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Wednesday, November 23rd 2005, 2:48pm

Q & A with Admiral Raeder

Text of testimony by Grand Admiral Raeder, before the Reichstag, 11 February 1929

Q: What is the status of the Kriegsmarine?
A: First off, the Kriegsmarine is limited by the terms of the Versailles Treaty, that must always be kept in mind. The Kriegsmarine is banned from possessing aircraft or submarines, and the numbers and sizes of all combatant classes of vessels are strictly limited, as are the rate at which we can replace older vessels.

All that said, the situation is this: in capital ships, we have 3 ships that served in the line of battle at the end of the Great War, and 3 more that even then were relegated to less crucial, and dangerous, tasks. In cruisers, we are in the process of replacing the last of the pre-Great War vessels with new, much more capable, ships, and with the completion of the latest ship laid down we will be at the limit imposed by the Treaty. In destroyers, we still have some members of the last two classes of large torpedo boats laid down during the Great War, but there are also a number of newer ships that have been built within the last five years. What the Treaty refers to as torpedo boats, we have none, as that classification was very restrictive and small, and the Great War showed the limitations of ships that small to be severe.

Q: What are the Kriegsmarines building priorities
A: That depends on what treaty, if any, Germany is restricted by. If the Versailles Treaty is still in force, replacing the old pre-dreadnoughts should be the first priority. The Versailles Treaty allows for their replacement, much more modern and capable ships could be laid down. The pre-dreadnoughts were of limited value at the end of the Great War, and their value has only gone down since then. More new destroyers to replace older vessels as they become available for replacement will also be needed. Some experiments with small torpedo craft, similar to the Italian or Danish MAS boats, are recommended.

If Germany has joined the Cleito Treaty, then priority shifts a bit, though certainly the predreadnoughts still need to be replaced. The recommendation from the Admiralstab would be to build more cruisers, more destroyers, some U-boats if allowed, and plan to replace the pre-dreadnoughts. Which tier of the Cleito Treaty we were given would also have an effect on building recommendations.

Given these conflicting recommendations, I am content with the government’s plan to wait until after the Copenhaven talks on the Cleito Treaty to see what way forward is available. It would make little sense to lay down a pre-dreadnought replacement class under the Versailles Treaty limits that would prejudice our ability to use tonnage allowed under the Cleito Treaty.

Q: Why the focus on the pre-dreadnoughts?
A: Because they are, now, the oldest active vessels in the fleet, and because they were, sadly, nearly obsolete when they were completed. As combat vessels, their value today is mostly limited to shore bombardments. They wouldn’t even make very good training ships under the Cleito Treaty, for the following reasons: they are not equipped for director firing, so their ability to conduct gunnery training is limited; they are coal-fired and equipped with piston engines, so their value for engineering training is limited; and their damage control equipment is limited and out of date. Many of these failures could be fixed, but the cost would be greater than the value returned.

Q: What is the Kriegsmarine’s view of aircraft?
A: Not having any of our own, we are forced to evaluate them by how others are using them, or appear to plan to use them. Within the relatively constrained spaces of the Baltic and the North Seas, we expect the torpedo bomber to be a relatively useful weapon. We are less sure about the level bomber, certainly some proponents seem to think it will be decisive, but there are some doubters on the Admiralstab. Were Germany to be allowed to operate warplanes, there would certainly be a desire for land-based torpedo bombers and naval scout aircraft, along with fighters to protect the fleet. Given the geographical limitations the Kriegsmarine operates under, the Admiralstab is not as fond of the concept of the aircraft carrier as some other nations appear to be, probably because we expect to operate within the range of land-based aircraft the majority of the time.

Q: What is the Kriegsmarine’s view of airships?
A: Again, being restricted from using them by the Versailles Treaty, we are forced to evaluate from afar and from past experience. The airships of the Great War were, from a naval perspective, useful mostly for scouting, but were vulnerable to enemy aircraft. With more powerful and capable anti-aircraft armaments on ships now, they would remain vulnerable. The newer American designs, with helium instead of hydrogen lift, would be much less vulnerable than our older designs, an attacker would have to damage the structure of the airship itself rather than merely setting fire to the gas bags. As a scouting unit, airships could be valuable, though probably more so to the Americans and Atlantians than ourselves, because of their larger open ocean coastlines and hence range requirements.