The Maritime Strategy of the Great War



  • I’m reading War At Sea by Nathan Miller. In the second chapter, concerning the Invasion of Norway, Miller states that Admiral Raeder was influenced by a book, The Maritime Strategy of the Great War written by Vice-Admiral Wolfgang Wegener. The books suggest that Germany made a fatal mistake by failing to occupy Norway in World War I.

    That got my mind wondering, how would the War had played out if Germany had occupied Norway in 1914 or 1915? German ships could have better access to the North Atlantic. England would no doubt had invaded Norway. How would the extra front had played out? Germany may have benefited from a lessening of the North Sea blockade.

    The fleets of Germany, France and England would have not been idle.

    What are your thoughts?



  • Hello, I am from Norway, and are familiar with this subject.

    Germany did not invade Norway during WWI simply because it was impossible. Norway had just become independent from Sweden in 1905, because of heavy nationalism and military build up, and we had national leaders, like Nansen and a princess that was born in UK, that were against Sweden and Germany and very pro Britain. In 1914, Norway actually mobilized all military forces one day before Germany, and wrote a treaty that made us nonbelligerent on the British side. Our merchant fleet sailed with the Brits, and our navy cooperated with the Brits, and the minefield went from UK to the shore of Norway. The Norwegian king, that hated kaizer Wilhelm, really wanted to wage war against Germany, and the only issue that stopped him from doing that, was that the Swedish king threatened to join Germany, and this is the reason that both Norway and Sweden would stay neutral during WWI.

    Now, if Germany should against all odds have tried an attack on Norway anyway, it would likely not succeed. In 1914 they had no long range aircrafts that could reach Norway. And a pure landing with men from boats, against a heavily fortified coast, would look like the British Gallippoly landings in 1915. And that is the reason Germany never tried it during WWI.

    WWII is another game. Lenin had spread his socialism to the Nordic countries, making a civil war in Finland and a revolt in Norway, not to mention the broken gun spirit all over western Europe, and rise of facism and nationalism all over Europe. The Labour government in Norway 1940 was a true neutral, and had abolished the military defence forces, because the officers were fascists. Now, in this case, with a defenseless country lying all open to everyone, it was an easy decision to send a landing party there. But because of one stubborn Norwegian officer that sank the leading German cruiser and blocked the fjord from the rest of the German navy, the German attack was likely to fail. The only reason that Germany succeeded was they had long range aircrafts that dropped paratroopers. Since they did not have that capacity in WWI, it is unlikely they would have been able to pull it of.



  • @Narvik:

    Hello, I am from Norway, and are familiar with this subject.

    Germany did not invade Norway during WWI simply because it was impossible. Norway had just become independent from Sweden in 1905, because of heavy nationalism and military build up, and we had national leaders, like Nansen and a princess that was born in UK, that were against Sweden and Germany and very pro Britain. In 1914, Norway actually mobilized all military forces one day before Germany, and wrote a treaty that made us nonbelligerent on the British side. Our merchant fleet sailed with the Brits, and our navy cooperated with the Brits, and the minefield went from UK to the shore of Norway. The Norwegian king, that hated kaizer Wilhelm, really wanted to wage war against Germany, and the only issue that stopped him from doing that, was that the Swedish king threatened to join Germany, and this is the reason that both Norway and Sweden would stay neutral during WWI.

    Now, if Germany should against all odds have tried an attack on Norway anyway, it would likely not succeed. In 1914 they had no long range aircrafts that could reach Norway. And a pure landing with men from boats, against a heavily fortified coast, would look like the British Gallippoly landings in 1915. And that is the reason Germany never tried it during WWI.

    WWII is another game. Lenin had spread his socialism to the Nordic countries, making a civil war in Finland and a revolt in Norway, not to mention the broken gun spirit all over western Europe, and rise of facism and nationalism all over Europe. The Labour government in Norway 1940 was a true neutral, and had abolished the military defence forces, because the officers were fascists. Now, in this case, with a defenseless country lying all open to everyone, it was an easy decision to send a landing party there. But because of one stubborn Norwegian officer that sank the leading German cruiser and blocked the fjord from the rest of the German navy, the German attack was likely to fail. The only reason that Germany succeeded was they had long range aircrafts that dropped paratroopers. Since they did not have that capacity in WWI, it is unlikely they would have been able to pull it of.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge.Seems only way that Germany could have successful invaded was in support of Sweden. How do you see a Sweden supported German front opposed by a Norwegian, British and French playing out? I first thought of the Austrian-Italian Front.

    Such an action by Germany would have led to many Jutland style fleet battles.


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @ABWorsham:

    Such an action by Germany would have led to many Jutland style fleet battles.

    Not likely.  The major vessels of the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet – the dreadnought battleships and battlecruisers – spent most of WWI in their respective ports for reasons that would not have been changed by a German presence in Norway.  In essence, these ships were so costly and time-consuming to build that they were regarded as too expensive to risk in combat, except in situations where one side could take on the other side under conditions of clear numerical superiority.  This is why each side tried – or at least hoped – to “lure” the other side into ambush-type situations, a scenario that ended up truly working only once during the war, at Jutland, where both sides (ironically) managed to ambush each other and ended up facing each other at full strength (for a total of just a few minutes, in failing light at the end of the day).

    In times past, good admirals weren’t reluctant to bring their biggest ships into combat against the enemy’s biggest ships.  Nelson was fond of sending the flag signal “Engage the enemy more closely,” and there’s another British admiral whose name I can’t recall (it may even have been Nelson himself) who once said that a Royal Navy captain can’t go far wrong by bringing his ship alongside an enemy.  Wooden warships were expensive, but not as expensive as those of the early 20th century.  Moreover, wooden ships could take a surprising amount of damage, at least as far as solid shot was concerned, because wood is more elastic than metal.

    The launch of HMS Dreadnought around 1906 changed all that.  Dreadnought had cost about almost two million pounds sterling to build (which in 1906 was serious money), and the only thing cheap about her was how she looked compared to her successors.  Such ships were such an enormous investment of national resources that it became more important for them to stay afloat than to sink the enemy.  And despite their “dreadnought” designation and massive armour protection, all-big-gun battleships (and the more fragile battlecruisers) had the potential to be destroyed very quickly in battle if an enemy shell managed to penetrate their ammunition magazines.  Several British battlecruisers at Jutland were blown sky-high for precisely that reason.  Admirals were also worried about new non-artillery threats to their dreadnoughts – specifically, cheap and plentiful destroyers and submarines firing cheap and plentiful torpedoes, weapons which were aimed at the part of a warship that can be fatal when it’s breached: the waterline.  So for the most part, admirals on both sides were content to let their cruisers and destroyers do the brunt of the work at sea while they kept their crown jewels – the dreadnoughts – safely in port.  Overall, this strategy favoured Britain because it didn’t affect Britain’s ability to conduct a distant blockade of Germany.  The strategy was disadvantageous to Germany, but Germany couldn’t do much about it because it had fewer dreadnoughts than Britain.  So the fleet-in-being concept championed by Tirpitz proved to be a failure because the mutual deadlock it created was a situation that favoured Britain rather than Germany.



  • @ABWorsham:

    How do you see a Sweden supported German front opposed by a Norwegian, British and French playing out? I first thought of the Austrian-Italian Front.Â

    Such an action by Germany would have led to many Jutland style fleet battles.

    It only was one Jutland battle, and the lesson from it was don’t do it again, as Marc just explained.

    As for the maritime strategy, the French coast is far more valuable than the Norwegian coast, both for excess to own shipping and trade, and for denial of the enemies. During WWII, Germany did in fact, yes I am not kidding, they did occupy both the Norwegian coast and the French coast, and the French coast proved far better, since it had short range to the action. If you own a Globe, you will see that Norwegian ports are easy blocked by the Greenland\Iceland\UK gap. KM Bismarck would learn this the hard way. Owning Norway is only a benefit if you want to go skiing to the North Pole.

    Now, for the Norwegian Sweden Front. This did not happen neither during WWI nor WWII, because no one would benefit from it. But for the sake of discussion, lets assume it happened. A WWI attack on Norway would be different from the historical one in april 1940, because in in 1914 Norway was kind of allied to Britain, in a nonbelligerent treaty, plus Norway was totally mobilized from day 1. A German 1914 attack would have to go through Sweden, unless they wanted to see their navy sunk. So now we talk about a mountain war in the arctic zone, btw have you ever been to Alaska ? In 1914 there were no mentionable roads nor railroads in Norway, so they would get a hard time to supply this front. Both the terrain and the climate would favor the defender, making the front look like the winter war in Finland or the Litza front. Because of the 1905 tension between Norway and Sweden, the border had plenty of fortified lines too, in addition to the mountains, lack of roads, snow in the winter and marshes in the summer. In fact, Fort Hegra was tested in 1940 when a German battalion used 4 weeks of siege to crush the 200 Norwegian defenders. A full scale attack would be a mess. The Russians attacked 10 to 1 at the Mannerheim Line, and kept on for 4 years before they realized it was a bad idea. German crack mountain divisions attacked 5 to 1 against the Murmansk division, bet never got behind the Litza river. The Allies attacked Narvik in 1940 with 35000 men against 5000 German gebirgsjeagers, and after 2 months the Germans won. Attacking mountain fortresses in winter is always a bad idea. Same goes for an Allied attack against the Swedish iron mines at Kiruna. I spent some of my military service up there in the 80ties, and cant belive how Churchill in 1940 would think it was even remotely possible to walk 50 000 Brits over the mountain with no skies and no supply and no winter gear.


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Narvik:

    I spent some of my military service up there in the 80ties, and cant belive how Churchill in 1940 would think it was even remotely possible to walk 50 000 Brits over the mountain with no skies and no supply and no winter gear.

    Churchill had a track record of cooking up grandiose flanking operations that looked impressive on maps but which were of dubious practical value, and a bad habit of giving a completely inadequate amount of thought to their operational and logistical details.  Gallipoli in WWI is the most notorious example, and the 1940 British invasion of Norway had many of the same problems: it was planned too quickly and too superficially, and like Gallipoli it was based on the premise that an amphibious invasion can be improvised by basically just loading a bunch of troops onto standard Royal Navy warships and throwing them at an enemy coastline.  As the Americans eventually learned in the Pacific, successful amphibious operations require months of careful planning and training, lots of specialized equipment, and close inter-service cooperation.  So it doesn’t surprise me that Churchill wouldn’t have bothered considering the practicality of marching several divisions of British troops through Norway’s mountains, in winter, with no special training or equipment.  Another place where he made this mistake was Italy, which was another of his pet flanking operation concepts.  His argument that Italy was the “soft underbelly of the crocodile” falls apart when you look at a topographical map of the Italian peninsula: it’s ideal country for a defender because it basically consists of narrow coastal plains (defilades in military parlance) flanking a rugged mountainous interior.  And to (literally) top it all off: where would the invading Allies have ended up if they had managed to fight all the way up to the top of the Italian boot?  In the Alps.



  • @CWO:

    @Narvik:

    I spent some of my military service up there in the 80ties, and cant belive how Churchill in 1940 would think it was even remotely possible to walk 50 000 Brits over the mountain with no skies and no supply and no winter gear.

    Churchill had a track record of cooking up grandiose flanking operations that looked impressive on maps but which were of dubious practical value, and a bad habit of giving a completely inadequate amount of thought to their operational and logistical details.  Gallipoli in WWI is the most notorious example, and the 1940 British invasion of Norway had many of the same problems: it was planned too quickly and too superficially, and like Gallipoli it was based on the premise that an amphibious invasion can be improvised by basically just loading a bunch of troops onto standard Royal Navy warships and throwing them at an enemy coastline.  As the Americans eventually learned in the Pacific, successful amphibious operations require months of careful planning and training, lots of specialized equipment, and close inter-service cooperation.  So it doesn’t surprise me that Churchill wouldn’t have bothered considering the practicality of marching several divisions of British troops through Norway’s mountains, in winter, with no special training or equipment.  Another place where he made this mistake was Italy, which was another of his pet flanking operation concepts.  His argument that Italy was the “soft underbelly of the crocodile” falls apart when you look at a topographical map of the Italian peninsula: it’s ideal country for a defender because it basically consists of narrow coastal plains (defilades in military parlance) flanking a rugged mountainous interior.  And to (literally) top it all off: where would the invading Allies have ended up if they had managed to fight all the way up to the top of the Italian boot?  In the Alps.

    I think you make some very good points.

    But the invasion of Africa was to secure Britains fuel links to the middle east.
    Also I believe his intention was to invade Greece.

    I do believe that in some ways the invasion of Greece would make some sense
    as it could help with the Russians more readily once the fronts meet up.
    Also a third of Germany’s oil comes from the Romanian town (or city) of Polesti


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