sea became important as German’s resources grew scarce.  Arguably the most important element of naval warfare was the use of submarines, a new innovation and by far the deadliest element of the war at sea.

Despite the pre-war build up this graph shows that the Kaiser’s navy was still quite small compared to Britain’s especially given that they were supported by the French and Japanese navies.

Size of Navies by August 1914

Alex is a history student at King's College London focusing on Europe and the Near East in the Middle Ages. He currently works writing and editing content for madefromhistory.