Exercise 3: Document analysis and simulation
The document this exercise focuses on comes from a report to London by Hugh Watson, Naval Attaché (naval expert) at the British Embassy in Berlin, dated 12th March 1913 (Crown copyright. Reference: Churchill Papers, CHAR 13/19/44-6). Watson is reporting on German attitudes towards the German policy of naval expansion and towards Britain’s reaction to it.
In this exercise, you must use your knowledge and understanding of the situation to anticipate what Watson might have said. Each part of this exercise includes questions about what the next section of the document might contain. Decide which answer sounds the most probable, and then look at the next section of the document to see how close you were.
Please note: There may well be more than one correct answer.
“In the winter of 1911-12 criticism of the Naval expansionist policy began to grow in Germany, and really began to show an effective head for the first time in recent years. Had it not been for the violent anti-English propaganda, which was commenced in Nov 1911 on the rumours of a project in the previous summer on the part of England to attack the German Fleet, the criticism above referred to would have made more effective headway.”
Watson goes on to say something about the attitude of German taxpayers towards the cost of Germany’s naval expansion. Which attitude(s) would he be more likely to report?:
- Germans were prepared to pay any price to maintain a large fleet
- The cost was beginning to bite, but on the whole Germans were still prepared to pay it.
- The cost was beginning to turn Germans against the policy of naval expansion.
- The heavy cost had now turned German public opinion heavily against naval expansion.
“People in Germany had begun dimly to see that they were treading an expensive Naval road, especially as the cost of the upkeep of the Fleet came home to the Reichstag members; which uncomfortable consciousness of the cost of upkeep naturally had the greater effect as new Ship-building programmes, and their consequent excitements, became less possible; as opposed to the growth of criticism of the expansionist Party, the winter of 1911-12 was the first time that the idea of a 3 to 2 proportion was raised in Germany by the Naval Party.”
Watson then goes on to talk about the attitudes towards naval policy of the various political groups in the Reichstag. What do you think would have been the most likely situation that he had to report?:
- All parties were opposed to further naval expansion, though for different reasons.
- All parties were worried about the continuing costs of naval expansion.
- Opposition to naval expansion was largely confined to the liberals, socialists, and other left-wing parties.
- Opposition to naval expansion was largely voiced by the conservatives and other right-wing parties.
“A year has passed since that time, and reviewing the year I consider that the idea of a 2 to 3 Naval proportion with England has not really taken on in Germany, and that it is becoming harder to rouse interest for Naval increases. Though of course one cannot say what would happen if another wave of anglo-phobia were to be spread by the able Naval Section. I mix in practically every class of Society and I find now even amongst conservatives, Centre, and National Liberals a feeling growing against German Naval expansion.”
Watson then puts forward various ideas about why political and public opinion is turning against the policy of naval expansion. Which of these is or are the most likely?:
- The programme was proving too expensive.
- Germans did not want to create bad feeling between Germany and Britain.
- There was a strong feeling that money should be concentrated on the army rather than the navy.
- Many Germans recognised that Britain’s arguments about why she needed a large fleet and Germany did not were essentially correct.
“One reason given to me for this is that their expansion is undesirable because it creates bad feeling with England; and Parties of all shades are beginning to see the hopelessness of success in such competition, and also to acknowledge the logical reasons in support of England’s Naval policy. Another reason given is a very real one, and that is that Germans of the Parties indicated are finding the competition costs them much good gold. It is particularly interesting to find this view expressed by conservatives. Of course this growing feeling against the competition is doubly voiced amongst the Radical and Socialist Parties, specially when pinched by taxation.
It is certain that this feeling of antagonism to Naval demands is due to the demands of the German army. Whatever the reasons be, though I believe I give them fairly correctly, the consequence of such thoughts is that opinion is at present turning towards the army authorities and against the Naval.”
To talk about changes in public opinion is one thing, but the British government would need to know how strong the swing might be, and when, if ever, it might be expected to influence German policy. What would Watson be most likely to suggest about the speed and extent of this change in German attitudes?:
- Public opinion in Germany was by then too scared of war with Britain and was strongly opposed to further naval expansion which might make relations even worse.
- Despite all the worries, public opinion remained solidly behind the policy of naval expansion.
- Public opinion was shifting, but could swing back in favour of naval expansion at any time.
- Public opinion was turning against naval expansion, but only very slowly.
“But I feel sure that the pendulum of opinion has by no means at present turned irretrievably against the German Naval expansionist Party. But it is, I consider, turning slowly against them, and will continue to do so as the result of steady quiet Naval pressure by England.
The Naval authorities here have begun to make sacrifices to the Reichstag, and from what I hear it would appear that more rigid economy is being enforced in all branches of the Naval administration, both in Berlin & in the Fleet, as the direct result of the difficulty of obtaining money. But the time is not yet.”
Watson also reported on the effect in Germany of Churchill’s speeches, like the one in the Document analysis. What would you expect he had to say about the impact of Churchill’s words on German attitudes?
- They were a major factor in turning the Germans against naval expansion.
- They had no effect on German attitudes whatsoever.
- They were a relatively minor factor.
- If anything they served to harden German attitudes against Britain and to strengthen support for naval expansion.
“After a year’s observation of the effects of the 1st Lord’s speeches of last year I would say that there is not a shadow of doubt that they have been a big factor in bringing about a widespread feeling in Germany that Naval competition with England is hopeless, and that Germany must stick to her proper arm of defence, the army.”