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Thread: Tirpitz sorties August 1914

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    Tirpitz sorties August 1914

    What if Tirpitz had been allowed to sortie the High Seas Fleet into the English Channel in August 1914? The Germans had correctly guessed the timing of the movement of the BEF to France and the Grand Fleet was tucked well away in Scapa Flow and could not have prevented the action, but might have been able to intercept the return of the German fleet. Could the destruction of a British division and disruption of the BEf time table have altered the outcome of the first month of the war?

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    Senior Contributor Monash's Avatar
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    1914 ???

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    Quote Originally Posted by Monash View Post
    1914 ???
    Grand Admiral Tirpitz wanted to sortie in August 1914 to intercept the transit of the BEf. Germany had correctly deduced the timing of the BEF to France. The High Seas fleet would have easily brushed aside the Royal Navy's channel fleet consisted of just 10 pre-dreadnoughts. The Grand Fleet had taken refuge in Scapa Flow because of a fear of submarines. Ths there was no way for the Royal navy to have prevented the closing of the channel and the severe mauling of a divisions and disruption of time lines. In additoon, do to pre-war agreements, almost the entire French navy was in the med, meaning the Germans could have knocked the hell out of French ports adding further difficulties. Getting back to Germany might not have been possible, but it may have won Germany the war.

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    The failure of the HSF to sortie was one of four critical history changing blunders Germany made in August 1914. The other three being 1. sending two corps to reinforce east Prussia. Going over to the offensive in Alsace-Lorraine and 3. Kluck's inward wheel before Galleini.

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    OK, got you now. My first assumption was that you were referring to the famous vessel not the officer was named after, hence the slight confusion. Addressing your main point then a sortie by the HSF at that critical time would certainly have been disruptive in the very short term but only for a few days at best. As you noted in your intro - deployment to the continent commenced almost immediately after the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914 and all 6 divisions of the original BEF were disembarked and deploying in France by mid September. This rapid deployment was made possible by a whole number of factors not least of which were:

    - the very small size of the BEF compared to the continental armies then mobilizing for war;
    - good pre-war planning by the British;
    - the relative abundance civilian marine transport available at the start of the war (relative to the size of the force to be moved and supplied that is); and
    - energetic French co-operation at disembarkation;

    The issue as I see it that while a sortie by the HSF could have delayed that deployment by a couple of days that would be the limit of the disruption unless the HSF made a determined effort to attack the channel ports directly and then remained on 'station' as it were in their vicinity for some period of time. This at best would be a very 'high risk' proposition for the Germans (and historically the Kaiser was nothing if not risk adverse when it came to his beloved HSF).

    For a start shore bombardment operations (of the ports) and a fleet level engagement with the GF would have imposed conflicting operations requirements on the Germans - they couldn't do both at the same time unless they intended to swim home afterwards! Any real success in disrupting the BEF would have required the HSF to split into squadron sized forces for attacks on the relevant ports if disrupting the transfer of the BEF was made their No.1 objective. Unfortunately this would I think also require them to stay in the channel for an extended period until the mission is completed. This in turn means they almost certainly would have been forced to engage the GF on unfavorable terms within the channel itself (very bad) or at best just outside of the northern approaches to the channel in the extreme south of North Sea (only slightly less bad) as they attempted to get back to port - which depends on how rapidly the GF sorties after the initial surprise but I doubt it would take long.

    I suppose it would be possible for the Germans to conduct a operation akin to the "channel dash" of WW11 given the chronic communications problems which plagued the GF for most of the war. Poor weather on the return trip would helped the HSF to evade the British as well but to but I don't have records at hand to check if this was a factor that could have come into play. I just don't think a 'dash' would have achieved the desired objective. Perhaps historically a couple of days disruption to the BEFs embarkation timetable might have made a difference but I doubt it. We are only talking about say a week tops, probably less and the British would be firmly back in control of the channel unless the Germans hung around to challenge them.

    The small size of the BEF was an advantage in this regard and it was main reason it could be be deployed so rapidly in the first place compared to the time it took for the continental armies to fully deploy. Lets not forget to that Germans had their own logistical problems courtesy of the Schlieffen Plan as well! So I'm not sure a few days would have made that great a difference.

    That said the start of the war was probably the best time for the HSF to have risked a head to head, winner takes all battle with the GF like Tirpritz advocated if only because Great Britain's accelerating ship building program meant that by the end of the war she was outbuilding BBs and BCs at something like 3 times the rate of the Germans. This meant the roughly 2:1 odds that existed at the start of the war were about as good as they were ever going to get from Germany's perspective.

    Finally a clash in the North Sea itself such as Tirpitz himself wanted in 1914 would have been a historic encounter indeed but it wouldn't have changed the outcome of the War unless the Germans achieved far better success rate against the GF than they ever did historically. A roughly 50% advantage in tonnage sunk over the British as occurred at Jutland wouldn't have done that for them. The British would still win.
    Last edited by Monash; 02 Aug 14, at 07:30.

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    First, I don't think such an action would have let much of the HSF get back to Germany.

    But getting to the Channel would have been unpreventable. The GF was hiding in Scapa Flow and the Channel fleet's big guns were 18 pre-dreadnoughts (if all could put to sea) made between 1895 and 1903 including everything from obsolete majestic class ships to newer but lightly armored Duncan class ships. These 18 ships would have faced up to 22 German pre-dreadnoughts and 14 dreadnoughts. Plus all the attendant cruisers and destroyers. Once the HSF was loose in the channel she has about 24 hours until the GF can arrive in force. If the German battlewagons don't spend long in the channel but move to keep the GF fleet out, then cruisers left in the channel might have as many as 3 days to hunt shell and lay mines.


    But plugging the channel for even just a day or two plus bombardment of the French channel ports and mine laying might have had a rebounding effect on how fast the entire BEF could deploy and get into action. Take the BEF put of play and even with the creation of 6th Army, France doesn't have enough to cover its right flank after the failure of Plan 17. IIRC, initially only 3 of the 4 divisions plus the cavalry division deployed with the 4th following some days later. If one of those early infantry divisions gets seriously mauled suddenly we could have been looking at a radically different outcome.

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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    First, I don't think such an action would have let much of the HSF get back to Germany.
    Therein lies the problem I think. Would the German High Command (handicapped as it was with the Kaiser) have regarded the effective loss of the HSF (or at least its savaging) right at the start of the war as an acceptable price to pay in exchange for merely delaying the arrival of 6 divisions at the front? The German Army might have but you can bet the Navy wouldn't.

    I hadn't considered mine laying operations though. The question with those is did they have enough long range mine layers to get the job done before these ships were sunk/driven off by the defenders? Also how long did it take to put down a halfway effective minefield with WW1 technology?

    Then there would have been the political/morale considerations i.e. having to announce to the German people right at the start of the war that their vaunted HSF had effectively been destroyed in one battle! It should also be noted that Germany's war plan allowed for the arrival of at least some British reinforcements in France before their armies encircled Paris via an advance through the low countries. That was one of the main reasons for their fixation with the Schlieffen Plan - it held out the (delusional) promise of a relatively quick victory over France before the Allies had the chance to fully mobilize and deploy all available forces on the continent. That was their aim from the beginning, delay in the East and finish of the West quickly. Not knowing how vital a role the BEF was to play early on in the War would they have thought it worth the effort? We have the benefit off hindsight after all.

    Lastly, if you assume the HSF was destroyed (even if it did delay the BEF and as a result the Germans got to Paris) what opportunities would that have opened up for the Allies in terms of naval operations in Northern Europe?

    By the way, and sorry but I can't resist ... "But plugging the channel" ???
    Last edited by Monash; 03 Aug 14, at 04:01.

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    The German navy wanted the battle, the Army was indifferent and the kaiser was aghast...

    As for minelaying, it was relatively well developed eve by early 1914. hey could lay impressive barrages in short order.

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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    The German navy wanted the battle, the Army was indifferent and the kaiser was aghast...

    As for minelaying, it was relatively well developed eve by early 1914. hey could lay impressive barrages in short order.
    I will definitely have to do more reading on the strategic/political issues affecting each of the Great Powers at the start of the war. However while Tirpitz and his supporters in the Navy wanted an immediate confrontation with the GF would they really have wanted to fight that battle in Channel as discussed above? Surely at best they would've planned for a dash to the Channel with old/light units raiding the ports to disrupt the transfer of the BEF while the bulk of their modern fleet stayed in the North Sea?

    In any event I would have thought a direct attack on Scarpa Flow in the hope of catching as many of the GF as they could at anchor would be their best bet for victory. After all history proves they never got an opportunity like that ever again. The odds against them only ever went from bad to worse as the war progressed.
    Last edited by Monash; 03 Aug 14, at 10:48.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Monash View Post
    I will definitely have to do more reading on the strategic/political issues affecting each of the Great Powers at the start of the war. However while Tirpitz and his supporters in the Navy wanted an immediate confrontation with the GF would they really have wanted to fight that battle in Channel as discussed above? Surely at best they would've planned for a dash to the Channel with old/light units raiding the ports to disrupt the transfer of the BEF while the bulk of their modern fleet stayed in the North Sea?

    In any event I would have thought a direct attack on Scarpa Flow in the hope of catching as many of the GF as they could at anchor would be their best bet for victory. After all history proves they never got an opportunity like that ever again. The odds against them only ever went from bad to worse as the war progressed.
    The oly way for the HSF to get the mine carrying ships into the channel would have been for a maximum effort. The Channel was protected by the 5th, 7th and 8th battle squadrons in August 1914. Once this powerful force plus its escorting cruisers and destroyers was eliminated lighter/older German vessels could do as they would on the French coast but it would take the dreadnoughts to achieve the break in.

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    So that means they get hammered on the way back to home unless they manage to evade the GF which is unlikely in the extreme given number of allied military and civilian shipping in the channel and southern edge of the North Sea. Still think it would be too high a price to pay, not if it doesn't give the Germans a chance of taking a large part of the GF with them to the bottom of the channel.

    It might make more sense if the plan was to fake a run at the channel using their pre-dreadnaught BBs and armored cruisers while the rest of the fleet attempts to ambush the GF on its run south to 'save' the channel ports. But how do you do it? No radar, no long range aircraft for reconnaissance (or radios sets that would fit in them for that matter). What few subs were available would have to be pre-positioned along the most likely lines of approach and may not get the chance to send a signal until hours after the fleet has passed even if they do see it. And to top it all off the GF has so many more DDs and CLs than the HSF that even if you do manage to plot an intercept the British screening forces will almost certainly spot your approach long before you get into gun range not least because they know what direction you have to sortie from and would have recon vessels out the moment war is declared.
    Last edited by Monash; 04 Aug 14, at 14:21.

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    The Germans did have long range aircraft- zepplins. Not sure how effective they would have been, they failed at Jutland, but they did exist.

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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    The Germans did have long range aircraft- zepplins. Not sure how effective they would have been, they failed at Jutland, but they did exist.
    Yes I thought of them but as you say they didn't perform well during Jutland and that was after almost 2 years of working up under combat conditions. There's no reason to think they'd be any more successful earlier on especially as the Navy only had a dozen or so to start with and never seemed to be able to keep more than 2 or 3 up simultaneously even late in the war. I don't believe the German Navy had even included airships in their initial war planning beyond possibly some vague concept notion of 'patrolling', so I can't see them being a significant factor.

    We probably need some input from our battleship experts for a fresh perspective.

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    The only reason I included them was because weather in August should be more settled than it is in early June. Jutland had some rain squalls which implies some level of unsettled air currents for the zepplins to deal with.

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    Still doing some reading but the sense I get at the moment is that any full large scale clash between the GF and the HSF would have been a grinding battle of attrition, much like the war on land turned into with each side sucking up losses until one or the other broke. Given the 2:1 advantage in numbers the British had in 1914 I doubt they would break first, especially when both sides were so risk adverse when it came to putting their main battle units in harms way. That tendency played into Fisher's hands of course because at the end of the day all he had to do to win the war at sea was not stuff up. In other words don't take any big risks, don't commit your full battle-line to sea unless the Germans do the same and then just wait for the blockade to ruin the German economy.

    P.S. I have a keen interest in the period because I had a Grandfather who was a Midshipman on the BC HMS Tiger and saw action at Jutland!
    Last edited by Monash; 06 Aug 14, at 12:38.

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