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New International, August 1935

 

I. Jerukhimovich

The Anglo-German Naval Pact

From New International, Vol.2 No.5, August 1935, pp.156-158.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

 

1. When 35 Is Equal to 100

THE ANGLO-GERMAN naval negotiations begun in London early in June have attracted general attention. According to the London press, the next few days may be counted to see the final elaboration of the draft of the agreement. This would be the first Anglo-German two-power pact on German armaments. The negotiations are being conducted upon the basis of the “final” proposal made at the end of March of this year by Hitler on the occasion of his meeting in Berlin with Simon. The proposal boils down to the following: England concurs in the elimination of those points of the Versailles Treaty which limit the naval combat forces of Germany. Fascist Germany’s “equality” in the field of naval armaments is to be restored.

The German government, on its side, concurs that the ratio between the German and the English fleets is to be fixed at 35 : 100 (excluding naval airplanes).

Let us see what is the meaning of this proposal.

The total tonnage of the most important classes of ships (ships of the line, aircraft carriers, cruisers, minelayers, undersea craft) of the English fleet amounts to 1,200,000 tons, according to the provisions of the London naval treaty of 1930. The principal forces of the fleet are concentrated in the waters of England (the so-called “Home Fleet”) and in the Mediterranean (“Mediterranean Fleet”). In addition, a large number of cruisers, minelayers, submarines and auxiliary ships are maintained between the fleet bases in the Indian Ocean, in South Africa, in Chinese waters, in Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies and Canada.

If the English fleet thus surpasses the German numerically and in strength, it is however distributed over “all the seas”. The tonnage of the “Home Fleet” comes to approximately 400,000 tons, which amounts to 35% of the total tonnage of the English fleet. In the present international situation, the English government cannot weaken the squadrons lying outside “home waters”, as was done on the eve of the World War in order to strengthen the defense of the motherland. Can England give up Malta, Hongkong, Singapore, Australia, the West Indies? On the contrary, the English Admiralty deems it necessary to reënforce the “overseas forces” of the fleet. In this way, only a part of the naval forces can be located in the North Sea.

The German fleet, on the other hand, is located in two waters – in the North Sea and in the Baltic Sea. And if one takes into consideration the role played by the Kiel Canal, and the strengthened influence of German Fascism in the Scandinavian countries, which guarantees the free use of the straits of the Sound, then the German fleet has one seat of naval war and not two. Hence, wherever the main forces of the German fleet may be located – be they in the North Sea or in the Baltic – they are constantly concentrated in the vicinity of the English coast.

It is clear from what has been said that the naval forces of England and Germany are equally strong on their most important European stage of war.

Yet this is but one side of the coin. The other side is no less important. We have in mind the “qualitative factors”, so to say, of the two fleets. The majority of the ships of the English fleet already show a respectable age. Of the 15 ships and cruisers of the line, for example, only two (the Nelson and the Rodney) had their keels laid in 1925 and were sent down the ways in 1925. Of the other 13 ships, two were commissioned in 1913, three in 1914, three in 1915, four in 1916 and one in 1918. The other classes of ships of the English fleet are in a similar condition. (The Admiralty considers it necessary to replace, in the next four or five years, no less than eight ships of the line, four aircraft carriers, 22 cruisers, and half of the minelayers and submarines.)

It is true that the ships of the English fleet have been repeatedly modernized at a cost amounting to 60% of the original expenditures. Likewise, most of the ships are materially (depreciation) and especially with regard to striking power, obsolete, for the art of fleet operation and technique have made tremendous advances during this time. Not only have time, and the “peace” which set in for it in the North Sea after the German fleet had ceased to exist, left their mark upon the English fleet, but the “inertia of materials” and the financial difficulties – consequences of the economic crisis – equally hampered in no small measure the normal, material and efficient renovation of the ships.

The German fleet is in a different position. The majority of its battle units (at least 80%) were built up or have been in building in the last few years. In other words, the expansion of the fleet took place exclusively by means of the building of the most modern ships.

Among other things, German Fascism has the advantage of starting the naval race on the basis of the latest technique; the Versailles Treaty freed it from the pressure of the “inertia of materials”. Every new ship of the German war fleet will therefore not be equal to the corresponding unit of the English fleet, but will surpass it. On the whole, this would mean that in the North Sea the German fleet would be stronger than the “Home Fleet”, even if it is assumed that the ratio of 38 : 100 will be maintained, which is, however, extremely doubtful. [1]

It is, however, quite inadequate to confine oneself to an analysis of the possible relation of forces of the fleets of England and Germany on the basis of the mere “law of numbers”. Even when we take into consideration the difference in the quality and quantity of the ships, we do not obtain a correct picture of the new relation of forces in the North Sea. What is involved is that the development of war fleets have produced factors which violate the traditional “law of numbers”. Such factors are aviation and the submarine.

The experience of the imperialist World War of 1914-1918 on the sea already showed what great importance, role and influence for the course of naval operations are played by aviation and the submarine. It is entirely clear that in the coming war operations, especially upon such a comparatively limited naval war stage as the North Sea, aircraft and submarines will often play a decisive role, by the fact that they will deliver a combined blow at the combat forces and especially at the lines of communication in the broad sense of the term.

As is known, England was placed in an extremely dangerous position by the German submarines in the years of the World War. The then commander of the English fleet. Jellicoe, deemed it necessary to warn the government in 1917 that unless extraordinary measures were taken, “the war would be lost”. And yet Jellicoe was then the commander of the largest war navy of the world and in the history of England. The fleet had some forty ships of the line alone! Yet they were helpless in battle against the submarines.

That is how it was 15 to 17 years ago! Since then the war navy has not only been perfected, but it has found a mighty ally – aviation. Naturally, England also has this fighting means at her disposal, but nonetheless it should not be forgotten that England is an island which depends to a high degree upon imports, that is, on the smooth functioning of marine traffic lanes, in contrast to the continental countries which depend less upon them or not at all.

With the evolution of the submarine fleet, the superiority of the insular position of England has been converted into its opposite: its insular position and its dependence upon imports have become its Achilles’ heel. The North Sea, the canal zone and the coastal zones of the Atlantic are exceptionally favorable to the operations of submarines which pursue the aim of “cutting off” the British Isles from the outer world. The evolution of aviation makes the prospects of the struggle even worse. If the submarines represent a menace on the traffic lanes, on the open sea or in the coastal zones, then airplanes constitute the gravest danger to the Isles themselves. And against this combined threat, no fleet of ships of the line offers salvation under the concrete conditions.

And moreover, what could prevent German Fascism from building powerful submarines, even if only within the limits of the “legal” 400,000 tons and with the most exact regard for the principle of 35 : 100 (which will not be the case in reality)? As for aviation, it is not even mentioned in the London negotiations. When it is considered, therefore, that the German shipbuilding yards and aircraft plants, whose productive possibilities are enormous, are in a position to build hundreds of submarines and thousands of airplanes in the course of a single year, it becomes clear how radically the air and naval armaments of German Fascism alter the whole situation in the North Sea and especially the position of the naval forces of England not only in Europe but in general.

In reality, 35% corresponds under certain conditions to no less than 100%.
 

2. Towards a Naval Armaments Race

In principal matters, the London negotiations have been concluded. The pact was garbed in the form of an exchange of notes between the British Foreign Minister, Sir Samuel Hoare, and the head of the German delegation, von Ribbentrop. Underlying the pact is the principle already known to us. The ratio of strength of the German and English fleets has been fixed at 35 to 100.

The British delegation was obviously clear in advance that in the concrete conditions of the North Sea, the proportion of 35 to 100 may be equivalent to parity. And yet the English government gave its approval in principle to the abolition of the fleet limitation provisions of the Versailles Peace Treaty with regard to Germany and to the recognition of Germany’s “equality” in the field of naval armaments. Apparently, London let itself be guided in this connection by the following fundamental considerations: Germany is building up strong naval fighting forces anyway. The English government finds itself apparently unable to prevent it. On the other hand the legalization of the naval armaments of Germany puts an additional argument into the hands of the English government to justify its own naval armaments in the eyes of the country.

It is not excluded that other considerations also played a certain role. Among other things, the hopes have hardly been given up in England that in the last analysis the German Fascists will give preference to the East rather than to the West as the direction of their aggressions. Perhaps the London negotiations themselves were regarded in certain circles of British imperialism as a means of pushing Fascist Germany towards the East.

But withal, the British delegation nevertheless did not accept the German project in the formulation as proposed by Hitler: 35 : 100 for the total tonnage of the English fleet. It introduced an essential rectification into the German project. Germany obtains the right to bring its navy up to the level of 35%, not of the total tonnage of the English fleet, but of the tonnage of the separate classes of ships. This alteration was adopted and a corresponding point figures in the Anglo-German pact.

Wherein lies the meaning of this rectification? To be able to answer this question, it is necessary first of all to establish the possible ratio of 35 : 100 with regard to the tonnage of the separate classes of ships of the English fleet on the basis of the provisions of the London naval pact of 1930. This can best be visualized in the following table:

 

GREAT BRITAIN

GERMANY

CLASSES

Total
tonnage

(in 1,000 T)

Tonnage based
on 35 : 100 ratio

(in 1,000 T)

Ships of the line

   525

183.7

Aircraft carriers

   135

  47.2

Cruisers

   339

118.6

Deep-sea torpedo boats

   150

  52.5

U-Boats

     52

  18.2

TOTAL:

1,201

420.2

As this table shows, the English government grants Germany the total tonnage demanded by her, with even a surplus of 420,200 tons. This means, measured by the present tonnage of the German navy (some 200,000 tons) an increase of Germany’s naval combat forces by 100%! From this alone one can see clearly the value of the declamations of official London circles about the pact with Germany serving the “interests of the reënforcement of peace”. What we are faced with in reality is the prologue to a mad naval armaments race in Europe. The child should be called by its right name: The English government is urging on this armaments race with all its strength. Least of all in it is there observable an aspiration towards reënforcing general peace. In reality, the ruling circles of England were concerned in concluding this bi-partite pact with Germany, with squeezing out the greatest possible benefits for themselves.

This is confirmed by the following. In granting Germany the right to increase her naval combat forces by 100% and to bring her total tonnage up to 420,000 tons, the English delegation stipulated at the same time that this tonnage, as we have seen, shall be distributed pretty exactly over the separate classes of ships. The meaning of this clause is very simple. It is not to England’s advantage to have Germany dispose freely of the tonnage granted her. For within the limits of 400,000 tons Germany could build a vast number of small cruisers, torpedo boats and still more U-boats, and utilize less of her tonnage for the construction of big fighting ships – dreadnoughts and cruisers of the line. The pact now establishes, however, what percentage of the tonnage Germany may utilize for the building of ships of each separate class.

What remains unknown is only what basis the ruling circles of England actually have for relying upon German Fascism keeping exactly to the spirit of the pact, especially in that section of it which deals with the distribution of the tonnage according to classes of ships. Obviously the English government has no such assurance, and indeed it cannot have. German Fascism accepted the English amendments only because, in the first place, it is not so much concerned with the meaning of the pact, but with the single fact of its conclusion. Isn’t it the first two-power pact on German rearmament, concluded, moreover, with England! For its sake German Fascism was prepared to vote in favor of all the amendments, all the more so because, basically, it limits in no wise and by nothing the utilization of the 400,000 tons granted it, in accordance with the judgment of the heads of German Fascism.

The English government, which signed the pact with inexplicable haste, yielded on every point. Especially did England yield in such a cardinal question as the tonnage of the German U-boats. On the basis of the elaborated pact Germany has received the right of parity with England with regard to submarines (62,000 tons). Notwithstanding, it has declared itself ready to content itself only with 45% of this tonnage (so long as it does not require the remaining 55%!), which comes to 23,400 tons in absolute figures. Within these limits, Germany could build from 25 to 30 medium and 40 medium and small U-boats.

The reasons which moved the ruling circles of England to make all these concessions, derive principally from the fact that they wanted to create conditions under which the rebuilding of Germany’s fleet would not outstrip the expansion of the British fleet with new fighting ships. The English Admiralty is obviously extremely concerned, in the worst case, not to remain behind Germany in its fleet-building tempo.

It also appears possible that England’s agreement to the raising of the U-boat level of the German fleet was bought by the German delegation with the promise that the center of gravity of the German fleet construction will not lie in the North Sea but in the Baltic.

The Anglo-German naval pact is of great importance for the whole international situation and for England herself. The strengthening of German naval armaments will be utilized on a grand scale in England for the expansion of her own naval forces. That is just what the Anglo-German pact is based upon: an open armaments race.

It is, however, perfectly clear now that France will not preserve an attitude of indifference towards the fact of the strengthened menace to her oversea connections, and will draw very definite conclusions from it. It is enough, however, for France merely to begin to increase her naval armaments for Italy to follow on her heels On the other hand, the reënforcement of England’s armaments automatically involves the extension of the fleet-building program of the United States, whereupon counter-measures on the part of Japan will not wait long to make their appearance! Finally, this will impel England towards a new expansion of her fleet construction, inasmuch as the British Admiralty must take account of every change in the naval combat forces of other countries, not only in the North Sea, but also in the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. This alone shows that the Anglo-German pact is the last nail in the coffin-lid beneath which lies the idea of disarmament on land and sea and in the air.

From what has been said, the real content and the real significance of the Anglo-German naval pact becomes clear. If the ruling circles of England think that they can, in this manner, solidify their own security at the expense of other lands, they are therewith not weakening the danger of war, but only accentuating it. But if England entertains the hope that the hurricane which such a policy would let loose will leave the British Isles untouched, a tremendous mistake is being made.

Moscow, June 1935

 

Footnote

1. A ship of the Deutschland type could, without special risk, engage in battle with at least two English “heavy” (or “Washington”) cruisers. If new, large ships of the line should appear in the German fleet they will, without doubt, outstrip the ships of the line of the English fleet.

 
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