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Important Foreign Navies

 Germany, since the agreement of June 1935 with Great Britain, is fast building an efficient modern fleet. The USSR is credited with an ambitious programme of naval construction. In addition, there are thirty-six smaller naval forces of varying strength


This chapter briefly describes the following navies:






Holland (including the Dutch East Indies)






The pocket battleship Deutschland is more powerful than a British cruiser of the County class.

THE “POCKET BATTLESHIP” laid down for the German Navy in 1929 completely revolutionized foreign ideas of construction. Of a displacement limited by treaty to 10,000 tons, the Deutschland is armed with six 11-in. guns, eight 5.9-in. guns, and numerous anti-aircraft pieces. She is therefore more powerful than a British cruiser of the “County” class.

GERMANY, since the agreement of June 1935 with Great Britain, is fast building an efficient modern fleet. The U.S.S.R. is credited with an ambitious programme of naval construction In addition, there are thirty-six smaller naval forces of varying strength.

Germany is now free to develop her sea power on a scale commensurate with her regained status as a Sovereign Power, the size of her fleet being restricted only by the naval agreement with Great Britain into which Germany voluntarily entered in June 1935. Under this compact, it was agreed that German naval tonnage should at no time exceed 35 per cent of the British total, with the proviso that a somewhat higher ratio of submarine strength should be permissible and that, in principle, Germany should have the right to build up to submarine equality with Great Britain.

The Treaty of Versailles enacted that Germany should build no armoured ships above 10,000 tons, no cruisers above 6,000 tons, and no destroyers exceeding 800 tons. She was further debarred altogether from building or acquiring submarines of any description. These conditions were faithfully observed for a period of about fifteen years, during the greater part of which the German fleet remained in a condition of almost complete impotence. Eventually a few cruisers and destroyers were built in conformity with Treaty restrictions, but it was not until 1929 that Germany sprang her remarkable technical surprise.

In that year was laid down the first unit of what became known as the “pocket battleships”. There is little doubt that these ships were designed less from purely naval motives than with the intention of showing the world that German genius could rise superior to the artificial fetters imposed on her naval architects.

Although the Deutschland, as this first vessel was named, had a displacement tonnage of only 10,000 and was therefore no larger than the British “County” class cruisers, she was in effect a miniature battle cruiser. As compared with the cruisers’ armament of eight 8-in. 250-pounder guns, she mounts six 11-in. weapons firing 700-pounder shells, besides an auxiliary battery of eight 5.9-in. guns and numerous anti-aircraft pieces. Moreover, while the “County” class cruisers have only light armour protection, the Deutschland is equipped with strong armour plate over her vitals and gun turrets, and is also well defended against air bombs and torpedoes. She could, therefore, make short work of any cruiser now afloat. The Deutschland has a further claim to distinction in being the first large man-of-war to have diesel drive only. At full power her motors propel her at 26 knots, and they are so economical in operation that at lower speeds she is credited with a cruising endurance of 20,000 miles.

In this ship and her sisters, Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee, welding was largely employed during construction, and many other methods of saving weight were adopted. In view of the close secrecy observed by the German naval authorities there is little reliable information concerning the behaviour of these pocket battleships in service. There is, however, reason to believe that when the diesel engines are running at certain speeds a good deal of vibration and noise is set up, and the system of fire control for the guns seriously affected. The building of these ships, however, reflects great credit on the German shipbuilding and engineering professions. Even after having discounted the possibly exaggerated claims made on their behalf, it remains a fact that the Deutschland and her sisters have introduced a new element into naval strategy because of their exceptional cruising endurance, relatively high speed and powerful armament. It is certainly not entirely a coincidence that since their advent the building of 10,000-ton cruisers has virtually ceased all over the world. Proof that the pocket battleship type owed its existence more to political than to naval reasons is afforded by the circumstance that it was discarded immediately after Germany had regained her freedom in naval development.

As soon as that happened, a fourth Deutschland already on order was cancelled, and in its place two full-scale battleships of 26,000 tons were laid down, with an armament of nine 11-in. guns in triple turrets and twelve 5.9-in. guns,. their speed being unofficially reported as 30 knots. It is known that they are propelled by steam, which suggests that in spite of the progress which the diesel engine has undergone in Germany and of its installation in the three pocket battleships, this system is not yet considered suitable for the propulsion of large and fast men-of-war.

The process of creating a powerful battle fleet is already in full swing, and in the course of the next few years the German Navy will inevitably advance from secondary to first rank. Steady progress is being made with the building of cruisers, six of which have been launched since 1925. With the exception of the Emden, they are vessels of 6,000 tons, with a speed of 32 knots and a main armament of nine 5.9-in. guns in triple turrets. All are propelled by steam turbines, but the five newer ships, Konigsberg, Karlsruhe, Koln, Leipzig and Nurnberg, are fitted with an auxiliary diesel plant for cruising, a feature that endows them with an unusually large radius of action.

Four 10,000-ton cruisers were laid down in 1935-36, armed with eight 8-in. guns. These vessels are expected to differ from the conventional “County” type in having strong armour protection. Germany’s first aircraft carrier was begun during 1936, with a displacement of 19,250 tons. The destroyer flotilla in 1936 comprised twelve boats, of 800 tons and 33-34 knots speed, already completed, and sixteen much larger vessels, of 1,625 tons, approaching completion. These new destroyers carry five 5-in. guns and eight torpedo tubes, and are understood to have a speed of 36 knots. Six larger vessels of 1,811 tons, and twelve torpedo-boats of 600 tons, were also building in 1936.

The Schlesien is a German battleship built in 1906

NOW A CADET TRAINING SHIP, the Schlesien is a German battleship built in 1906. She has a displacement of 13,040 tons, a length of 413 feet, a beam of 72 ft. 10 in. and a mean draught of 25 ft. 3 in. She was rebuilt in 1926-28.

Germany in 1935 resumed the building of submarines, and in that year laid down no fewer than twenty-eight boats. Twenty of these have the surprisingly small displacement of 250 tons, a speed of 13 knots on the surface and 7 knots below water, and an armament of three torpedo tubes.

These diminutive craft are believed to have been built mainly for training purposes, though they are capable of remaining at sea for considerable periods and have a definite degree of fighting value. From a number of the boats the electric motors and storage batteries have been removed, and when under water they are now propelled by the internal combustion engine working on a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, a supply of this gaseous fuel being carried in steel flasks. The system is said to be capable of application to large submarines, which would manufacture their own gas by means of a high-pressure electrolyser.

Eight more submarines were begun in 1936, to bring the German strength up to three complete flotillas of twelve boats each. The submarine school at Kiel, which had been closed since the Armistice in 1918, was reopened in 1935, and there are reported to be more than 1,000 officers and men under training there.

Although conscription has lately been reintroduced, the backbone of the naval personnel consists of volunteers who have enlisted for twelve years’ service, and are therefore highly trained men. At the present time, it is estimated, 20,000 of these long-service volunteers are in the navy. Two or three years hence the personnel will number about 40,000, of whom 75 per cent are expected to be long-service volunteers and the remainder two-year conscripts. Virtually, therefore, the new German fleet is manned on the long-service system, in which it is equalled only by the British Navy.

The training is extremely thorough, and includes several months spent on board a sailing ship. Officers are entered between the age of 17½ and 18, and, after having passed through the naval academy at Mürwik, near Kiel, they make a voyage round the world in a cruiser. As in the British Navy, young officers are encouraged to specialize in navigation, gunnery, torpedo work or signalling. The engineering branch is kept distinct from the executive, though the wide social gulf that divided these two branches in the old German Navy no longer exists.

Gunnery practice figures prominently in the training programme. Following the example of the British Navy, an old battleship, the Zahringen, has been fitted out as a wireless-controlled target ship.

The torpedo has always been a popular arm in the German service, and now that so many new destroyers and submarines are coming into service, torpedo tactics are being developed on a major scale. Among the new types now in production is a torpedo propelled by electricity, which, in contrast to the compressed-air model, gives no visible warning of its approach. The new German fleet, though comparatively small as yet, is known to be highly efficient alike in personnel and material. Its expansion to the maximum strength permitted by the Anglo-German agreement may take some time, because of the large and costly programmes of military and aerial rearmament on which Germany has simultaneously embarked. During recent years a number of British warships have visited Germany from time to time and these visits have been returned. On all such occasions a spirit of marked cordiality has prevailed and it can be said with truth that the relations between the two navies are most friendly.


A SOVIET BATTLESHIP OF 23,606 TONS DISPLACEMENT, the Marat was completed in 1914 as the Petropavlovsk. She has an overall length of 619 feet, a beam of 87 feet and a mean draught of 27 ft. 6 in. Her bows are capable of being used for ice-breaking purposes. Her horse power of 42,000 was designed to give her a speed of about 23 knots.

BECAUSE of the reticence observed by Moscow, the strength and composition of the Russian Navy remain somewhat obscure, but there is evidence of considerable progress in every branch of the service.

Three old battleships dating from 1914-15 have been brought into fighting trim by extensive rebuilding. There are five effective cruisers, nineteen destroyers, and a force of submarines variously estimated at between fifty and seventy boats.

The bulk of the Russian Navy is in the Baltic, but a squadron is maintained in the Black Sea and, within recent years, the naval force in the Far East has been substantially augmented, chiefly by submarines sent in sections over the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok, and there assembled and completed for sea.

Russia remains something of a “dark horse” among the naval Powers.

In addition to what may be called the “Big Seven” who head the hierarchy of naval Powers, there are no fewer than thirty-six other countries which have naval armaments in greater or less degree. They range from China to Peru, and among them they control at least 200 submarines. The European States of naval importance include Spain, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Greece and Turkey, and across the Atlantic the Argentine, Brazil and Chile all maintain fighting fleets of considerable strength.


The Spanish Navy, which in the civil war of 1936 came into prominence, contains a number of ships which will bear comparison with any afloat. It includes two small battleships of the dreadnought type, two 10,000-ton cruisers armed with 8-in. guns and capable of steaming at 33 knots, five other fast cruisers, fourteen big modern destroyers and fifteen submarines, many of them of up-to-date design.


Among the smaller navies in Europe that of Sweden cuts perhaps the most impressive figure. Its ships, though small, are of excellent design. For their size the three miniature battleships of the Sverige class are probably the most powerful afloat. Displacing 7,000 tons, they mount an armament of four 11-in. and eight 6-in. guns, the speed is 22½ knots, and there is strong armour protection over vital parts.

A particularly interesting ship is the aircraft cruiser Gotland, completed in 1935. She displaces 4,600 tons, has a speed of 27 knots, and mounts six 6-in. guns. Accommodation is provided for eight or ten seaplanes which are catapulted off the ship. This vessel has been much admired in British naval circles, where it is felt that the type, or a modified version of it, would make a useful addition to the British fleet. Sweden also has a flotilla of modern destroyers as well as about twenty submarines.


Holland is a great Colonial Power, and for this reason the greater part of its naval forces permanently serves overseas. With rare exceptions new ships, as soon as completed, are detailed to the East Indies squadron based on Java, the only vessels retained in home waters being minelayers and a few torpedo-boats and submarines.

The Dutch East Indies squadron is not powerful enough to defend the extensive and valuable Eastern territories, such as Java, Sumatra and Borneo, under the Dutch flag against attack by a first-class naval Power. The strategic function of this squadron in the event of war would be to harass and, if possible, keep at bay an attacking force until the arrival of help from a strong ally.

There are no capital ships proper in the Netherlands fleet, the only armoured vessels being three coast defence ships averaging 5,000 tons and armed with 11-in. or 9.4-in. guns. These ships are now obsolete and are used mainly for training purposes. The largest ships in the fleet are the cruisers Java and Sumatra, sister ships of 6,670 tons, with a speed of 31 knots and an armament of ten 5.9-in. guns. They have recently been joined by a new cruiser, the De Ruyter, of slightly less tonnage but higher speed, mounting seven 5.9-in. Guns.

An interesting vessel still under construction in 1936 was the flotilla leader Tromp, embodying an entirely new design. Displacing 3,350 tons she has a contract speed of 32½ knots, and is armed with six 5.9-in. guns, ten automatic anti-aircraft pieces and six torpedo tubes. There are eight modern destroyers and the same number of torpedo boats, besides a force of small but well-armed sloops and gunboats, and nine minelayers.

The submarine flotilla is exceptionally powerful, comprising as it does twenty-nine boats, the majority of them of modern construction. The largest units are two laid down in 1935, with a surface displacement of nearly 1,100 tons, a speed of 20 knots and an armament of eight torpedo tubes. The European personnel of the fleet numbers 7,700 officers and men, besides a large contingent of native ratings who serve in the East Indian squadron. Dutch seamen are among the finest in the world, and for this reason the defensive value of the Netherlands Navy is not to be measured merely by the number and armament of its ships.


Since the refortification of the Dardanelles, Turkey has once more become what the Germans call a “power factor” in European strategy. She already has the nucleus of what may become a

respectable fleet, though shortage of money is holding up the ambitious programme of construction which was approved in principle a few years ago. The largest warship under the Ottoman flag is the Yavuz, formerly the German battle cruiser Goeben which helped to make history in 1914-18. Although completed as far back as 1912, this ship is still an important fighting unit, thanks to the extensive refit she underwent in 1926-30. Her displacement is 22,640 tons and her original speed was 25½ knots, though it is doubtful whether she can attain that now. The ship is strongly armoured and carries a main battery of ten 11-in. guns, besides ten 5.9-in. and many smaller pieces.

Turkey has also two old cruisers, four big destroyers of the latest design, and five submarines, in addition to a miscellaneous collection of gunboats, minelayers and the like. It is understood that certain foreign officers are serving in the Turkish Navy as instructors.


Yet another of the smaller European navies deserving of mention is that of Finland, if only because of the unusual character of its material. It contains two vessels which not inaptly can be described as “vest-pocket” battleships, and are technically quite as interesting as the much larger German versions of that type. Launched in 1930-31, the Vainamoinen and the llmarinen are coast defence ships of only 4,000 tons displacement. They have diesel-electric machinery for a designed speed of 16 knots, and a certain amount of armour protection. Either vessel mounts the relatively tremendous armament of four 10-in. guns, as well as eight 4.1-in. anti-aircraft pieces. Proportionate to their size they are the most heavily armed ships afloat.

Besides half a dozen patrol gunboats and a number of minelayers, Finland owns five submarines, one of which, the Saukko, has the distinction of being the tiniest undersea craft in the world. Her displacement is only 99 tons, yet she has a cruising radius of nearly 400 miles and carries a small gun, two torpedo tubes and nine mines.


Each of the three leading South American navies constitutes a fairly well-balanced fighting entity. Thanks to her two 28,000 - ton battleships and two new 32-knots cruisers, Argentina probably heads the list as far as material resources are concerned. The latest addition to her fleet is a training cruiser of 7,800 tons laid down in 1935 at Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire. Her designed speed is 30 knots, and the armament includes nine 6-in. guns and twelve anti-aircraft pieces. Destroyers of British and submarines of Italian construction also fly the Argentine flag.


The Brazilian battleship Minas Geraes was built in 1908 on the River Tyne

BEFORE HER ALTERATIONS IN 1936, the Brazilian battleship Minas Geraes had two funnels, which have since been replaced by one funnel abaft the mast. Of 19,200 tons displacement, the Minas Geraes was built in 1908 on the River Tyne. She has a length of 533 feet on the water-line, a beam of 83 feet and a draught of 25 feet.

The chief units of the Brazilian fleet are two British-built battleships of 19,200 tons. Although completed in 1910 they are still effective and are undergoing a process of modernization, Brazil is weak in cruisers and destroyers, but this deficiency is partly compensated by the pending completion of six powerful submarines.


The Chilean destroyer Orella

A SPEED OF 35 KNOTS was exceeded on the trials of the Chilean destroyer Orella, laid down with her five sisters in 1927. With a displacement of 1,090 tons, the Orella has an overall length of 300 feet, a beam of 29 feet and a draught of 12 ft. 8 in. Her geared turbines have a designed horse-power of 28,000.

No South American State has finer naval traditions than Chile. Her present fleet is small, but it contains some modern units and is considered by foreign observers to be extremely efficient. Its largest vessel is the battleship Almirante Latorre, which served during 1914-18 as H.M.S. Canada in the Grand Fleet. With her displacement of 28,000 tons, her speed of nearly 23 knots, thick armour protection, and main battery of ten 14-in. guns, she is easily the most formidable warship in South American waters. Not long ago she underwent a complete refit at Devon-port dockyard. While the Chilean fleet has no modern cruisers it is well provided with destroyers and submarines. Among the submarines are three oceangoing vessels of 1,540 tons.

This review of the world’s smaller fighting fleets shows that nearly every State with pretentions to sovereignty finds it worth while to maintain a naval establishment which must in the majority of instances impose a heavy burden on the national exchequer. It is possible that the abolition of any one of these miniature navies would lead to a local outbreak of piracy, or at least to a marked increase in smuggling and other lawless activities.

You can read more on “The Ciudad de Buenos Aires”, “Dutch Shipping” and “German Shipping” on this website.