The Imperial German Navy, 1897 - 1918: Negotiating the nation

Jesse Bachmann


This article seeks to analyze the linkages between the Imperial German Navy and Germany’s domestic sphere from the years 1897 to 1918. Prior scholarship has suggested that the expansion of the Imperial German Navy, beginning in 1897, was strongly caused by internal domestic factors. This article disagrees with this assertion, pointing out how international concerns were the main motivating factor. Nonetheless, the paper does accept the general premise that the navy played a strong role in Germany’s domestic sphere. To this end, this article analyzes how, prior to World War One, the navy was built into a national symbol aimed at overcoming the German empire’s regional particularities. This article then bridges a gap in existing scholarship by linking the pre-war symbolic importance of the navy to its experience during the war and the naval revolts that occurred in 1918. In particular, this article argues that the national idea codified in the navy prior to the war was then challenged by the navy’s generally poor experience during the First World War. This contributed to the naval revolts of 1918 which caused a reevaluation of the German nation and toppled the empire.


Imperial German navy; imperial Germany; German high seas fleet; nationalism; German nationalism; social imperialism thesis; World War One; German naval revolts; German naval mutiny; German revolution 1918-1919; Richard Stumpf

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