Central European History


Admirals versus Generals: The War Aims of the Imperial German Navy, 1914–1918

Holger H. Herwiga1

a1 Vanderbilt University

The recent controversy over Germany's war aims during World War I has centered primarily around the positions taken by the Kaiser, the Foreign Office, and the army high command. The views of the navy have been largely neglected. This is unfortunate because the navy was, in a way, the status symbol of the German Empire. It was not, like the various armies, a divisive, particularist force, but rather a national Reich institution—the “melting pot” of Germany. It flew the Imperial black-white-red banner, was funded by the Reichstag, had a state secretary in the Imperial cabinet under the chancellor, recruited its officer cadets from all the German states and cities, trained them in the national naval school at Mürwik, and swore an oath of allegiance to the German Kaiser. Yet as the junior service, the navy struggled to escape from the shadow of the Prussian army and to establish its own identity. The issue of war aims provided it with just such an opportunity.