Thursday, 17 April 1913

This post is part of a series post-blogging the phantom airship scare of 1913. See here for an introduction to the series, and here for a conclusion.

The Manchester Guardian reports today on Germany's naval aviation plans, as revealed in an official memorandum recently released to the public, which it judges to be 'important as marking the first step from tentative experiments to a period of ordered growth' (9). An 'explanatory statement' is likened to 'the famous Introduction to the Navy Bill of 1900':

Experience, we are told, has taught the Admiralty that the new weapon is of great value 'in strategic and tactical reconnoitring,' and that 'under certain circumstances it may be used with advantage as a weapon of attack.' In consequence, the Admiralty has decided to take up aviation more seriously than was at first intended, 'lest it should be left behind in the race with other nations.'

The memorandum itself proposes that Germany

construct, within the five years 1914-1918, a fleet of airships and aeroplanes to be used solely for naval purposes, acting quite independently of the military aviation department. The airship section is to be made up of two squadrons, each containing five ships. One ship from each squadron will serve as 'material reserve' -- that is to say, will remain laid up in its shed; -- the other eight will be kept on active service. The same station is to serve as headquarters for both squadrons, and is to be fitted up with four double revolving halls, together with two stationary halls for the 'material reserve.'

What sort of airships will be built is not specified:

At present the naval authorities possess one airship, the Zeppelin L 1, notorious in England through the scare raised last October, when it was asserted that the vessel had been sighted over Sheerness during the night in which its long-distance trials were made. A sister ship to the L 1 is nearing completion, but, as far as is known to the public, no further naval Zeppelins are under order at the moment. It may be taken for granted that the main body of the future fleet will be made up of vessels of this type [...]

The Guardian's correspondent is puzzled as to why the Admiralty has decided to put all of its airship hangars in the one place (where is not stated in the memorandum, but 'it is accepted as a matter of course that this will be Cuxhaven'). The Army is planning to build a network of hangars across Germany, which will minimise the chance of one its airships having to moor in the open and being wrecked by wind. In an emergency, naval airships will have to take that risk or hope that they are within range of home or Königsberg, the only nearby military hangar.

As for aeroplanes, 'the scheme outlined in the "memorandum" seems less ambitious, especially when compared with the plans of our own Admiralty'.

It is proposed, during the same period of five years, to bring together a squadron of 50 machines. Fourteen are to serve as 'material reserve'; the remaining 36, divided into six groups of six each, will be kept on active service. [...] As in the case of the airship section, one station is to serve as headquarters for all six groups. There are, it is true, to be six branch stations, each with accomodation for ten machines, but these are to be occupied only during occasional manœuvres and in time of war.

Again, the type of aeroplane is not specified, though in previous experiments 'The machine aimed at has been of the type that can rise both from land and water'. But at present 'Germany is far behind our own naval authorities in this branch of aviation'. The aeroplane squadron is likely to be based 'at Kiel or Wilhemshaven, each of which is within easy reach both of the North Sea and the Baltic'.

Finally, the Guardian's correspondent considers 'the possibility -- even if remote -- of the naval air-fleet being reinforced by military vessels'. The Germany Army is less forthcoming on the subject of future aviation plans, but anyway by their nature military aeroplanes will not be particularly well suited to naval service, so that leaves the military airships. It is known is fifteen airship companies are planned in total, each with a rotating hangar capable of holding two airships. If the Army fills these to capacity as the Navy is to do, then that makes thirty military airships by the end of 1915:

We must, then, to the proposed ten vessels for the navy, add a possible reserve of thirty more military vessels, a formidable enough fleet if once the value of the airship in naval warfare is admitted.

An unusually alarmist conclusion for the Guardian, it must be said.

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